Esteemed English photographer Will Robson-Scott has long documented the uncanny styles of Parisian graffiti writer Horfe. As their relationship has developed, so too has their individual artistic pursuits. With a penchant for graffiti that borders on the fantastical, the PAL Crew’s stylistic absurdity is only rivaled by their ubiquity in the European landscape. The two friends have maintained contact over the years, and were recently reunited in New York City when Peace and Love’s Horfe, Gorey, Cony, Tomek, Esso, Saeyo, Mosa and Skub made a trip stateside. Far away from their first auspicious meeting in the city of lights, Robson-Scott shot and spoke with Horfe and the rests of his pals.
WRS: When did PAL form?
HORFE: PAL formed four years ago, I knew all those guys from around the neighbourhoods of Paris. They were all different ages, and after some time, party after party, we all came together.
How many people are in PAL do you think?
We’re about 10 people, but we’re close to each other. It’s not an open crew.
Who is in it at the moment, is there a roll call?
It’s just a load of friends who have fun transforming our letters into weird shit, transforming our shapes of our tags into something personal. We try to mix all our own styles together to give it energy. Everybody is ready for anything – if you say “Oh let’s do that spot,” we do that. People in Paris still enjoy spending time outside. So it’s so easy to spend time in the streets and push each other more and more.
PAL just means Peace and Love?
It was basically a joke. All these serious graffiti writers wanted to represent violence, they wanted to represent something that we should be scared of. So what would you think when you see this paradox of very tough spots to paint that says P-A-L, ‘Peace and Love’.
So it was basically the opposite?
Yes, it was anti-persecution. There was a really hardcore old-school scene and they were conservative – it was like “Look at these toys, let’s cover it.” When we were young we grew up with this, so it gave us more motivation – because we were so hated. But after some time we met everyone on the scene, I mean there are still haters and there always will be. Not everyone is here for love, and you can’t love everyone. It’s just in this group everyone is linked and we’re all ready to paint and share. It’s anti-tough guy because we like traditional graffiti, but not the attitude.
So it’s experimental? If you had to explain what the crew was about, how would you do it?
I think one day we realised that all that super-tech graffiti of the ‘90s that we grew up with when we were teenagers was really used by corporations to make money off [of] the hip-hop movement. You know those events where they’d have people painting walls around the breakdance spot? We wanted to come back and be about something more raw. More about the ‘80s and colourful – we’d add whatever fantasy we wanted in our graff. Keep it illegal outside and keep it spontaneous – that’s the best part of it. Not just getting our names up in the street but transforming our style and building them up. It’s experimental in the way that we started to feel free to do whatever we wanted with spraycans. It might sound corny, but in the world of graff there’s no codes – but of course there are big codes – so we just decided to say “Fuck, we’re just going to rise up and do this by ourselves.”
So you’re doing what you want basically?
Yeah, we do what we want. It helps us to travel more, and find friends who have the same state of mind. We all became different people when we realised that other people were stuck with those codes, and we just wanted to have fun. The main part of it is just having fun and being away from graffiti writers who think they deserve more respect than others.
Paris seems like a place where you can do what you want. It seems more relaxed than somewhere like New York or London. Do you think that the city being more tolerant of graff makes it a different scene?
I think that, for example, when you’re in New York you realise that everyone paints street spots really fast because there are so many factors that makes you able to get arrested. In Paris it’s different. The culture is way less violent and way more about talking about what’s happening right now in front of your eyes. Sometimes even with the cops you can talk your way out. During the daytime you’re not some ninja doing crime, you’re just someone who paints. So we took advantage of this and started pretending that we were simply painting things and not doing graff. In our minds it wasn’t graff anymore, it was just painting and it was free. It became way more expressive than just writing your name. When we came back to other countries after starting to do those styles we met other people and they went “Damn, I can’t believe you are so free to do all those things in Paris.” Not that many people are painting free in the street illegally. It’s just really well organised – because after time you know how to do it. It’s like those guys who are crushing New York while people sit around and say “New York is impossible to bomb.”
So it’s almost like you make it so obvious that it looks like you’re allowed to do it?
Sometimes you use that, or sometimes you just push the hard work and it takes hours to do one spot – it takes so much organisation. Sometimes we do someone’s graff with ten hands, so it looks like one guy did the spot but we all did it.
So stylistically, everyone is quite different. You’ve got Saeyo who’s doing some wizard shit, you’ve got little Tomek whose tags are just ridiculous, and then there’s everyone else. Do you think that the different styles compliment the crew as a whole?
I think now, not before, but now everyone has some sort of style that they try and work in. We all influence each other, because we always paint together. It’s really hard to focus on only your thing, when you always look at your friends it gets into your head.
Do you live life day to day or do you have goals? Even with the crew, do you have goals there?
Of course I have personal things that I really want to achieve, but I think one of the things that I want the world to realise is that France has a really, really strong graffiti culture. It’s not only America – of course the American’s taught us styles, but we took them and mixed them with influences from all over the world. I really want people to realise that Europe is strong for that.
So you’re all from an illegal background painting in the streets. How do you feel about looking back from where you started and comparing that to now? You’re basically making a living off being an artist, and other people in the crew are doing that as well. How is that coming from a background of basically stealing stuff and never paying for Metros?
I think when you grow up you find a way to keep the pleasure in your life. For me it was obvious that I still wanted to paint, and I still want to try other shit. I found pleasure in paper works and building exhibitions with friends. And I thought “People are doing it, they’re making a living just doing what they like” – I can do that or at least I can try. It’s not an art show to say “Oh look at me, I’m proud of myself,” it’s a show to share the culture because graffiti is a heavily cultural lifestyle and everyone has their own way of doing it. The city evolves all the time, so we’ve got to evolve as well. We got some attention from art world people because we evolved, and they remembered. Art is something that you like, or you don’t. People always go “Oh graffiti, it’s so terrible – it’s on my house.” It’s just art, but with more freedom. In a museum you have art, and if you don’t like it you just change rooms. It’s the same outside, if you don’t like it you just change streets. It’s personal preference, and you have to remember that. These fucking corporates try to make you think what art is best, so they polish it and sell it until everyone makes some money off of it. Graffiti isn’t built for that.
Interview and photography by Will Robson-Scott
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