Victor Ash is old school. He came up on the mean streets of Paris as a graffiti writer in the early 1980s. Ash tagged any wall, alley, building, or street he could find. He refined his skills with trips to New York — where he befriended members of New York’s iconic graffiti scene. By the end of the 80s, the man was an integral part of the Parisian art scene.
Ash’s second act came decades later, when he was asked to create a five-story mural on a building in central Berlin. The mural, featuring an astronaut, became world famous and brought Ash back to the world of painting walls on the city streets. Now based in Copenhagen, Ash travels the world painting some of the most eclectic murals on buildings far and wide. Hist style has shifted, but his love of the artform hasn’t.
We were lucky enough to sit down with the legendary street artist for a quick chat about the old days, living in deserted hotels on mountaintops for work, and how street art has evolved over the last 40 years.
Let’s go back in time a little bit to Paris in the 1980s. What was the scene like tagging the streets back then?
There were very few people doing graffiti in Paris around ’84, ’85. We could basically paint in many, many places. There was no real reserved zones for anyone.
What’s interesting is that there was already a lot of cross-pollination between the Paris and New York’s graffiti scenes in the 80s. What was that like for you?
I was working with a lot of the artists in that scene at the time. So, a few of us traveled to New York a lot. We were introduced to the contemporary art world through those guys. So this is just what we did. Then little by little, we went more and more away from the streets and into the gallery business near the end of the ’80s.
When you took trips to New York, did you feel an influence on your Parisian graffiti style?
We were influenced by the guys in New York. It was like an exchange. The movement was creating new styles and new techniques. When I was doing graffiti, we were always talking about styles on the streets. Then we’d mix it to make it our own. We took something. We gave something. That’s how it worked. It was very exciting.
It’s incredible to think that this hybrid of style was happening across the Atlantic and not just from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Right! It was globalism in the ’80s.
What is the path from being a street artist to being a gallery artist?
I didn’t think I was going to become a gallery artist when I started. I was maybe 13 or 14 years old. For me, it was just fun to do graffiti, to paint with spray cans, to make the letters. Then people approached me and they asked me to create exhibits and sell my paintings. That’s how it went for most of the guys in Paris of my generation.