Art Review: Blek le Rat @ Opera Gallery

You may look at Le Rat’s work and think he’s just another Banksy wannabe. But the 61-year-old Frenchman has created stencilled street art since the 1960s. He’s considered by many to be the originator of this art form.

Banksy has acknowledged Le Rat’s influence by stating “every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier”. The Sunday Times went so far as to call Le Rat “the man who gave birth to Banksy”.

The styles of the two artists are bound to draw comparisons, but how similar are they?  Both have a playfulness in their works, but Le Rat is much more surreal and less focussed on social commentary. A piece showing a classical violinist on a wall smattered with spray paint, next to the phrase “art is evil, vandalism is a crime”, is a fine example.

This playfulness is infectious, and his signature rat is present throughout the exhibition — he claims it is the “only free animal in the city”. His attempts to transcend the grittiness of an urban setting and instil a sense of the fantastical elevates his works to the point where they feel almost as at home in a gallery as they would on the street.

Blek le Rat is on display at the Opera Gallery, 134 New Bond Street, W1s 2TF until 17 May. Entrance is free. For an excellent interview with Blek Le Rat, see the Independent.

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