Introducing Youssef Boubekeur

The latest addition to the Red Eight family is Youssef Boubekeur, a dynamic young Parisian artist who works almost exclusively with a humble blue ballpoint pen. Youssef fell in love with drawing as a child and spent his days mimicking the great works of Picasso and devouring comic books. He recalls being banned from drawing by his father because he was dedicating so much time to this early obsession.

Youssef would go on to study architecture at the Ecole d’Architecture de la Villette and then at Waseda University in Tokyo. While studying he met the famed French street artist JR who in 2007 mentored Youssef in a street art project in Israel and Palestine, the now famous Face2Face project. Following this partnership, Youssef has continued to collaborate with JR on projects in Brazil, China, and Turkey.

These dual influences of architectural studies and street art manifest themselves in the intricately-drawn, large scale artworks that Youssef is best known for today. Central to his aesthetic is his insistence on using his trusty Bic ballpoint pen which helps him achieve both accuracy and permanency.

“I haven’t always drawn with a Bic pen,” explains Youssef, “but it has become in recent years my favorite instrument. I like it because it’s precise, but… indelible. As precise as it is, it gives my drawing a more spontaneous character: I have to build with and on my mistakes. They are an integral part of my drawing, of my creation process. My drawing is an art of precision… but not of regret!”

Youssef also has a particular penchant for the classic Bic blue; “I like the blue of Bic. It’s funny, being an instrument of everyday life, of total banality, which has only a utilitarian purpose and absolutely no aesthetic end. But this blue is very beautiful. It allows me to cast a soft and peaceful veil over the hyperrealism of my drawings.”

Youssef’s subjects offer a nod to the humour and quirkiness of street art, regularly featuring animal heads imposed onto suit-wearing human bodies. You get the sense that he’s playing with his audience by subverting reality and challenging our norms and expectations. It’s also an invitation to look deeper at human nature. Youssef’s first exhibition featured a thought-provoking quote by Paul Valéry which neatly encapsulates this quest: “Man is an animal locked outside his cage”.

“Through a look, an expression,” elaborates Youssef, “I try to bring out the disturbing points of contact between man and animal. The work on the gaze is essential, almost obsessive. Does the animal express tenderness, doubt, envy? Love? Or is it the man who sometimes expresses the most perfect savagery? Is the man who dances the expression of an advanced and civilized sophistication, or on the contrary that of an instinctive, physical and bestial drive?”

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