Meet JANK: behind the scenes of street-art and vandalism

Street artist from Valencia, JANK is similar to those we like to call invaders, without restricting himself to this practice. In this article, I wanted to go beyond the more classic tale of an artistic journey and approach, to address an experience inherent to street art: vandalism.

This is not an artist’s portrait

El Señor Jank has conquered the city centre and Saidia districts by covering the public space with stickers and collages representing the graphic contours of a feline’s head, in the effigy of one of his black and white cats. It is this symbol that makes it particularly recognisable. If you’re in Valencia, chances are that if you don’t know him, you won’t be able to turn your eyes away without coming across one of his works. Otherwise, perhaps chance will lead you to find one of his works in Paris, Brussels, Bordeaux, Prague, Bologna, Nantes, Bonn or Lisbon…

 

Jank has been creating in the street since 2018. The idea came to him spontaneously, guided by his curiosity and love of stickers.

There was nothing premeditated, I just do things the way I feel and how they get my attention. Putting things on the street is a more visible way of sharing what I do. That’s the game, isn’t it? Like the people who are tagging over there. The only thing is, because it’s not just a tag, maybe it attracts more attention because you don’t know what that “cat” represents.

Jank

One of his main characteristics: he makes his cat’s heads by hand. He could print larger quantities and display even more. But he prefers to draw them himself!

What I really appreciate about him is that he is always innovating in his techniques. Adept of collage and photography, he renews himself by mixing styles and figures. Moreover, he sometimes uses graphic design and drawing, then integrates pictures of real life characters that he retouches to make montages. In the del Carmen neighbourhood, you may notice: a cosmonaut floating with a cat hidden behind the visor, a baby whose face has been replaced by a monkey head, a tourist photographing his artist’s emblem or his two little cats side by side.

 

It is our common passions for street-art, Valencia and cats that have allowed us to meet and chat. I had never before taken part in the street-art game, going to put works of art on the street illegally. As a passionate lover of this artistic practice, I found that I missed the experience. Vandalism is the essence of street art. All street artists have, or have had, a vandal practice before entering galleries and institutions. Investing in the street is a kind of self-education.

Jank: a vandal’s know-how

So, this summer, Jank kindly offered to pick a photo of my cat to print it and display it in the Cabanyal, where he had never tagged before. Doubly enthusiastic (it’s my favorite place in town), we finally met on a Monday night, in in the middle of February, to make sure we would meet as few people as possible. Here we were, armed with a pile of artworks, ready to paste up all over the neighborhood!

In a large Mercadona bag he had placed: a bucket, a small broom, a bottle of water, a bag of glue powder, and his artworks. This organisation has two objectives: to paste up quickly and discreetly. He then only has to pour the water and the glue into the bucket and mix it all together with his little broom.

Before getting to the heart of the matter, Jank needs to find the spot that will call out people. Some of the collages are part of the “invasion” process and should be instantly recognizable. He must also consider the lifespan of the artwork. To protect them a little from the bad weather, he will favour slightly covered corners, under a ledge for example. If he has the time and a long enough pole, he will try to place them high up, out of the reach of those who might want to tear it off or tag over it.

The work is located behind a supermarket. Apparently, with the confinement, the waiting line outside creates a strange effect: it feels like the riot police officer hits people directly (who are hiding the door)
Source : instagram.com/curiosity_2

On the other hand, some artworks have been designed to interact with the environment. This is a recurrent process in urban art and it is a more playful way of attracting the attention of passers-by. In the Saïdia, he placed a riot police officer with a battering ram ready to charge against a double metal door. The rendering is truer than real life!

Tadaaa! My cat past up with the artist’s signature.
Photography by Invisible Walls

It is with the same process that we pasted up the photograph of my cat. Jank sees a door frame in the distance, in the middle of a concrete wall, in a deserted alley near the beach. He dips his broom in glue, takes out the impression of my cat that he places on the broom, aims at the spot, glues the photo before going over it again and smoothing it out. A few touch-ups and it’s done! The gesture is furtive, it almost looks like a choreography: it lasted barely 10 seconds. Result, it looks like my cat is lying on the corner of this door, contemplating us mischievously or watching the passers-by in the street. From now on, wherever I am, in Valencia or in Paris, it will always be there, at home ♥

>>> our article on street-art in the Cabanyal-Canyamelar neighborhood<<

Conquering the Cabanyal

Then, we walked the streets in search of other spots carrying the bucket full of glue with the rest of the material, well camouflaged by the shopping bag in case we would run into the police.

For the display of the cat’s heads, it took him barely 3 seconds, I can testify! He is used to it and this type of collage is simpler than other artworks, larger and with less linear contours, but it is still quite impressive. For a larger piece whose location and layout are crucial to give it meaning, he would probably have stayed in an area he is more familiar with. And he would have pasted up only one. In this, Jank is a cautious but equally spontaneous soul. He is the kind of person who is suddenly inspired by a place, to which he then returns almost immediately to place the work that he thinks fits.

Benimaclet disctrict, Valencia
Jank in action, photo by Ca La Patata

The advantage was that he was able to paste up a dozen of them in the neighborhood that night, and in no time at all. Let’s hope that this was also an opportunity to scout for him for future adventures…

The few witnesses on the street had no reaction. In his experience, people rarely react or only out of curiosity and benevolent interest. Luckily, we did not come across the police either!

I hope that this personal account will have allowed you to familiarize yourself, beyond your imagination, with the work of an artist and the practice of vandalism. If you liked the subject, we plan to explore some further aspects soon 🙂.

Many thanks to Jank for letting me accompany him that evening, for agreeing to answer my billions of questions and for these sharing moments over beers!

 

Follow his work on Instragram:

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