French artist Alexis Devevey based in Rio de Janeiro, also known as Rero, talks about inventing a currently recognizable graphic signature using Verdan’s universal capital letter and a bold black line passing through the letters.
Where does your name of the artist “Rero” come from?
I did graffiti and wrote Aurer. It was only a choice for calligraphy and typography, but it has no special meaning. Over time, I decided to reverse the letters and write “Rero,” but that’s one of the things in my work where it doesn’t make sense. I try to find meaning in everything, but it is not in my name.
Tell me about your background.
I was born in Beaune in 1983, where we stayed for two years. Then I spent time with my dad in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa. We later returned to Villeneuve-sur-Lot in the south of France. After Saintes, Charente-Maritime, we arrived in Paris. I was 12 years old and at this point I discovered graffiti. I knew I wanted to express myself with art, but I always say classical art, it takes a lot of culture and a lot of information to understand that. Contemporary art is truly elitist. It’s not something very easily accessible, so I found something more appealing and spontaneous in graffiti and street art and decided to go that route. I started painting graffiti at the age of 14, copying what they did in New York in the 80s. At 16, I painted a truck and my mom said I could still do graffiti on the street because it’s not a crime. In France, and this is very important, we do not think badly of material destruction. We also like strikes. It’s one way to talk and show your frustrations. It doesn’t exist in every country in the world, but in France, if we don’t kill people, if we don’t make victims, if we just destroy material things, we allow people to express themselves. It is completely French. I don’t know if it exists in many countries. During the French Revolution we used to cut off heads, but later we let people talk and disagree about things. If we don’t kill people, if we just destroy things, that’s part of the French liberation. My work is also about that.
You write one, and in the same expression it is the opposite …
I say something, so I cross it out. I put one way of thinking and the opposite way of thinking, and I try to make a composition with a synthesis, with an open conclusion because I always write three points to open the conversation. So when you read it, sometimes you can read it in a negative way, sometimes you can read it in a positive way. People read it differently and it’s very interesting. At first I wrote my name, and over time I started to cross out some words to create context. The context is primordial, and to undermine the situation. Usually I try to always communicate with objects and contexts that should not be works of art, like a bicycle or a flag. For example, when Macron, the French president, said that art didn’t matter, I said I would use the same weapon as him. I would make this flag in the same production as the French flag, and instead of the flag flying in the sky, the sky is in the flag. It was a view from my house during the isolation. I decided to put up a picture I could see from my house and wrote “Dog Essentiel” (It doesn’t matter). This question that is important to us is a big question for me.
Does the fact that you chose to work with letters and words stem from graffiti?
I guess so, because when I was doing graffiti, the only thing I could do was put letters on the walls. I couldn’t express myself any other way. Over time, I started doing a small line. I wanted to keep the energy of graffiti, interacting on the street, so I started doing it in a very simple way because I couldn’t do otherwise. I did it later in deserted places, in nature. I think the words are simple too. You don’t have to know much to influence the world. Usually words are used to propagate something, but they are not used to ask questions. I think words are an easy way to talk to someone.
Why did you decide to use the Verdana font?
Verdana is really interesting. It is the most common typography in the world. Not Helvetica or Comic Sans MS. I did the opposite of graffiti artists trying to find my style, my identity and eventually it became my identity. Using words is also one of the ways to be French. During one stay in Morocco, the collector said that this is a very typical French way of looking because in the same work of art you put one idea and the opposite idea and try to draw a conclusion about what you are showing. In the United States, it is difficult to accept the contradiction. Contradiction is something very much related to the French spirit, and I really have that feeling, the more I work, the more I can centralize and summarize in one spirit. Over time, I try to figure out why I chose this one and not this time. I think people are touched by my work because it’s always something very simple, but taking off all the unnecessary stuff and going to the essentials is very difficult. It took me 12 years to really concentrate on my proposal.
Do you consider yourself a political artist?
For me, being an artist is like being an activist. It is already political because, for example, if you decide to paint flowers, the only fact that you paint flowers is to say no, too much shit in the world, too much information. I don’t want to participate in it, so I decide my resistance is to deal with flowers or work around beauty. For me, I connect with politics and the news because that’s the way I live, the way I express myself, so it’s very important to me. I say we are like a stone in a shoe or an itchy powder. You don’t kill people, but you make them uncomfortable. I just try to talk to people with my work and this line who do not completely agree with me, and art is the only thing I think it can do because there could be no exchange or discussion on many topics if we do not take the opportunity to use art. But I don’t like to say I’m totally political. I do not have one strong position on politics. I’m just trying to find questions, angles for question, but after that, I think every work of art is political, not necessarily mine.