From Sidewalk to Canvas: The Graphic Language of L’Atlas

Investigations into typography and calligraphy began for artist Jules Dedet Granel—better known under the pseudonym L’Atlas—following involvement in the graffiti culture of Paris in the early 1990s. His eye for geometric abstraction, along with an appreciation for Sufism, developed through exposure to regional Arabic scripts, which he transposed into characteristically graphic Latin letters. The artist met a crossroads when, after repeatedly tagging a truck parked outside agnès b.’s Paris gallery, he was offered a solo show at the space. He soon shifted his practice from the populism of the street to the rigors of the studio—without losing a feeling for the scale and chaos of the urban environment.

Consistently working in graphic two-tone—reflecting the traditional scheme of calligrapher’s ink on paper—L’Atlas’ first major project of the 2000s took the form of a series of black-and-white photographs. For his first set of original paintings—which he refers to as his “seven daughters”—instead of spray-painting walls and billboards, the artist created canvases and planted them in cities across the world, from New Delhi to Venice. Each canvas displayed a hard-edged ideogram of “L’ATLAS,” thus melding the language of graffiti with the techniques of painting, while still traversing cosmopolitan space. A beautification initiative by the city of Paris to remove graffiti marks in 2001 prompted a series of unsolicited works by L’Atlas, often taking the shape of giant labyrinthine compasses, executed in sellotape on the ground of public plazas, like those outside the Centre Pompidou and New York’s Washington Square Park. These works expressed the feeling that he and other artists had “lost their way” in their home city due to the eradication of familiar street marks and symbols.

L’Atlas’ works go on view this month at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, in a new exhibition, “SHAPES.” His fascination for the gritty architecture of the city is reflected in installations and paintings at the gallery—in the form of photographs of neglected corners (Les Bains, 2013), the material support of metal frontage common to storefront security gates (“I just write my name” and “City Fragments,” both 2008), and the appropriation of street fixtures (Manhole imprint, 2008)—which all share a raw and forceful aesthetic.

“SHAPES” is on view at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, New York, May 15th–June 22nd, 2014.

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