By A. Moret
After a transcontinental journey spanning more than three decades, Swedish-French graffiti artist André introduces his alter-ego and infamous character Monsieur A to the blockchain. An unmistakable visage sits on top of a pair of lanky stick figure legs. A mischievous grin extends across his bluntly circular face while a wide eye confronts our gaze from every angle and a second eye replaced with an “x” ostensibly winks at us. A tophat with a curled brim sits atop his head, paying a proverbial tip of the hat to the flâneur, a literary type that emerged from 19th Century French culture. A figure known for being a pensive and acute observer of modern life, the flâneur roamed about the city in the same fashion as Mr. A.: donning pointed heeled shoes and methodically gesticulating whilst contemplating his place in society. An urban acrobat, Mr. A originally rendered in pink spray paint emerges from forgotten corners, enlivens post boxes with a wink and a smile, dances along concrete barricades in car parks, rises from subterranean windows, rides the metro, runs from parking meters, brightens barren concrete surfaces and interacts with each passerby. Mr. A‘s NFT début embodies the same je ne sais quoi as his street art counterpart.
Born in Sweden to Portuguese parents, André was raised with a tremendous sense of cultural sensitivity and curiosity. A polyglot speaking Swedish, French, Portuguese, English, and a bit of Italian, the artist moved to Paris in his youth and went on to live in the United Kingdom, Tokyo, New York, and Los Angeles. While he resists calling one place home, he explains that being exposed to so many diverse cultures awakened his creativity. “Growing up in a place where you are not from forces you to embrace the fact of being different and being proud of it. That gave me a very strong [sense of self].”
At the age of ten, André moved to Paris where he would frequent museums and the cinema, soaking up art history and the films of the French New Wave. While he speaks affectionately about Sweden and Paris, the artist continues to say that “in a way, nowhere is home. I don’t want to be too comfortable because when you’re too comfortable in a place you don’t do very much. I see myself as a bit of a gypsy traveler.” While he may not call one city home, it was in the city that his art was born. “I love cities,” he states warmly. The “influence of the lights, the advertising, the billboards, the neons, nourished my graffiti.” The angles, perspectives, and texture, and surfaces like buses and metros allowed him an opportunity to experiment and develop a writing style with spray paint. The city was the pulse that gave life to Mr. A. The artist goes on to say that the city served as his canvas as it’s “more difficult to write on trees and leaves.” In 1989 André revealed his alter-ego and personage, Mr. A, for the first time in the streets of Paris.
Mr. A is a “bit of a magician, a bit of a robber, and a kind of tricky gentleman” who, unlike other forms of street art, actually interacts with the environment he is placed in. There are several games at play with Mr. A. Namely, there is the thrill of discovering him and in turn inspiring a newfound curiosity about one’s city. “Finding [Mr. A] makes it yours,” the artist states. “The city belongs to everyone so that’s the game. Once you’ve painted graffiti it belongs to the people and they can make their own story.” While he has been the main character in thousands of stories that transcend time zones and decades, André has made sure to render his alter-ego in the same style no matter what the surface. The color pink has been as integral to Mr. A as his eccentric accessories. “With graffiti, it wasn’t very manly and tough to use pink. So that was a good thing for me because in paint stores they would steal all the colors but there were always plenty of pinks left, so I would take the remaining ones. It was a color that no one else was using so it became my color.” Pink is inherently joyful and is among the few colors that pop off the wall whilst complementing its environment.
Using stop motion to create the Mr. A NFT allowed André to remain true to his “old school techniques” that ensure his style remains unique even within a digital space. Rendered in a black line drawing against a pink backdrop, Mr. A faces the viewer, looks up to his tophat, and then pulls it over his head. With one arm he extends his tophat out to the side and reveals the letters “NFT” springing from his mind with bolts of lighting, stars, and hearts. He then repeats the motion and this time a dollar sign appears, accompanied by whimsical sound effects that feel familiar from childhood cartoons. The playful and mischievous street art character now has a new space to explore. Let’s follow along as Mr. A begins on a new journey and reveals wicked tricks from beneath his tophat.