Interview with Amine Bouziane, the director of the graffiti documentary about to be aired on “France 4” & “TV 5 Monde”


Last week, a trailer about the upcoming television documentary: “GRAFFITI: PEINTRES ET VANDALES”, started to make the rounds about the graffiti media networks. The 52 minute version of the film will be aired on the national broadcaster “France4” on the 5th of October 2015, and later on “TV 5 Monde”, an international Francophone TV station.

Before we met with Amine Bouziane, the director of the film, we had already heard about his project from a friend of ours. And even though we were skeptical about it, we wanted to meet the person behind the film and learn more.

French TV, as any other, is only looking for sensationalism, scandals and “reality”. Their reports & features on graffiti over the last 5 years are either people walking around with machetes in the train depots, or incompetent reports on arrests of vandals, that are made to cast a profane slight on the image on the culture.

We met with Amine in the Spring of 2014 at an art fair where he was following Jonone & Saeio in their installations.  We had a interesting conversation about the topic of his film and we were kindly surprised on his point of view and the thorough analysis he performed on the subject of Artists and Vandals in graffiti culture. The topic of his film was interesting and it was surprising how nobody had opened it up to the general public before.

Therefore we not only agreed to participate in his project, but also to support it further in its realization.

Amine is a professional film director, journalist, music producer, video artist and curator. He has created documentaries around the world on many different subjects such as India, Egypt, Lebanon, Japan, Spain and others  for different channels in France and all around the world. His music label has produced and released a lot of quality rap music and videos, working with several artists as Pacewon of Outsidaz, Kool Keith, AG & OC of the DITC, Kurious jorge, GOD from Infamous Mobb, Insight, Sonic Sum, Cannibal OX and also artists from the electro scene. He was editor in chief of the magazine Syndikat at the end of the nineties and created Real Magazine in the beginning of 2000 (a magazine focused on the new US alternative Hip Hop scene). He has written for many magazines – from the French version of The Source to WAD Magazine, La Rumeur or Spray Magazine. Furthermore – he helped Boris organize his first exhibition after his release from prison and later they worked together on several projects including the curation of exhibitions by MOSES & TAPS, Risote, Mygalo and others.

“Graffiti is, in a certain way, a costless adventure until you get fined. A way to enchant your daily routine by discovering places where no one else goes, to discover the city in another way. That’s what interested me the most. Go in a yard, even for somebody like me that don’t paint, is a kind of privilege. It’s that whole the atmosphere.”



Amine Bouziane Portrait by Good Guy Boris The Grifters Journal Graffiti Peintres et Vandales

Amine Bouziane – portrait by Good Guy Boris

Tell us about your upcoming documentary film. How was the idea born? Was there a story that inspired you? In which countries was the film shot? 


The documentary talks about the graffiti paradox, divided between its commercial boom, its institutional recognition and its ferocious repression. The last few years, we saw the aesthetic codes of graffiti digested and copied everywhere, in fashion, advertising, marketing. The art market became infatuated with graffiti, even if it remains the poor child of street art (but let’s say that the magnifying number of auction sales, exhibition and galleries eased the task of its acceptance.) And there is the symbolic hijacking by politicians. On the fringe of all of this, repression of graffiti never has been as strong as today with the harder sentences. The fines never have been so heavy or reached such exorbitance. Gaol sentences (without parole) become more and more frequent to the people they call Vandals. There is little to remind us of them since RATP and SNCF buff really quickly. But how can we say that a piece of culture doesn’t exist any more because we can’t see it?

The paradox and ambivalence of graffiti divided between shadow and light is the seed for discussion. A documentary always starts with what we ask ourselves about. I was wondering, is there still any subway writing in Paris? I knew Interrail had considerably internationalized it, but I was wondering if French guys were still painting subways, home, in Paris. Then, I was wondering if the mistrust of graffiti writers towards the art world was still that strong, and how they were operating their transition in a world where the rules are no longer the same. What does the art world know about graffiti? How does an art and culture relying on transgression, the prohibition, cultivating the fringe insert and integrate itself in the art market? Is graffiti soluble in this rag-bag called street art or was it all a misunderstanding?

Those were all the questions I asked myself beforehand with the film and during the shooting. All of that was inherent in the desire to make that movie. At the end, we find ways of reading that we want to share as our own look. It remains a subjective look on this culture. It doesn’t have any role to be taken as gospel. I filmed in France, Germany and Italy, Belgium and Brazil also. Let’s say that after while, it became difficult to stop because I wanted more and more but it had to stop, to be put to an end, and sometimes I had to make hard choices on conserving this sequence, or dropping that sequence. For example, there are shots that I didn’t keep in the TV version Belgium and Brazil but I will use them in the DVD version.


ZEVS Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde



Can you reveal some of the main characters/artists? Was it hard to reach them (the artists)?


Different generations succeed each other in the movie. Each one comes with their own motivations and vision about graffiti. But beyond those generations, there is different ways to look at the graffiti culture in general and the vandal scene. I’ll only mention the artists I was able to shoot with sequences and actions as I think it is what is the strongest.

Keag and Sore define themselves as vandals and are not interested in the art world. They practice graffiti the way they always have known it, cultivated in secret and anonymity. Graffiti is a parallel life and an adjoining passion to their daily life and obligations. For them, graffiti is a catharsis. There is something pure in their process they don’t want to pervert.


Keag Sore Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde



Junky shares the same vision, except that he is more open minded regarding the art world. He paints canvases, exhibits and practices graffiti as multidisciplinary activity. Illegal paint as much in the streets, as on steel, is for him only a variable to a larger culture than graffiti.

See comes from the same generation. He’s a French metro veteran, who exclusively painted in Paris, and who regardless of fines and gaol time, still goes ahead with vandalism on steel without changing name or alias. He decided to stay true to his name and then heavily exposes himself. Since 2013, he appears unmasked and posts videos on social networks. For him, graffiti constitutes his identity no matter what it can cost him.

Zevs also comes from this generation. He learnt how to ‘trick’ the rules of graffiti and trespass them to give birth to street art, in its most noble acceptance. His throwies were already more figurative and he leaves quickly the graffiti orthodoxy of classic graffiti with his shadows on urban furniture, the drippings, visual kidnapping or clean graffiti. He is also someone who operated well the transition into contemporary art. What is interesting, is that he goes against this cliché that the art market keeps thinking that the in situ production is always less sophisticated, more archaic, than the one proposed in the institution. He goes against this principle. His work in public space works mirrored to his work in institutions. He’s also an artist who kept working in the street when he had already operated his transition into galleries. I thought that after his arrest in Hong Kong, it would be harder to shoot illegal sessions but, no, not at all. He did this for me in the strongest sequences of this documentary. He has this strength to always relate his actions to a strong idea.


MOSES TAPS Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde



I wanted also to internationalize the perspective with Utah and Ether on a side and on another hand with Taps and Moses. They’re younger than the artists I mentioned before and they illustrate quite well the more international dimension that developed through Interrail. Both of them work as a team and personify this idea of competition and challenge in vandal graffiti. Each of them does it in their own way.

Taps and Moses illustrate themselves by the quality of their trains, mostly with their wholecars. Their work is extremely accomplished with sometimes a conceptual approach.

Utah and Ether personify a more orthodox approach, with a hallucinating quantity of systems. They represent, in an extreme way, the transatlantic concept of the Hobo. For them, graffiti became a total libertarian experience no matter what. I really wanted them because they are die-hard in their way of thinking. In a certain way, there is no stepping back and they have completely dedicated their life to it. They are akin to the romantic heroes of modern times. I have a particular affection for them. I heard many things about them, that they’re like this or like that, that they don’t respect anything. In reality, I met forthright people, humble and endearing.


UTAH ETHER Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde



Saeio is even younger. Now we won’t speak any more about steel but instead, the street. What is interesting is that he exemplifies a new generation, with ambitions and opportunities that were totally unthinkable for the older generations. He paints illegally in the street, yet at the same time, he exhibits and produces artworks in an institutional atmosphere. A big contrast. He represents the ambivalence and the paradox that graffiti encapsulates very well. Between rise and fall, shadow and light, recognition and penalty. Meanwhile, Saeio was being judged, he was exposing pieces at the Artfair that were sold out. He masters the codes of graffiti, even with his crew PAL, he searches for new things to deconstruct. We find in his paintings influences like the Cobra collective or Pierre Alechinsky.

It wasn’t that hard to connect with the artists. I quickly started to shoot with Keag, Sore and Junky and the more institutional ones in the galleries and auction houses, Jonone for example.

I thought it would be difficult to find writers in Paris accepting to be filmed on subway actions. And then See accepted. It was a blessing to find somebody accepting not to be blurred in the images, it was far beyond of any of my expectations. Then Zeus accepted my request and put forward a strong concept. And it happened. And everything happened pretty quickly. A month and a half after shooting with Zevs, I was completing my shootings with Utah and Ether, then Taps and Mozes. I randomly met Trane in the train as I was going to shoot with Utah and Ether. I was privileged to witness actions and ” live” sequences to add to the “testimonials”. There is quite a bunch of other writers that the people will be able to discover during the diffusion.


We heard graffiti artists sometimes don’t like each other that much. Do conflicts of this kind create trouble for your work? What is your opinion about the two worlds (vandals & painters) and the paradox that you talk about? Which are the main difference between painters and vandals? 


SAEIO SAEYO PAL CREW Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde



Yes indeed, each of them has a pretty asserted vision, sometimes even exclusive, of what graffiti is.  Also the crew mindedness and rivalries comes included, but let’s say that most of the time I got the impression that it isn’t a world as tense when compared to how it was some years ago. Even then, I won’t deny that there is still a bit ego but it is a field, compared to other artistic fields, still propitious to communication.  You get linked or introduced to this guy or that guy and it goes quite quickly because it remains a microcosm. I can’t say I had any particular difficulties. Quite the contrary, I met kind and passionate people.

To answer the second part of your question about the title, the interpretation is free. Initially, I proposed to one of the channels this title: “Graffiti, between two worlds”. Of course, it’s less direct but it has the advantage to eliminate a formal opposition. Then, we can hear the title “Painters and Vandals” in different ways. We can oppose them. That’s what society does by considering the act of illegal painting as vandalism when legal painting is socially accepted.  It becomes an art even when it’s considered an offence, it invites itself where it isn’t desired. But we can also associate them. This is the idea I keep in mind.  Despite its forbidden and transgressive side, it is still painting we are talking about. I think that the real strength of graffiti is that it questions and interrogates the position of art in society. Does art have to express itself in a place conceded by society or does it have to invite himself and conquer it? In my opinion, a vandal is first of all a painter. Painting is constitutive of who he is and what he does. It’s the look and social acceptance that defines if it is vandalism or art.

We can also discuss what graffiti is? Once we erase illegality and transgression, can we still speak about graffiti? Utah and Ether, or Keag and Sore answer to that question in the movie.

Then the codes and rules of vandal graffiti versus the art market are not the same. This distortion is sometimes hard to live with for graffiti writers. The art world, I think, still remains sceptical towards graffiti. Included as street art, it becomes acceptable and soluble. But taken as it is, it is difficult for institutions to apprehend graffiti. Even if graffiti is thirty or forty years old now, institutions only apprehend it in a formal way.


Did any vandals refuse to participate? And why? Do you think vandals really want to stay anonymous? How did you assure the vandals that you are not working for the police? 


SEE MPV HG SUBWAY METRO RATP KEYS Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde

SEE – RATP/Metro access keys


No refusals were unjustified. Some had just been through trial, or were going to be, and in this way all they wanted to avoid was more trouble. Vandal graffiti functions as a micro-society made up of initiated people cultivating secrecy.  At the same time, investigations and trials make them right. I think there is a certain defiance in graffiti regarding the media, but the main goal of graffiti is to be the most seen.  Then, everyone makes it within his own measure and sees if the recognition is worth the risk. See asked me the first time if I was working for the cops. Once the suspicion was over, we could start to talk. Others asked me what my motivation was and what was the angle of the movie. I think this was a way to figure out who I was and what I was doing. As I told you, things run fast in graffiti and I think everybody knew that a guy was making a documentary, so lets say it made them feel secure.


What virtues did you discover in the mentality of the vandals? Did you find a common pattern of behaviour in the vandals you work with?



Good guy boris the grifters Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde

Good Guy Boris


 I think that painting on steel is an exigent passion even a full time job for some of them. Without any salary or raise, there is nothing to win but everything to lose in vandal graffiti. You go against the system (or at least the SNCF and RATP systems). There is an antisocial thinking that alienates you. Today, there are special units in the police and the most advanced countries in this field are glad to share their knowledge with each other. Therefore, you discover a wild bunch of writers obsessed by the vandal squad, Gare de Lyon (Gare du Nord, GDN for the old timers) and anyone restraining them in their passion. It’s an environment where stories and legends are orally spread. It was the Internet before the Internet. Graffiti is, in a certain way, a costless adventure until you get fined. A way to enchant your daily routine by discovering places where no one else goes, to discover the city in another way. That’s what interested me the most. Go in a yard, even for somebody like me that don’t paint, is a kind of privilege. It’s that whole the atmosphere. What is interesting is that there is no concrete profile. There are a lot of diverse profiles, with different social backgrounds, careers and moments. There are different ways to live graffiti nowadays. Before you had guys living a classic life and living their graffiti in the shadows, like a way to relax. And others who dived deep into it and put everything they had into it, and through the years with their age and passion, become antisocial, without the possibility to find any employment out of it. Today, the art market opens up to new perspectives. Graffiti becomes sexier. It’s now part of the collective unconsciousness.


What are the vandals able to learn from the painters? What difference do you see in the competition of the painters, compared to that of the vandals?


MOSES TAPS Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde

Splash on train wagon by MOSES & TAPS™


I think that the art world and graffiti borrow elements to each other. All this aesthetic of the drips, saturation, and “punishment” (act of repeating the same word on surfaces like the punishment in schools) is more commonly accepted nowadays in the gallery world, but comes straight from vandal graffiti. It is already used by classic painters, but was largely vulgarized by graffiti. Before graffiti, Jackson Pollock and abstract painters already instituted dripping. Which means that everything infuses and collapses. Those two worlds are not cut off from each other. I would say that the art world and institutions have something to learn about graffiti in general and most particularly from vandal graffiti. This is not Art Brut, it is a culture with its own references, schools and codes.

To answer to your question, I’d say that the rules are not the same any more. On one hand, vandals set themselves more or less objective precise standards and that are commonly accepted: quantity, quality, visibility, time and on another hand, the rules of the art market.

I find the metaphor used by Keag quite fair enough. Graffiti is a sort of a mentor society, with steps and rites to go through to earn the respect of your own peers. On another hand, there is also the artist’s rate.  This creates a distortion quite difficultly accepted by the vandals. I think that the progression of a vandal is longer and more discontinuous than the one of an artist producing in a studio. Vandal painting is composed of external interactions, fails and desires. Those elements condition the result. Azyle took twenty years to master saturation and that’s what makes him interesting. In an institutional point of view, time would have been less, but the symbolic value would have been highly reduced. Some vandals stopped sketching, scared to be questioned and have legal evidences that they were painting. Inevitably, their way of painting is completely disrupted. Conversely, institutional painters must compose with the market and consciously (or unconsciously) adapt their productions when the vandal painting is not calculated. The graffiti writers have become masters in the Do It Yourself and hustle. They create parallel networks, Facebook communities, realise fanzines, books. When they use this savoir-faire in the institutional direction, they’ll succeed to arise, be heard and be artistically relevant. For the moment, graffiti feels indebted and obliged to the art world. When this domination relationship will be over, something stronger will come out.


What helps one artist to sell better than another? How a vandal becomes a painter? Do you think that successful painter can be successful vandal at the same time and vice versa? Shall one abandon one discipline in order to progress in the other?


SAEIO SAEYO Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde



Nowadays, auction houses quickly help to rate an artist. A rate, that even if can be quite artificial, allows an artist to say “I cost that much”. It gives a standard of value to the art collectors. In this way, we are in a market system and purely market orientated. With graffiti and street art, we saw the rise of a new collectors community, and also the multiplicity of heterogeneous artists that we labelled with a generic and messy label of “Street Art”. Demand is strong and supply is important. So the galleries took a while to take their marks and do their job. Auction houses smelt the opportunity and took their position a lot more quickly than the galleries. Artists that never sold pieces or exhibited in a gallery are able to directly sell to auction houses to establish themselves faster. Away from the market system, the artists that strive to impose themselves are the ones that succeed in creating themselves an image, to understand the psychology of the collectors and market. Today, we are in a total monetization of art where the painter is becoming a financial product.

If the biggest vandals had made a blast in the art world we would already know it. Where are Trane, Blade or O’Clock? I think it depends on a couple of things. First, it has to be the deep desire of the artist. Does he really want to make it in the art world? What is his artistic position? Can it meet the audience? Is he ready to play the game of institutions? Time is important too. Things are happening step by step in an empiric way. A vandal needed at least a decade to operate a transition. This is not that true for the Americans who could quickly exhibit and sell canvases, even if the market was torn down at the end of the eighties. But for France, it’s been a really slow evolution. The concept of becoming an artist was inconceivable. It sounded like an insult in many cases. It’s really often the troubles with justice and fines that helped the transition of vandals towards the art market.

Today, the possibilities are multiplied and accelerated, a vandal can set up a marketing plan to break through the institutions. To reach visibility in the street or on steel, and then propose something interesting in the studio, seems to me complicated but still possible. If the guy paints abroad or with multiple aliases in France, why not. Then you can establish yourself in the long term in both worlds, however this is difficult because both of them are demanding. Somebody like OZ was able to stay in both throughout his time. But you also have some writers that are in the institutional system that from time to time go to vandalise sometimes abroad or in France with other nicknames.



Share with us an extreme experience you had during the shoot of the film? Any funny ones? Was there a sad one? Did you get in legal trouble while filming the artists?

SEE HG MPV PARIS Graffiti: Peintres et Vandales graffiti documentary film france4 tv5 monde


The hottest one was the first action with See. The subways were still running and we had to cross the rails within a really short time frame before any subway could crash into us from one way or another. We needed to get back to the previous station by the tunnel to reach the yard. I couldn’t clearly see the third rail because of the cables. I can picture myself saying again and again: “It’s a mess and there are cables everywhere. Where do I walk?” and him answering me: “ Where you want, you do as you can. But quickly!” I had to film at the same time, everything becoming very complicated! He makes his move. We get out. We go again in the tunnel. He uses the coming subway as a shield. If there is an arc, he will get carbonised for sure. At that moment, a string of my tripod gets stuck in the rails, my hand is stuck because the string crossed over itself. I can untie myself but can’t take the tripod so I leave it there. I get out of the tunnel and we go to the station. I tell myself that at this time there is a chance that we get caught. We get out of the station. Go to McDonald’s to have a drink. God, that’s a job well done. Next.

Even if it was a bit of a fun, I think to myself retroactively that what could have gone wrong was the filming with Zevs. He decides to go to paint some yachts on the French Riviera. There, it is vandalism on private property that costs several hundred million Euros with crews and insomniac bodyguards ready to fight every hour of the night.

During all the shooting I got caught only once, in Belgium. It wasn’t during a train action or a subway, but in an abandoned swimming pool in a small forgotten village. The guy I was filming was making drips along the side of the pool until I see fifteen Belgium police officers arriving with guns and all that. They asked us to stop, but were ready to shoot us. That brought about the end of the session and we all went to the police station. We got released some hours later, I think they took us for gypsies looking for copper.

In the sad chapter, filming Moka’s mother was a very stirring moment. It was less than a year after his death. She stood stoical, with a fair vision of what graffiti can be.


Peintres et Vandales Slideshow

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All Photos: ©Amine Bouziane

Translation from French: Ogreoner


About The Author

Boris is a Parisian based director, visual artist & curator. He is mostly known for founding the internet graffiti phenomenon The Grifters Journal and later with his alter ego Good Guy Boris, which shot him to popularity thanks to the success of a series of web video travelogues entitled Grifters Code. Instagram @goodguyboris