Good Guy Boris on Making and Documenting Graffiti in Europe

By Jon Young on October 26, 2017

Good Guy Boris is an optimist. And at 29 years old, the Parisian-based filmmaker and visual artist—best known for producing the Grifters Code series of graffiti documentaries—is only getting started. After a four-month stint in Europe’s largest prison, Fleury-Mérogis in France, Boris came out focused on releasing a book, holding exhibitions and closing out the final chapter of his Grifters Code series with the infamous train-riding, abseiling Berlin Kidz. His latest project, #LiveBoris, an opus on the unmasking of graffiti culture, gives a live and unscripted street-level view for his 45,000+ Instagram followers. PRØHBTD spoke with him via Skype to chat about #LiveBoris, social media and the future of the scene. 

Who is Good Guy Boris?

Boris is my alter ego. He’s got the face and the accent—you can see him, and you know him 100 percent—but he’s also myself. He gives graffiti a face and a story. In the beginning, I had a different persona, picking up a name, and you write this name and repeat it. At one point I said, "Why do I write this name, and why do I hide my face? Why don’t I speak or spread my message?" So I stopped. I said, "Hey, my parents gave me a beautiful name, and I shouldn’t make a fake name. I’m gonna show my face, and I’m gonna spread a message." So I started to write phrases, and this is the moment when I found my true persona, my true mission. I want to make graffiti accessible. I want to show the lifestyle and what is behind it. I want to unmask graffiti. 

How do you integrate social media and new technology into your work?

The evolution of my documentaries always goes partly with the evolution of social media. Every opportunity social media gives the world, I try to adopt and apply to the documentation of graffiti. I’m really excited about new technology, about the positive side of social media and what it provides. What we can achieve with how connected we are. For sure, there is a negative part that, okay, maybe this is not the true thing. Social media connects us, but social media also destroys us and makes us antisocial in a way. But if we want to go forward, we have to use the technology in a positive way. And if we use it with optimism, it will do good stuff. 

Is this one of the messages you illustrate with your social media artwork?

Text messaging is never the same as when you speak to your friends, so this is why the artwork is also ironic. People know the feeling when you send a text and don’t get a text back. This is the social media anxiety, and I think that most of the artwork I do is one part the anxiety we get from social media and another part the irony of using the memes and the language of the internet. The emojis. 

What is #LiveBoris?

It’s an ephemeral experience. People have to be there following. They see the notification, and they see that I posted, and after I post, it’s gone. This is creating a strong fear of missing out for the audience. The main idea is that this is live, this is happening right now, this is real.

Why Instagram?

The present is Instagram. The present is live streaming. Everyone sees video online, but when you see full graffiti action live stream, you know somewhere, at this time of day, somebody is painting right now. There is no music, no scenario, no script, just an idea the guy is going to paint. You never know what’s going to happen. You see me interacting with the audience, being attacked by people on the street, speaking with police and being arrested, talking with people and showing fake permission and continuing to paint. You have legal consequences—there are a lot of question marks.

How has the scene changed since you began 17 years ago?

You can see a young guy who starts graffiti today take to social media and the internet. He can evolve so fast, he can absorb so much information, he can see so many videos, so many styles from different countries, and he can build his own unique style much faster than we could 15 or 20 years ago. It’s crazy. The younger generation also has the skills to use social media to reach much more people, and for graffiti, the most important thing is reaching people. Graffiti is marketing. If you write graffiti, you write a name, and this name becomes a brand the very moment you create it. People who understand their brand [will] market, market, market, and those who know how to use social media have the success. 

You chose Greece as your base for #LiveBoris. Why?

I wanted to pick a location where the weather is nice, and Greece is a destination that I really love. Athens is the perfect playground for me. Athens is full of graffiti, and Greece is a graffiti-friendly country. It allowed me to do what I did. 

Where are you painting?

There is a lot of space to paint there. All my life I painted trains,but I’m over train-bombing. I’m more interested in the street and interacting with people because painting trains is anti-social. You go to a yard and don’t see nobody, and if you do have interactions, they’re going to be bad interactions. Street graffiti was the goal of my project because I wanted to have people around showing them street graffiti. To make anti-social graffiti, social. To show the lifestyle so they can really see what is behind the pieces, these writings on the wall. People really don’t know how much energy, how much effort, how many resources it took for the creation.

What do you think is the key to your rising popularity?

The key of every profession is being authentic and being yourself. Not trying to be somebody else. And the moment you are yourself, things start to work, and people appreciate it. The whole process becomes flawless. 

How do you feel about graffiti going mainstream?

For sure the mainstream is taking out the purity because, when we speak about the mainstream, we are speaking about money. There is a negative side, for sure, but it brings many more positive [things]. Graffiti is an underground movement, but the word "underground" for me is dirty because the good things that start underground become mainstream. Why do they become mainstream? Because money comes into it. So this is clearly people creating products for selling, but hey, people who have the pure graffiti background are also selling art. They are also doing business. They are also selling books, like myself. 

I’m living on graffiti, I’m documenting graffiti, but I lived graffiti all my conscious life. For me it’s natural to live on what I do. I don’t want to do anything else. It gives a lot of artists the opportunity to grow up, and by using social media, they can reach more people and sell their products. They can actually build a community, build a business, and they don’t have to go to work in a restaurant. They can work and live by their art.

Are there others who want to unmask graffiti, or do most prefer to stay in the shadows?

A lot of people want to stay in the shadows. A lot of people want to unmask, but a lot of people don’t have the guts to unmask or the guts to open their mouths and speak. It’s really hard for a person to open up and become public. It’s really hard to speak in front of a girl, it’s really hard to speak in front of your parents, and it’s really hard to speak in general. Few people are brave enough to go outside in the world and speak their language and their words. 

With graffiti, you don’t have to show your face, and you don’t necessarily have to speak with your voice. You can use your art to spread your message, and the moment people do this is the moment they reach success… when they are secure enough and confident enough to be open and spread the message. So, those who do it will have the success. Those who are afraid and wait and wait will give a big advantage to the others who are brave. Years ago when I started, many people were joking and saying, "No, this is not good. No, this is not the true graffiti. It’s not nice to show your face, and it’s not nice to pretend to be a clown." But me and other people got the attention [through social media]. Now we have the attention, and those who were not believing in social media and in the way it should be applied are now behind. They’re lost, and they have to catch up.

Why did you choose “Freedom is not defined by safety” as the Grifter’s motto?

I chose it before I went to prison. After I went to prison, it made sense. It was like I made a prediction of what was going to happen. I documented and distributed freedom, and for doing so, I was imprisoned. Your safety is not guaranteed. You’re risking your safety for being free. In modern society, if you want to be free, you are against the law. This doesn’t mean we have to act like criminals, like outlaws, and think we are gangster. But the rules and the laws are getting tighter and tighter, and they are trying to completely take our freedom away little by little. If you look at the laws, the restrictions, the privacy, they're already broken thanks to social media and the internet. If you see this evolution—how it’s decreasing for the sake of safety—we are giving away our privacy for safety, but we are reducing our freedom, and in the end there will be no freedom left.

But you remain optimistic?

I’m an optimist, always for sure, for my future and the future of everybody. I believe everything that is against prosperity is against the positive future of humanity, and it will be destroyed by natural progression. The future is bright, and whatever happens and wherever someone tries to make evil plans against us, he will not win. It will just be a temporary stress and fight, and in the long term, for sure, freedom will be the success and prosperity of society. 

Photo credits: Staubsaugerbeutel, Greta C. and Boris. 

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