So is the way of life for the man whom street artists and fans call Andre, Monsieur A. or Monsieur Andre. His iconic image of a round-headed cartoon with devilish grin and X-winking eye established him as a breakthrough artist at a time when the alphabet provided the stuff for most graffiti art.
At the same time, the elite know him as Andre Saraiva, provocateur, worldwide impresario and soft-spoken raconteur. He’s an international jetsetter with business interests in every nightclub corner of the world. His portfolio contains designs for the manufacturers of high fashion and luxury spirits, and includes work as a magazine consultant and hotelier. An August 2011 article in GQ reinforces his chi-chi status.
Andre belongs to two worlds at once, but it’s clear to which his heart belongs. He discovered his passion in graffiti and found a home in the nightlight of Paris. Decades after his first pink bomb, he remains essentially a child of the streets, a child of graffiti.
The birth of Monsieur
Andre Saraiva is Parisian by way of Sweden by way of Portugal. His parents fled the Portuguese revolution and dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salaz, settling temporarily in Uppsala, Sweden. Andre was born there in 1971. The timing remains uncertain, but Andre arrived in Paris in the first half of the 1980s between the ages of 10 and 13.
With a talent for drawing and an ignorance of the French language, Andre became drawn to the underground culture of graffiti artists. Looking at it years later, Andre viewed the non-verbal expression as a logical and natural progression for him. He gained early street notoriety for bombing his name in lurid pink. That was during the infancy of Parisian graffiti, when most artists concentrated on tagging letters and names in order to gain the attention of comrades (without, of course, gaining attention from la gendarmerie).
Andre has spoken romantically and sentimentally of those early days, describing his day-to-day existence as a free-spirited way of life. According to Andre, the street community of his time undertook a grander vision, proclaiming that graffiti is “a new way of letting the city breathe.”
Once in a great while, he managed to earn a little money from his drawings. At other times, when he got hungry, he’d duck into a supermarket and help himself to what he needed. The nights were long, and he and his friends sought out any kind of refuge in which to take breaks”Paris hotspots were the only places open, and nightclubs soon became his second home.
A contemporary of Zevs and Invader, Andre achieved his popular status in the 1990s thanks to the creation of his signature cartoon image, Monsieur A. The name has since become interchangeable for both the artist and his cartoon. Without official record, the first claimed sighting of the Monsieur A. character occurred in 1994. By the end of 1995, Andre’s grinning, winking character had thoroughly infiltrated Paris’ urban canvas.
By Andre’s own account, he tagged Monsieur A. an average of 10 times per day for more than 10 years. Another Andre legend tells the story of the time he disguised himself as a municipal employee in order to gain greater access to spaces around Paris”the deception allowed him to tag up to 50 images in one day. Whether or not these stories entail some dramatic license, Andre has often professed that he created frantically and compulsively.
In the early 2000s, Andre established his “Love Graffiti” series. These works featured expansively sprayed-painted first names, often framed by rows of small hearts. He quickly received requests and then commissions for these subjects.
When art collectors discovered the street, they discovered Andre and Monsieur A. as well. The artist’s ventures, and adventures, grew swiftly with his new celebrity. In 2004 he opened the nightclub Le Baron in a former Paris brothel. In 2006 he became a partner in a Tokyo club as well as New York’s notorious, semi-private Beatrice Inn.
As Andre’s nightlife empire expanded, so too did his commercial art. By 2009 he ran his own Paris boutique, and then designed the label for the high-end Belvedere IX Vodka. He appeared in several scenes of Banksy’s 2010 street art film “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and held his first solo exhibition. His work has been regularly displayed indoors via galleries and museums on both sides of the Atlantic ever since.
Commercial success has driven the character of Monsieur A. into the realm of toys, knickknacks and apparel. As much as Andre the graffiti artist achieved street clout built on sheer volume, he has achieved entrepreneurial success with his flair for underground chic. Credit him the ownership of bars in Paris, Tokyo and New York. He owns pieces of hotels, a magazine and his own clothing line. He’s been an editorial consultant and has created designs for Givenchy and Louis Vuitton.
But Andre’s fingers and thumb tell the real story, showing the impact of holding a hard, metallic cylinder and depressing its nozzle hundreds of thousands of times. Call it an occupational hazard, a mutant tattoo thanks to life as old-school street artist. He may be delayed for a business meeting, appearing late with discolored hands. If asked, Andre would shrug and explain that it’s merely a dose of fresh paint, evidence of an enticing wall he passed by.
What else can a child of graffiti do? After all this time, Andre has no choice. As he plainly explains, “A city without graffiti is a dead city.”