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Olivier “Tavu” Ente

Inside the Artist

If you look at the work of Olivier “Tavu” Ente, an artist from Lille, who’s now living and working in Paris, you could go like, “Okay great, someone is scribbling portraits on old maps.” For Tavu, who belongs to the Magenta family, on the other hand, it’s nothing less than trying to understand humanity, the universe, life, and all the rest. It was a rainy Friday afternoon when we first met via Skype. The time prior to that wasn’t exactly the best in my life, but the conversation with Tavu was more beneficial to my mental condition than anything a therapist could’ve ever said to me and left me looking at the world in a more positive light than before. He basically shows you the way with his maps. Let him and his universe enter your mind.

Your drawings are all connected somehow. Why?

I like the idea of getting influenced by each other. If we think about jazz, the musicians really work together in a trio, for example. It’s so amazing that they are all connected at one point in their career. And after that, there’s a connection between hip-hop and jazz through samples and stuff.

You recently exhibited your works in Paris with Glen [Fox] and Soy [Panday]. Do you influence each other in your work as well?

I don’t think there is that much influence between us. Glen is really free. He can do so many things in one day. At the show in Paris, everything he showed was connected to the last months. He spent three weeks in Paris and all the drawings had a reference to those Paris days because he made all the drawings during the two weeks he spent in Jersey. I like the idea because it’s limited to a certain time of his life. There’s a few shared influences with Soy’s artwork for sure, like the “everything, everyone connected” idea, but we are both doing it in our own way.

How long do you work on your pieces?

It depends on the size of the map. But it can be very long. At that show, I showed a new one of Sade. I worked on it for all of August, maybe around 45 or 50 hours. But I like it because I’m almost meditating when I’m drawing.

What do you do besides your artworks?

Not so much for now. The state gives me enough money to survive, but it’s a choice that I made to have a lot of time for my drawings. But I’m kind of broke now, so I have to find a part-time job.

Did you ever think about trying to be a full-time artist?

Yeah, but it’s not easy. It’s possible, but you need to connect to the right people. You’d have to find a gallery and someone to work with.

"A map is always just a certain frame, depending on where you put the limits. Cities are just illusionary borders."

Sometimes it seems that when you’re an artist in the skateboard world, you will be recognized as a skateboard artist no matter what kind of art you do. Maybe people in skateboarding will recognize you, but it’s harder to get outside of that world.

Maybe, but I don’t think so. It’s a good thing to be a part of that skateboard world because everybody likes to have a good graphic on a board. If you do a good board, people will put it up on their walls and that’s really cool. But I know there are a couple of people – the guys from Beautiful Losers – who are active outside of the skate scene. But it takes time. Magenta has been here for maybe eight years, but people will look at it completely differently in 20 years. For now, it’s not easy to recognize the real value of something. Think about the first Chocolate boards. Everybody thinks they are amazing now, but it was just a skateboard back in the days. Everyone likes Evan Hecox now, but back then, he was just doing regular graphics.

How did you start doing your artworks? Were you always drawing on maps?

I used to do a lot of things because I’ve basically been drawing for all my life. First, it was, like, griptape jobs and some stickers. But before I started to do the first one, it has never been that conceptual. I think I did the first one in 2010.

Why did you start doing it like that?

I don’t know exactly. There’s this NGO Doctors Without Borders and they sent me a map of the world… I don’t exactly know why, but I received it in my mailbox and put it on my wall. I thought that I’d have to make use of it somehow and started drawing Melvin van Peebles on it. I was looking at all that stuff about blaxploitation and watched movies like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. He made an album as well. I found this cool portrait of him on Google and just drew it. It just happened. The unconscious is funny. It took me, like, four months to finish it though because it was the first one and I didn’t really know how to do it.

And then you just kept on going?

Yeah, after a while. The second one was Jamel Shabazz, a hip-hop photographer from New York. We met in Lille and there was this story about us and him, and so I took a map of New York and after that another one and another one.

Where do you find the maps?

It depends on the size of the portrait I want to draw. There are a few shops where you can find a lot of different maps. Also, I go to a lot of garage sales or flea markets. That’s the best way most of the time because it’s not expensive and you get really old maps in different styles. By now, I have boxes filled with maps.

And in which way do the maps have to be connected to the portrait?

It depends on what I want to talk about. There are a lot of things that are connected to Paris. Even with jazz. All the jazz people spent a bit of time here, and there are a lot of stories, so I even put Miles Davis on Paris because he made the soundtrack to Ascenseur pour l’échafaud [Elevator to the Gallows, editor’s note]. So it depends on whether or not I want to talk about a specific story or just about a person in general. 

What does a person need to have in order to make you want to draw them?

It’s always people that I like and that I want to share with others. Because when you find something that you love together, that you have in common, that’s an important thing for communication. Even in skateboarding… I mean, we’ve never met, but we are here, we speak, and it’s just because we both like skateboarding. Same with musicians and artists. People are going to see drawings that I did and if we meet, they could be like, “Yeah, man. I liked that MF Doom drawing,” and we could talk for hours. That’s the goal.

Do you usually find the map first and then come up with an idea or do you think of a portrait that you want to do and then you go and try to find a map that fits?

It happened a few times that I saw a map that I really wanted to use and so I had to find a way. But most of the times, it’s the other way around. Sometimes I’m afraid to use the really good maps though. When I like the way it looks, I don’t want to draw on it. You never know if the portrait is going to be good, so you don’t want to fuck the good ones up for nothing.

Is it a conscious decision that you draw a lot of African Americans or is it a coincidence because you listen to a lot of hip-hop and jazz?

I guess it’s both. I like the idea of only drawing African-American people because their culture is amazing. The African-American culture has so many interesting stories and all their creations are dope. And I like the idea of creating some kind of unity. If I draw people, I draw all of them in black anyways and put them all on the same level. It makes no difference whether they are black or white. It’s about what we share with each other and not about how we differ. Humanity is one big thing. A map is always just a certain frame, depending on where you put the limits. Cities are just illusionary borders. We all have the same spirit but in indefinitely different ways. We can say that we are all different, but at the same time, we are all the same. A map is just a part of the globe, so you can say that the map of a city is different to the map of another one, but we all know that all the cities are a part of a bigger thing. And I like to apply that idea to people too. We all evolve together. I had that idea to connect all the maps on a drawing that shows all the collaborations and influences. Maybe one day, I’ll make an interactive thing out of it.

A map made out of all the maps. Another layer.

As an explanation to my process in a way. I got to explain it little by little. I also like that they are all creators themselves. And the creations they made define the way they see the world. Like the way van Gogh made his paintings is so unique. He saw the world in a certain way and transferred what he saw into his paintings. Even with music, it’s the same. That’s another reason why I only draw artists. I always try to find different maps in different colors every time because the color resembles their perception of the world. It’s like a filter. We all see the world in a different color and that’s the map that is colored.

That’s the cool thing about artists though. Sometimes you go to a show or listen to music and you get a whole new idea of looking at things.

There are people who always do art as they are, and there are people who only do things because it’s cool or fashionable. In street art you see it all the time nowadays. Even in skateboarding you can see it. You can see whether or not a skateboarder skates the way he really is.

What does style mean to you?

That’s a tough question. If you can express what you think in your own way and be true to yourself, it’s the best. Even if not everybody gets it. I’m not into Ali Boulala, but he has his style and that’s amazing.

"There’s the inside and the outside, and maybe the ultimate goal is to see the world as you. The whole world is inside you."

What are you trying to express with your artworks?

What’s comprehensible for other people is important, but at the same time, it makes me evolve. I understand things through my art and what people get after that is cool, but I’m not trying to say anything to anybody. It’s not in an egoistic way though. If I can share it with anyone, it’s the best thing ever, but at the same time, I do it for myself. Like I said before, it’s like a meditation process. I take a lot of time for one drawing and think about life, and I get to know myself through that process and evolve. And if I can share it with someone and talk about it and we meet – that’s the best thing ever. But at first, it’s only for my own evolving process. The journey is important, not the destination. I spent lot of hours on the drawing, that’s the journey, and we’ll see about the destination.

What do you learn from your artworks?

All the ideas that are in the drawings are not easy to adapt in life. I mean, we were talking about colors: if we are all a different color, if I am blue and you are green, I might not agree with green, but I got to accept that you are green because all the colors have to exist. And every time that makes me think of a lot of different things to accept… It’s also the relationship between the artist and the map. What you let outside is the world and if you love something, it’s more inside you. There’s the inside and the outside, and maybe the ultimate goal is to see the world as you. The whole world is inside you. Sometimes, if you don’t know a certain thing, you get scared or afraid. If you get to know it, you’ll understand it and it becomes a part of you. It’s not only in the outside world anymore. It’s a lifelong process. We meet so many people and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. Relationships are not easy for everybody. But that’s part of understanding too. Not judging people and letting them stay outside, trying to understand them. It’s a big topic. I know there are some people who think that they own the truth and that all the other people are wrong, but there’s no right or wrong, because it’s only a perception. If you accept all the perspectives, you’ll maybe understand the world and won’t be afraid of anything.

Could you say that your work is mainly trying to understand the world?

At least my world. My own color. My own filter. I see the world from a certain angle and I try to… sometimes I say or do things that I don’t really agree with. We all do stupid stuff like telling someone on the street to fuck off because you are like, “Aaarrggggh.” But afterwards, you realize that there’s no point. For me, that’s part of the process: to be better little by little. It’s not so obvious when you look at my drawings, but for me as the one who does them, all of that is part of the process.

I heard that you’re thinking about not using maps anymore.

Because the paper is kind of restrictive… If I want to do bigger things, it’s hard on paper. But the idea is connected to skateboarding. When you skate, you use the city three dimensional and the map is the city in two dimensions. But we are not only users, we are also creators of our own perception. So, by using the map to get from A to B, I’m only using it, but if I draw on the map, it makes the artist the creator of his own perception. In the painting about Miles Davis and Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, all the streets are tracks of the soundtrack of the movie. I used the code of the map. But to talk about a specific creation, I used the Champs-Élysées because the album was recorded at a studio around there. So, I used the real spot to talk about a specific kind of creation, to show Miles Davis as a creator, not just a user. I could’ve just drawn it on any map and he’d would only be a user of the city, but here he’s the creator and he’s the creator of his own perception of the world through that Ascenseur pour l’échafaud track, you know?

It’s way more than just a portrait on a map.

I recently also started a new thing with photography. The idea is that I want to share all those drawings with people who surround me. So I started to do a double exposure project with photographed portraits and maps. I have to do it with Soy and everybody in Paris, so I can put the drawing and a photo of a friend together and make it a shared experience.

That’s cool. I like that you try to connect people through your work or connect yourself to the world.

That’s the goal: to not see the world as something separate from you that you can’t do anything about. Seeing the world from your specific point of view is the first thing and then you can decide what to do with it. When you start doing that, you can think about it and say, “This guy is not an asshole, he just does what he needs to do. I just have to accept that.” It’s funny because every time you skate in the city, there are people coming up to you saying that this is private property and so on. But their perception is just too different from ours. It’s not about the act of skateboarding, it’s about their perception. Skateboarding is the best thing for you, but for them, it’s the worst thing ever. Nothing is objective.

"When you skate, you use the city three dimensional and the map is the city in two dimensions."

Do you really think there are no assholes?

No, I met people who were acting like assholes, but maybe that was just my perception. Or maybe they just had a bad day or were drunk. You have to accept that he might as well be a good guy.

That’s a pretty positive view of the world.

As I said before, if you are green, he’s brown, he’s an asshole, but he has to exist. You can’t miss out on any color to get the full spectrum. And maybe he really is an asshole, but that makes you evolve because you need to see wrong in order to learn from it.

You wouldn’t be able to describe the day if you don’t have the night.

And the artist is the inside and the world is the outside. If you can connect both and become the world, or rather are conscious about your very own perception of it, there is a certain union.

And you create the union through your artwork. The artist and the world are drawn together.

A union in that way and also by connecting people as well. At first, I try to accept the world. If you put all the material colors together, you’ll get black, and if you put all the light colors together, you’ll get white. If you stay in the material world, it’s all black. You have to evolve into a light way, to go to the white, and every time, you can do it with your own color. The blue can be darker or clearer. There’s also a lot of spirituality in all that. You called it a positive view of life.