In 2003, while living in the Costa Brava region of Spain, Zener became interested in watching bathers, and began a series of paintings of water, and people interacting with water. Much of his work from this period depicts women swimming underwater amidst air bubbles, or diving into the depths of the ocean or a pool, and have been described as reminiscent of Hudson River School and Barbizon School painters.

Photo credit:  Tim Porter

Photo credit: Tim Porter

“The subjects in my paintings are voyagers and seekers of truth. Often alone or in groups of two or more, they vulnerably explore their inner self and their quest for meaning.

“Although I am cautious to ‘explain’ the meaning or purpose behind my work, as I believe that ‘meaning is in the eye of the beholder,’ I will say that most of my work is an observation of the human condition of modern man and woman. Orphaned from the sanctuary of childhood we are faced with life’s challenges and the consequences of our choices. I use our relationship with water, nature and each other as a metaphor for personal transformation, refuge and renewal.

“The quiet landscape of a body of water or a beckoning field provides both a literal and psychological place of discovery and confession; or simply a metaphoric snapshot for an ideal state of being.

“The lone figure immersed in water illustrates the constant force and changing tides in our lives. Above the surface we may appear to be together and unaffected, however below the surface, subconsciously, we are in a constant state of transformation and illumination. It is limy intention that the journey is hopeful and the ending enlightening.”

- Eric Zener

If we interpret the meaning behind the artist’s statement, we can identify a number of things about the man; a need for personal introspection, a love for the gradual yet inevitable process of growth and learning, and an appreciation for the rebirth of the soul as the body continually moves forward through life. In much the same way that the Renaissance movement spanning the 14th to the 17th centuries in Europe represented the pursuits of intellectual and artistic reform and departure, Zener, a figurative realist’s work shows courage in his own departure from modern contrivances in thought shape and form. Zener shows us the hyper-reality of what lies before us, but within his photorealist images, shows us also what might be there as well – the conflict behind intent, the question before action or inaction. The intellectual process that is adjoined to decision-making is ever-present within each of his pieces, lurking in the depth of the shadow in the water in the same way that our choices lurk in the recesses of our minds. It is fitting that the man behind the work is as complex as the characters and environments he renders, captured at the precipice of transformation.


He began his artwork in 1981, painting stencils of rats on the street walls of Paris, describing the rat as "the only free animal in the city", and one that "spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art". His name originates from a childhood cartoon "Blek le Roc", using "rat" as an anagram for "art".

Blek le Rat "No Comment", Strasbourg 1987

Initially influenced by the early graffiti art of New York City after a visit in 1971, he chose a style that he felt better suited Paris, due to the differing architecture of the two cities. He also stated the influence of New York's Richard Hamilton, who painted large-scale human figures in the 1980s. He is credited with being the inventor of the life-sized stencil, as well as the first to transform stencil from basic lettering into pictorial art.

Blek's identity was revealed to French authorities in 1991 when he was arrested while stenciling a replica of Caravaggio'sMadonna and Child, with the connection to Blek and his artwork being made by police. From that point on, he has worked exclusively with pre-stenciled posters, citing the speedier application of the medium to walls, as well as lessened punishment should he be caught in the act.

He has had a great influence on today's graffiti art and "guerilla art" movements, the main motivation of his work being social consciousness and the desire to bring art to the people. Many of his pieces are pictorials of solitary individuals in opposition to larger, oppressive groups. He has also been noted for his series of images representing the homeless, begun in 2006, which depict them standing, sitting or laying on sidewalks, in attempts to bring attention to what he views as a global problem.

British graffiti artist Banksy has acknowledged Blek's influence stating, "every time I think I've painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier." Blek has disagreed with those who claim Banksy has copied his work: "People say he copies me, but I don’t think so. I’m the old man, he’s the new kid, and if I’m an inspiration to an artist that good, I love it. I feel what he is doing in London is similar to the rock movement in the Sixties." The two have both expressed desire for collaboration; in 2011, Blek was seen adding to a mural begun the previous year by Banksy in the Mission District, San Francisco.