When it comes to clowns, there's no middle ground; you either love them or hate them. Usually, I belong to the later category. Clowns give me the creeps. Just the word "clown" conjures up images of chainsaw-wielding freakshows with pancake makeup chasing me down the street in oversized shoes. The catchphrase "Can't sleep. Clowns will eat me" resonates strongly within me. One showed up at my eighth birthday party and I nearly collapsed in fear.
Yet Miguel Donvez and his character, Mimi, just might change my mind. I'm not saying I want to hold hands with a clown, but Mimi's cheeky irreverence has more appeal than some of the Bozos I know. Parisian Mimi struts his stuff in a top hot and tiny shorts. 2 In London, he jams out on an electric guitar. On a mailbox in New York, he befriends Billi Kid's flower power cowboy. 5 In Jerusalem, he moons a pedestrian. 4 Mimi brings his renegade swagger to any city street.
Hailing from Cambrai, France, Donvez named Mimi after his childhood nickname. In the beginning, Donvez was more focused on what was happening in his backyard than the streets. "I remember trying to write a book about the flight of birds," he recalls. "I must've been about ten years old. I watched them for hours, then indexed them and drew reflections on what I saw."
His early enthusiam for drawing and a close encounter with a French street art legend inspired him to create his own character. "I met Jef Aerosol who used to paint in the streets of Paris. It was at this moment that I wanted to try it, and since then I've never stopped. I can't say that my first attempt was inspired by what I saw in the streets. Three minutes before doing it, I didn't know it would happen!"
In the beginning, Donvez was part of a two-man crew called Attentats Coloriques. Today, he flies solo. He adds, "I usually work alone because I think my goal is very personal. I have a clear idea of what I want to do." Donvez finds his grimy painting locations paradoxical in relationship to the work he creates. "I was talking about this with a friend the other day," he explains. "We paint in places that stink of piss and often are full of shit. It's strange to be attracted to it, no?"
In spite of his gritty canvas choices, Donvez has experienced more success with street than as a literature student. "I studied literature for more than ten years and never published a book," he laughs. "With street art and a clown that shows his ass, I was published in less than six months!" Over time, he's honed his craft and become what he describes as "a pro-cutter". He is motivated by "the desire to not sit in a chair waiting for something to happen." He explains, "I have feelings of murder when I intend to talk about politics...then I release those pent-up feelings with paint."
Donvez experienced the normal fears of a start-up street artist, but his quick thinking kept him out of harm's way. "Many people today use stickers instead of paint," he says. "If you're like me, you want to continue doing this for a long time and it's hard to do what you want because of the police. There is no point in taking risks. You've got to use your head to avoid such problems. It's not so hard," he jokes, "I'm a clown, you know!" Through his endearing stickers, Donvez encourages viewers to "Open your eyes! Wait a moment and think a little. Life can be different."
Today, Donvez splits his time between Lille and Paris. Although he's bombed in England, Belgium, the USA, Israel, Iran, Korea, Japan, Brazil, and France, he insists he doesn't have a favorite location. He says, "Every time it's a new adventure with new people." Keeping busy as always, he is currently working on a project involving Mimi and a telephone for a show in France. When asked where he expects to be in 10 years, he replies, "Try 50 years from now! I'm 34 years old. I can't stop now! I still have a story to tell!"
All images courtesy of Miguel Donvez at www.migueldonvez.com.