A Franco-Swiss painter, Thoma Vuille (a.k.a. M. CHAT) was born in Boudry, in the canton of Neuchâtel, in 1977. His first street art creations, with acrylic, occur when he is only 15 years old, in memory of his grandfather, painter in building. This idea of the “memory” of the wall, as a matter, will remain firmly attached to his work. A student at the Institut d’arts visuels d’Orléans between 1995 and 2001, it was in the streets of this city that he created his iconic figure: Mr. CHAT, smiling at the corner of the walls and on the rooftops, a benevolent and joyful figure.
These traits and this almost childlike spirit, come from the very source of his initial inspiration: the drawing of a little girl, during one of his interventions in a Orleans class, in 1997, of a laughing feline figure that he then decided to disseminate on the walls of the city, with the sole objective of «putting human and love in the city». If, at first glance, Mr. CHAT can make the effect of a logo, by the simplicity of his drawing and his “cartoon silhouette”, he embodies much more, rejoicing as much as he captivates us when, at the chance of our urban wanderings, his dantesque smile emerges. An iconic figure of French street art, Thoma Vuille (a.k.a. M. CHAT) gradually multiplies the images of her yellow sidekick on all the supports, front or profile, sometimes winged, other times simply suspended in the air or quietly installed between two chimneys.
Mr. CHAT’s smile, which is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s enigmatic and fascinating grinning cat, probably partly explains the appeal to the public: Nora Monnet (Artistik Rezo) said: “A show of benevolence to the world, a poetic proposal open to the world.” With Mr. CHAT, Thoma Vuille (a.k.a. M. CHAT) aspires to remove the reluctance usually associated with the practice of street art and to share it through the prism of a local culture, even if it partially emancipates from the street.
In 2004, director Chris Marker dedicated a film to M. CHAT, produced by ARTE and screened at the Centre Pompidou that same year: Chats perchés. For the occasion, a huge painted M. CHAT came to decorate the facade of the Parisian public institution, and the newspaper Libération offered Thoma Vuille (a.k.a. M. CHAT) a carte blanche. Translated into many languages, the film was screened worldwide, notably in 2006 in England and the United States, leading to the expansion of the reputation of the Franco-Swiss street artist in its wake.
We now find the contagious smile of M. CHAT on the whole globe, from the streets of Rennes, Nantes and Paris to those of Germany, England, Italy, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and Dakar. Recognized as a major figure of the European street art scene, Thoma Vuille (a.k.a. M. CHAT) is now assimilated both to the world of urban art and to less «marginalized» movements, like pop art.