Who are we?
Born in 1976 in the Stalingrad area of Paris, Robin Soulier is first and foremost a lover of art! A witness of his time, he has closely followed the growing graffiti movement and its metamorphoses since his childhood. This workaholic is a long-time and reputed collector of urban contemporary art. He is also a photographer as well as being a shrewd businessman and owner of several property management agencies in Paris. Thanks to his energy and vast knowledge of the subject, this talent scout has built up an impressive collection that he likes to add to with his latest finds. The past 15 years of buying art have encouraged him to pass on the torch by opening up his own contemporary urban art consulting agency, Robin Soulier Consulting, thereby sharing his expertise with, and accompanying collectors.
Who are you? I’d say an art lover, first and foremost!
Tell us a little about yourself: I grew up in the Stalingrad district, the cradle or birthplace of European graffiti. Obviously, tags have always been part of my surroundings in this urban environment and I often say, half-jokingly, that I pretty much learned how to read by looking at the tags by artists like Boxer, Muck, Sheek and others I’d come across on my way to school. I was fascinated by them! Who were these people who gave themselves the permission or freedom to do exactly as they wanted? This mysterious side of street art got to me straight away. I had the bug! I couldn’t go anywhere without reading the tags on my way. Every time I rode the metro I’d stare out the windows at the underground tunnels and since then I’ve never stopped looking. I’ve never lost my interest in street art. I’ve kept gathering material on it and I continue to hang out with people from that world.
You mentioned gathering material? Yes. When I was eleven and in junior high school (1987), I was lucky enough to leaf through a copy of Henry Chalfant’s book Spray Can Art. I guess someone had bought it at Ticaret, France’s first hip hop store and it was like a slap in the face. It was a revelation for me! It was incredible at the time because you have to remember that very little had been published on the subject. This was also the pre-Internet era and information was not that easy to come across. Later, there was the Paris tonkar book and magazines like Intox or other fanzines written by diehards that we’d try and get our hands on in order to discover other graffiti styles and what was going on elsewhere.
You even photographed this scene? Yes, quite a few abandoned lots, disused warehouses, the ideal canvases for those big, beautiful bands of colour! I used to like going to these kinds of places on my own to soak up the atmosphere or to follow the graffiti artists and observe the evolution of a piece of work, particularly after 2000, as the cost of film was way too expensive in terms of my budget at the time. You needed to be working in photography or in a processing lab to have access to cheap film and I wanted to put aside the money I was earning to support artists and the first graffiti exhibitions at boutiques like Triiad or galleries like Willem Speerstra.
You collected from very early on, I believe? Yes, driven by my passion for art, I started collecting once I had started to make a little money, around 1999 -2000. At the time, street art wasn’t at all fashionable and the offer was very limited. In addition, it wasn’t the done thing to exhibit in galleries. In fact, it was seen quite poorly by those in the scene. Therefore, I was more like a talent scout who was utterly convinced that this trend would one day take off and become bigger than the street. It had such an impact on everyone, it was like a subliminal message that got to you, whether you wanted it to or not! It was obvious that it would take some time before street art became accepted or acceptable but it was pretty clear to me that it would one day end up in the galleries and that all those who had grown up with street art and who held influential jobs or positions would have a role to play in supporting these artists and putting a spotlight on their work.
You mention responsibility. Aren’t you an entrepreneur? Yes, as well as the consulting agency, for the past 15 years, I have been working hard with my associate to develop several property management firms, an activity which has allowed me to expand my art collection. Thanks to and through our customers, I have been able to meet lots of interesting people from all different communities and socio-economic classes. This line of work has also taken me many different places, enabling me to gain a better understanding of the logic driving investments and profitability, particularly in terms of client expectations. As a self-made-man I have always striven to break with convention and to act as a bridge between these two worlds (art & business) by giving them a chance to meet. I’ve always had this ability or skill of being very much at ease in both spheres and I’m driven by the desire to do away with some of the stereotypes that prevent both sides from approaching the other.
A few words to sum up? ‘Art adds beauty to the everyday!’ I’d just encourage people to collect art! Collecting means creating your own universe or human adventure and oftentimes, it becomes a veritable life passion. See you soon! Robin Soulier