collabs - 10.06.2020

SPEAK – Jef Ablezot

Music means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, that’s the beauty of it. While talking to Jef, it quickly became clear that he isn’t your casual music fan. As a collector of records, connoisseur of album covers and DJ under the name Afrojaws, music is Jef’s bread and butter, and the inspiration that drives his work as an artist in the Qubo Gas collective. We met up with him in his hometown Lille for the newest edition of our SPEAK series.
wordsBjorn Dossche
picturesLouis Vielle

Let’s start with a basic question. Have you always lived in Lille?
I’m originally from Le Havre in Normandy but consider myself to be 100% Lillois, since I’ve been here for so long. I arrived here in 1994 to go to art school. I was 18 at the time, which is also an age at which you’re usually very curious. It was during those studies that I really discovered a whole new musical universe, which eventually lead to me doing what I do today.

That makes sense, because the 90s were incredibly interesting musically.
Exactly. It was a thrilling era. Alternative rock was booming, as was hip-hop. The albums I got into at the time, by Sonic Youth, Wu-Tang Clan and the Boredoms for example, also inspired me indirectly later in life. Not just musically either, the artwork on some of those album covers also made a real impact on me. There was also the explosion of a whole new electronic music scene at the time, with a very do-it-yourself mentality. This was before Photoshop or anything like that, so creating album artwork was a very creative affair. Resources were limited, there were more restrictions, which in turn forced people to be very creative.

True. Do you remember the first album cover that made a visual impact on you?
“Goo” by Sonic Youth. It came out in 1990 and the cover art by Raymond Pettibon is truly iconic. As you noticed while we were upstairs, I have a whole cabinet full of books that deal with album art. Some specialize in Japanese music, others in 7” singles, there’s so many different angles to cover. I would like to do my own fanzine or book that offers my own take on things, one day. It’s a project that’s in the works (laughs). Around 2012 I started compiling all kinds of albums covers on Tumblr, without being sure what to do with it. These days I also use my Instagram to show people what I’m passionate about.

What about your teenage years, before moving to Lille? Were you already into music or art back then too? 
It’s a little strange. I don’t remember all that much about that. When I was around 12-13, I definitely enjoyed dance music, but without really diving deep into it. It was in high school that I was exposed to different artistic types, different subcultural types. Gradually I developed an early interest in music and arts. In that respect, I do remember two iconic artists that shook up my world. The first was Jimi Hendrix, which was a musical shock. The second was Jean-Michel Basquiat. His work with that raw, graffiti-inspired vibe is so graphic and so expressive, which really impressed me.

Could you describe the importance of music to you as an artist?
The filter through which I create is and has always been music. These days I teach at an art school myself and what I try to teach my students is to always be curious. I want to inspire them to look around, to absorb what goes on around them, because inspiration can come from anywhere. Music was my filter, but it can be a lot of different things.  Using myself as example, the clique of people I hung out with as a student was definitely drawn to all kinds of experimental music and art. Musically, we’re talking Aphex Twin, the Warp Records scene, but also the arrival of Daft Punk here in France for example. But we also discovered underground cinema then, as well as more obscure artists from different eras. All these elements set everything in motion for us and allowed us to develop a world of our own. It was out of that little crew of people that Qubo Gas grew. 

Qubo Gas is a collective, which is rather rare. What is the advantage of working that way?
The idea of a collective was always a reassuring thing to me. Definitely when we were younger, when we didn’t always have the self-confidence we needed, we’d make each other better and motivate one another. We each have our own rhythm and style. I work very intuitively and spontaneously, while Morgan is very purposeful and structured. With the years that went by, we started to understand each other better and better. We complement each other. Sometimes one of us has an idea in mind but will be unsure on how to get started, but then the other can take over and get things rolling. The heart of Qubo Gas is Morgan and I, while his ex-girlfriend Laura – a photographer – has worked with us in the past too. We end up working together from time to time still or participate at the same exhibitions or art events. At any rate, we often collaborate with different craftsmen and women to enhance the character of what we do. We both love working with people that are great at their craft, whether that is a glassblower, lacemaker or silkscreener. They all have a savoir faire that we don’t have which is very stimulating.

The collective creates a very wide range of things, for different purposes. Can you name a few projects that stand out?
One of the first things that comes to mind is the collaboration we did with Dyptique. It was interesting because we’re not graphic designers, but they understood that our universe could match with theirs. In a lot of ways, it was comparable to creating an album cover. There were certain restraints, dimensions and themes to keep in mind. A lot of emailing back and forth was needed, but the collaboration and communication was really fruitful. We ended up having a result that all parties were very satisfied with, which isn’t easy when you do a commercial project like this one. Another one that stands out was a series of big woolen rugs with designs that we made, called “There Is A Light Out On The Horizon”. It was produced in Aubusson by Ateliers Pinton. I love how that came out.

The paintings and artworks you create are very lively, with unique shapes. Can you explain how you get to such results?
I don’t have any shapes in mind when I start, I really work very instinctively. Then, based upon the first figures I put on paper, I get inspired to take it further, to build on what’s there. I let it sink in and then get going again. That’s why I love working with watercolors, because you can really take your time.  You can add layer after layer and the open space is as important as the shapes that you paint. I try to not think about what these shapes could represent. I want to leave that up to whomever sees the work and their imagination.  

Was it easy to find your place within the artworld, since you cover so many different bases?
I’m never quite sure where to position myself, I float in between artist, musician, DJ, graphic designer and what not. I guess I’m just a creative type, I don’t need to be categorized. I would say that the tie that binds is the fact that I work and create with my hands. Whether that is as a DJ, or as a painter or graphic artist – it all has a manual character to it. It’s only by getting started and trying out different ideas that you’ll get somewhere. That’s one of my personal challenges too: to think less and do more. I like comparing what I do artistically to a chef in a kitchen. You have a set of tools and you work with different ingredients, so it’s all about using those tools, getting the proportions right and getting the flavors right. Some things can be left in the oven, not everything has to go super quickly. That’s how I see it. I can easily finish a drawing in a day, but I like to take some distance and go back to it later, with a new perspective. 

What’s next for Qubo Gas and for you?
We’re slowly putting together ideas for our next exhibition, which is next year. We’re trying to find the right theme, to select the right artworks while also talking to the gallery often. Work on our new atelier is also close to being finished, so that’s great too. Next to that, I’m working on a pretty new musical project called Rachel Falafel and I’m also trying to put together an exhibition on album covers, following the lead of my Kovermebadd Tumblr.



Instagram @studio.qubogas
Facebook @djafrojaws
Tumblr @kovermebadd


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