Graphic artist CEET Fouad can turn up pretty much anywhere. Born in Algeria of Moroccan descent his family moved to Atlanta‘s sister city of Toulouse, France, when he was 7 years old. It was in Toulouse that he started his street art, and it’s been art, which has brought him to Atlanta as well as taken him around the world.
Currently in his mid-40s, he is primarily based in Hong Kong and Shenzhen in southern China where he continues his work as a muralist, sculptor and creator of installations. In addition, he has started his own artist residency project called Jardin Orange in Shenzhen, which attracts urban artists to be inspired by a creative community and to develop new skills.
CEET, who first was known as CT and came to be known as CEET (pronounced See-tee), began his career by writing his name around Toulouse with increasingly elaborate fonts. What was started as an escapade with his friends became increasingly serious — “more graffiti, more colors, more organization,” he says, but without sacrificing the collaborations and freewheeling humor.
As the work got more attention, the projects grew from shop doorways, to house murals and eventually commissions for canvases.
From Toulouse CEET moved to other cities in France including Paris. Eventually he was sponsored by Adidas, and a slew of other name brands. Suddenly his spray cans became a sort of global passport and an entry pass to artistic communities wherever he happened to be.
It was in a Shenzhen restaurant that he experienced the breakthrough that has dominated his artistic outpouring in recent years. Hungry and unable to communicate in Chinese, he sketched the face of a chicken and then pointed an arrow to an also sketched open mouth.
The waiter understood and brought him a chicken plate. That moment proved seminal as CEET has transformed his stylized trademark chickens into the “Chicanos” (not having anything to do with the “Chicanos” movement of the 1960s) who serve as the main characters of his artwork.
The “Chicanos” characters are small, colorful chickens with round bodies, mostly in the form of eggs — fanciful and amusing forms, which provide compelling facades.
But CEET refers to them, perhaps half jokingly, as a parody of human beings who live like chickens packed together in modern societies and who, given these circumstances, lose their individuality.
In an effort to help bring out the individual expressions of artist friends, CEET opened an artist residency project called Jardin Orange in the Sofunland section of Shenzhen with the backing of local real estate developers and the Montresso Art Foundation, which supports the Jardin Rouge, a similar, more established artist community located in Marrakech, Morocco.
The community was created out of an old industrial area where former factories have been transformed into rental apartments to accommodate the many university students living in the neighborhood.
Last year for the 8th France-Atlanta annual series of events, which have promoted transAtlantic collaborations across many fields, the Parisian street artist, Joe Di Bona, was invited to apply his art on an upper-story facade of a Payless shoe store on Peachtree Street.
Instead of downtown, this year France-Atlanta and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, invited CEET to complete a mural installation in the city’s Cascade Heights neighborhood in conjunction with ELEVATE, the city’s public art festival, which has been responsible for murals all over town.
Pascale Beyaert, France’s cultural attaché based in Atlanta, said that CEET’s invitation to complete a mural in Atlanta was due to the long-standing sister city relationship with Toulouse and the continuance of the partnership with ELEVATE.
“Atlanta’s public art festival seeks each year to invigorate a specific Atlanta neighborhood through visual art, performances and cultural events,” she added.
CEET’s friend and fellow Toulouse street artist Till participated in Elevate 2013. Next year, according to Ms. Beyaert, the exchange between the two cities will continue as Atlanta-based artist Hense participates in Toulouse’s bi-annual “Rose Beton” (Pink Concrete) street art festival as a featured artists.
At the Cascade Heights neighborhood’s intersection of Cascade Road and Benjamin E. Mays Drive is an ongoing redevelopment project known as “The Point at Cascade,” which has been approved by the Georgia Register of Historic Places as a Commercial Historic District.
Shea Embry, a co-owner and developer of the project, told Global Atlanta that “The Point at Cascade” has been in the process of redevelopment for a couple of years and has been accepted to the state’s register of historic places due to its role as a spiritual, social and commercial center since the 1930s.
The naming of the adjacent highway, Benjamin E. Mays Drive is a primary clue to the neighborhood’s historic status. Dr. Mays served as dean of Washington‘s Howard University in the 1930s and from 1940-67 as president of Morehouse College where he led the institution into international prominence.
After World War II the neighborhood experienced dramatic growth as did many areas of Atlanta with old farms in Fulton County undergoing development into subdivisions.
In the 1960s, Cascade Heights underwent its transition from being a predominantly white neighborhood into a primarily African American one as white flight was sparked by the purchase by an African American physician moving into the neighborhood.
Former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen, who is known for helping resolve race relations in the city, learned some of his first lessons in race relations through conflicts in the area.
By the 1970s, the area became home to movers and shakers in the African American community and remains so today.
Among the prime movers of “The Point,” however, is Ms. Embry who is white. Her house is in the neighborhood and she is a fervent supporter of its commercial development including Barlow’s Barber Shop, the longest running black-owned business in southwest Atlanta, the BUZZ Coffee and Winehouse, a sound studio and an “artisanal market” offering in-house-made pasta and a charcuterie.
Once CEET had finished painting the exterior wall of her office, he concluded the project by painting two boards that filled the window spaces of the building. Now that the windows have been installed, Ms. Shea is thrilled to be able to hang the boards in her house as works of art.
CEET is not the only artist for have embellished the exterior walls of the neighborhood and said that he is always pleased to work near other artists. Corey Barksdale, a nationally recognized artist with murals he has painted across the country, was working around the corner to CEET when Global Atlanta visited the neighborhood.
Also in the neighborhood is the Atlanta City Studio, a “Pop Up” urban design office of the Department of City Planning. The studio serves as a catalyst for community engagement and economic development projects. Sonia Sequeira, who works at the Studio as a community engagement manager, told Global Atlanta that the murals give the area “vibrancy” and “color and add life to the area.”
CEET managed to finish his mural in a day with the help of Kristen Consuegra, an artist and executive assistant of Living Walls Atlanta, a non-profit whose artists have participated in completing more than 100 murals throughout the city.
Even with extra help CEET is known for his productivity. While Global Atlanta was interviewing him, he received a call from Rebecca O’Brien, the manager of the Jardin Orange facility in Shenzhen.
Once CEET handed over his cell phone, Global Atlanta asked “How does he do it all?”, Ms. O’Brien answered, “You mean what’s his secret? He’s non-stop. He always keeps moving and he doesn’t need much sleep.”
“That’s right about the sleep,” CEET interjected.