Blek le Rat, born Xavier Prou in Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris, in 1951, was one of the first graffiti artists in Paris, and the originator of stencil graffiti art.
He began his artwork in 1981, painting stencils of rats on the street walls of Paris, describing his subject as "the only free animal in the city," and one which "spreads the plague everywhere, just like street art."
His name originates from a childhood cartoon "Blek le Roc," using "rat" as an anagram for "art."
Initially influenced by the early graffiti art of New York City after a visit in 1971, he developed a style which he felt better suited to Paris, due to the differing architecture of the two cities. He has also noted the influence of New York's Richard Hambilton, who painted large-scale human figures in the 1980s.
Blek is credited with being the inventor of the life-sized stencil, as well as the first to transform stencil from basic lettering into pictoral art.