Zabou: street artist

Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 48 seconds

Everyone has a story. Street artist Zabou is back working in Islington. Here she explains the joys of spray paint. Interview by Nicola Baird.

Zabou at work. (c) Bella Howard

“It’s a challenge every time when you paint a wall. Not everything is going to go right,” says Zabou. She smiles and then corrects herself: “In fact, most things may go wrong. Daylight could shut down in a couple of hours. It may pour down for 30 minutes. One of your spray cans may get blocked, or you may run out of a colour. And the police may ask you to stop – they’re usually really nice, especially if it’s a legal wall and you’ve got your stuff on the floor or are on a ladder. But they might ask if you’ve got permission.”

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It’s not just the police who are curious adds Zabou. “Everyone questions what you’re doing. It feels like a performance when you paint. You are watched and photographed constantly.”

Angel Comedy’s Barry Ferns, drone/video maker Stu Turner and Zabou with a fine view of her comedy greats on the Bill Murray Pub where you can enjoy comedy shows every day of the week. (c) islington faces

The French-born, 26-year-old street artist – in black hoody and shades with sea-blue painted nails – is taking a half hour break from her latest project at the Angel Comedy Club. Last November (2016) she created a parade of comedy greats on the Bill Murray pub including Mr Bean, a favourite from her childhood. Now she’s just completed Crushed – a curled figure of a girl not quite fitting into the rooftop space – and in a moment needs to meet a man and his drone to finish the project. The plan is to “get the drone to fly as high as possible (120m) so the girl, buildings and trees become small” – and that’s exactly the video that’s released in April.

Street artist Zabou checks out the drone being flown by Stu Turner filming her new creation Crushed. (c) islington faces

In Islington
Right now there’s just time to grab a soda water at The Old Queen’s Head to talk about her contribution to Islington’s street art.

She’s picked the pub because it’s also close to The Conquest – Zabou’s woman in a space suit with a starlit backdrop on Gaskin Street – which has made a non-descript bit of wall just off Essex Road into something fantastic. A reminder, perhaps, that girl power is all about fighting for our own dreams.

The Conqueror on Gaskin Street, N1 by Zabou. (c) islington faces

“The Gaskin Street piece was in 2012, it was one of my first legal works in London. Before that I’d just used legal walls – there’s Waterloo Tunnel (nearly a mile long) and Parkland Walk,” says Zabou. “I just went inside the pharmacy and asked permission. She gave it to me very willingly, saying, ‘yes, just do it’ and hadn’t even seen the design. It was a collaboration with an artist from Islington, Pegasus. I painted it again in October last year (2016) as my style had evolved over four years.”

If you’ve seen The Conquest either in person, on the bus, facebook or insta, you’ve probably wondered what inspired Zabou. Although she doesn’t make a habit of telling people how to view her art, she explains that: “I was really haunted by a photograph of an astronaut about to take off on a big mission. It’s a really powerful image by C Anderson, although I’m not sure the woman in it is a real astronaut! I think it’s about the power to do something big. To dream big. I’m really happy for people to project their own ideas. So if you,” she says this looking at me, already knowing Islington Faces’ obsession with London’s dirty air, “want to see something about air pollution that’s fine. If you put your artwork in a public space it doesn’t really belong to you any more.”

Chaplin (c) Zabou

Street art super fans
“There are loads of street art enthusiasts of all ages and genders. As soon as they know where you are painting they’ll come and spend the whole day watching you. It’s really positive energy,” says Zabou, who has around 36k instagram followers. The plus side of this is spontaneous gifts. “People ask if I need anything and bring food. Once someone said ‘I know you’re French so I’ve bought you two croissants’, that was nice. But the most random thing someone got me – this was when I was painting in France – was a selfie stick,” she says laughing. Clearly that fan hasn’t changed Zabou’s habit of hiding behind dark glasses and a hoody. 

The Old Queen’s Head, Essex Road, N1. (c) Islington Faces

Along Essex Road there are now a parade of amazing painted walls, constantly being altered. How does Zabou feel about this? “It’s not sad when walls are painted over. It’s a natural consequence. Tagging and graffiti have been there way before street art was around. If you put your artwork in a public space it doesn’t really belong to you any more.”

Street artists work fast, but Zabou says the secret is in the preparation. She needs to find a wall, take photos, get permission. Then there’s working up the design ideas. “I draw with a graphic tablet on my computer so I can picture the wall. Then I print it out and create a stencil of the outline, so the dimension and proportions are exact, that’s about 5% of the design. 95% is freehand,” she explains.

Zabou at work. (c) Bella Howard

The journey
“I’ve always drawn and painted since I was a kid. Creativity is part of my daily routine. When I moved to London from France, for my studies, I was walking around Shoreditch, and was really impressed by the graffiti. I thought I’d give it a go,” she says. “Sometimes I was in a crazy frenzy painting murals twice a week, but five years on, now I take more time and make two or three pieces a month. I don’t need to mass produce.”

After a few years in London Fields, Zabou has recently moved to a place with cheaper rent, in Stratford. At least it’s still easy for her to get to Islington , but the difficulty with working on legal walls is locating owners willing to give permission. So, if any Islington Faces readers are willing to let Zabou turn up with a design, and her spray cans, then contact her via her website, ideally also including a photo of the space. And if you love Zabou’s work then you can take a tour, follow her instagram or even head to her website shop and see what T-shirts or prints you might like for yourself, family or friends.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via at

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola


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