Colonel Flaque

… aka Ememem, le Flaqueur de Lyon. The artist came to my attention through a piece on the My Modern Met site, “Pavement Cracks Become an Opportunity for Colorful Mosaic Art”, by Margherita Cole on 2/24/22, beginning:

Cracks on the pavement are a common sight in cities. And while most people choose to step around them, one artist is using these gaps as an opportunity for urban beautification. French artist Ememem — sometimes known as “the pavement surgeon”— fills street fractures with dazzling mosaic art, which transforms the decay into something beautiful.

From large potholes to unsightly chips on a cobblestone path — Ememem fills all shapes of crevices with colorful designs.

(#1) An Ememem street mosaic, before and after

To do this, the artist uses his own technique, called “flacking,” which refers to the french word flaque, meaning puddle. This describes the freeform approach Ememem has to his site-specific creations. Depending on the size of the fissure and the aesthetic he wants to create, he procures a unique selection of ceramic, wood, and bitumen to fill the space. What he chooses also informs the distinctive pattern he can create, which he organizes by size and color.


Amazingly, these mosaics look completely natural in the gray environment. Ememem manages to blend their appearance into the gaps of sidewalks so that they look intentional, as though they were always supposed to exist in that particular opening. Now, people who walk around the artist’s hometown of Lyon — or in other European metropolises like Paris and Madrid — can expect to find a gallery of mosaic art scattered across the landscape.

Further notes on Ememem from Wikipedia (which uses the artist’s preferred pronouns):

A street artist, Ememem creates mosaics in cracked sidewalks and façades. They describe this art, which incorporates geometric motifs, as “a poem that everybody can read” and “a memory notebook of the city.” Their first mosaic was created in 2011 in an alley in their hometown of Lyon.

(#3) An Ememem mosaic in its street environment

…They told Ynet that the name “Ememem” refers to the sound of their moped, which they ride when they go to create a mosaic. They work at night to remain anonymous, and their identity is unknown; their work is generally found at dawn. They have refused requests for in-person or radio interviews, and declined to state their age or gender.

… They have cited Célébration du sol by Jean Dubuffet as an influence.

Now some notes.

Street art. First, there’s the art of everyday objects (an occasional topic on this blog), many of which are to be seen on the street or in other public places: manhole covers, vent pipes, storm grates, downspouts, parking lot arrows.

Then, there’s rogue street art, typically drawings or paintings on the sides of buildings, in underpasses, in subways, on sidewalks, on buses and trains, and so on, done surreptitiously and without permission. Everything from the slapdash to artfully composed works, like Banksy’s. This is where Ememem comes in.

Finally, there’s commissioned street art, which can look just like the rogue street art, except that it has official sanction. Great street artists frequently get commissions to create their works legitimately (in which case the works get the protections of other forms of public art). Ememem has done commissioned work in many places.

Veiled and confabulated identities. Writers sometimes adopt noms de plume and develop fresh personas under those names, or operate completely anonymously; artists sometimes do that too, veiling their real identities (often in the belief that their art should in no way be interpreted in the light of facts about its creator). Sometimes artists confabulate alter egos with (imaginative, even preposterous) biographies. (Artists can be slippery folk.)

Ememem is determined to be as much of a cipher as possible, though their origins in Lyon is inescapable. The city (the third largest in France) is famous for its architecture as well as its food; the architectural connection fits well with Ememem’s mosaics, which serve to fix the city’s blemishes.

The Dubuffet connection. Very briefly on the artist, from Wikipedia:

Jean Philippe Arthur Dubuffet (31 July 1901 – 12 May 1985) was a [prolific] French painter and sculptor. His idealistic approach to aesthetics embraced so-called “low art” and eschewed traditional standards of beauty in favor of what he believed to be a more authentic and humanistic approach to image-making. He is perhaps best known for founding the art movement art brut [‘raw art’], and for the collection of works — Collection de l’art brut — that this movement spawned.

It’s surprisingly hard to find much information about Dubuffet’s Célébration du sol, which belongs to a strain of the artist’s work that hasn’t received much attention. From the Artnet site:

(#4) Célébration du sol (oil on canvas, 1957) by Jean Dubuffet (French le sol ‘soil, earth, ground, floor’)

Eyes on the soil, on the ground. Or in Ememem’s case, eyes on the sidewalk.

Then in a lithograph poster for a 1959 exhibition (copy from the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam):

(#5) l’exposition Jean Dubuffet à la Galerie Daniel Cordier à Paris du 28 avril au 7 juin 1959: note Topographies, Texturologies

From the Tate Gallery site on Vie exemplaire du sol (The Exemplary Life of the Soil) (Texturology LXIII), 1958:

Dubuffet invented various techniques to portray soil in a series of paintings called “Texturologies”. For this work, he adapted the “Tyrolean” technique, used by stone masons to texture newly plastered walls. Dubuffet shook a brush over the painting, which was laid on the floor, to scatter tiny droplets of paint across the surface. His intention was to give an “impression of teeming matter, alive and sparkling, which I could use to represent soil, but which could also evoke all kinds of indeterminate textures, and even galaxies and nebulae”.

And that’s what I know about the Dubuffet.

My Modern Met. I’ve quoted five pieces (from 2013-21) from this site before, but this time my curiosity was piqued, so I tried to find out about the site.

First thing: the (young) writers I’ve cited all seem to be identifiable people with discoverable life histories and their own net identities.

However, the site itself and its co-founder and current editor-in-chief, Eugene Kim, are much slipperier fish. The (entire) About section from the site, with a lot of art-talk and ad-talk bullshit:

My Modern Met was formed in May, 2008 to create one big city that celebrates creativity. [AZ: Oh, barf. It’s not a city, of any size; it’s an on-line arts and culture magazine, with a store.] Our mission is to promote a positive culture by spotlighting the best sides of humanity — from the lighthearted and fun to the thought-provoking and enlightening. Today, we receive over 5 million visitors coming to our site each month, looking for articles on art, design, photography, architecture, science, technology, environmental issues, and more.

While we enjoy exposing people to visually stunning images alongside captivating stories, we also provide a platform for incredibly talented artists who are on the pulse of contemporary art. They continuously push the boundaries of how we think and, often times, the message in their artworks is more powerful than words could ever be.

(#6) The logo (more barf on the motto); those stylized skyscrapers could be anywhere, but the actual headquarters are in L.A.; meanwhile, if Eugene Kim’s name didn’t appear in some legal material, I would have concluded he was an entirely confabulated entity (if he has a life history, it’s not at all easy to discover)

The title of this posting. A little play on Colonel Flack, the protagonist of an enjoyable tv show from my teenage years. From Wikipedia:

Colonel Humphrey Flack is an American sitcom which ran Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET from October 7, 1953, to July 2, 1954, on the DuMont Television Network, then revived from 1958 to 1959 for first-run syndication.

The series also aired under the titles The Fabulous Fraud, The Adventures of Colonel Flack, and The Imposter.

The series is about a con man who conned other conmen, then gave some of the money to the needy. Colonel Humphrey Flack starred prolific British actor Alan Mowbray as the Colonel, and Frank Jenks as his sidekick, Uthas P. (“Patsy”) Garvey. The TV series was based on a popular series of short stories by Everett Rhodes Castle published in The Saturday Evening Post.

On Mowbray: prolific is scarcely adequate; the man is a monument of The Acting Corps. Otherwise, he was a genuine war hero (in World War I) and then went on to acting. As Flack, he was a thoroughly lovable scoundrel.

Then flack: two items from NOAD, the first of which is the relevant one for the Colonel:

noun flack: a publicity agent: a public relations flack. ORIGIN 1940s: of unknown origin.

noun flak (also flack): 1 [AZ: metaphorical development from the older sense 2] strong criticism: you must be strong enough to take the flak if things go wrong | he has been getting flak from certain quarters lately for pointing this out. 2 antiaircraft fire. ORIGIN 1930s (in sense 2): from German, [initialistic] abbreviation of Fliegerabwehrkanone, literally ‘aviator-defense gun’.

And of course French flaque isn’t related to either of these English items.

3 Responses to “Colonel Flaque”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    About the name My Modern Met. Probably chosen to suggest two NYC art institutions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (known familiarly as the Met) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), though it has no visible connection to either of them. Presumably, My Modern Met can get away with using Met in its name because the abbreviated familiar name the Met is also used for two other NYC institutions, the Metropolitan Opera and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife); and the Mets is also the name of a NYC baseball team — so Met doesn’t belong uniquely to the Metropolitan Museum.

    In any case, My Modern Met is headquartered in Los Angeles, not New York. It seems to have no more connection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) or the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), than to the Metropolitan Museum or MoMA.

  2. Mitch4 Says:

    Tom Wolfe around 1970 had an essay titled “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers” (also half the title of a book containing that essay and another).

    In that context, “flak” is clearly being used in sense (1) from your NOAD excerpt. The “flak catchers” were the public relations people at the mostly government agencies the essay was about.

    I was familiar with “flack” on its own used for PR people generally, and though I had never before Wolfe’s title run into the longer “flak catchers” I accepted that this was something he had been hearing on the street and had captured in print. And though I guess this wasn’t made explicit, I took all this as giving an etymological claim that “flack” in this sense must have come from shortening this “flak catcher”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Using the resources of the OED:

      OED2 on the noun flak: ‘anti-aircraft gun’, cites from 1938 on; figurative ‘(a barrage of) abuse, adverse criticism’, first cite 1968, first spelling as flack (AZ: an adaptation of a visibly foreign word to standard English orthography) in 1981

      (in this entry, in a draft addition of 1993) noun flak-catcher: colloquial (originally U.S.) one who deals with and deflects adverse or hostile comment, questions, etc., in order to protect a person or institution from unfavourable publicity [the first cite, from Tom Wolfe in 1970 — “And then it dawns on you… This man is the flak catcher. His job is to catch the flak for the No. 1 man.” — is a coining on Wolfe’s part, and probably blends the figurative sense of flak with the p.r. noun flack]

      OED2 on the noun flack-2: slang (chiefly U.S.) ‘a press agent; a publicity man’ [first cite in 1946, in Stewart Sterling (one of the pseudonyms of journalist, screenwriter, and detective novelist Prentice Mitchell), Where There’s Smoke (mystery novel with a fire marshall protagonist who foils arsonists), “That publicity flack is here”]

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