by Manu SharmaApr 21, 2022
In a world of information overload, there are images that are far-and-few-in-between that catch my attention. In the recently concluded Mumbai Gallery Weekend, the works presented by Method Art Space were particularly intriguing. They immediately reminded me of the language and style of the famous British street artist, Banksy. I later figured that the works in question were created by an anonymous artist based in Mumbai, who goes by his pseudo name of Tyler. His identity remains a secret for “self-preservation”, in his words, and when one provokes him on parallels with Banksy, he says, “Yes, get over it”. Tyler ventured for the first time to create objects of art, works that are presented in a gallery environment and can be acquired. And yet, streets remain integral to his works. “If I am creating works for a gallery, the streets have to remain in them. All canvases I used are ones I found discarded on the streets,” he affirms. Interestingly, it became a way for him to draw attention to his work for those who missed noticing them on the streets! “I created so much art on the streets, only to realise the elite haven’t noticed it yet,” he says.
Tyler also agrees that his works are extremely political in nature and unabashedly acts of vandalism. Almost always his street art is erased, especially when political leaders are included in the works. He adds, “All the political works I have painted have got more attention than others, or maybe it’s fun to paint your Prime Minister on a public wall. I do not seek permission before I paint. Yes, this is pure vandalism”.
I speak to Sahil Arora, the founder of Method Art Space, the gallery that hosted his works. Arora discusses Tyler’s practice and his own motivation to launch this new initiative.
Rahul Kumar (RK): Historically, several visual artists and literary professionals have created works that critiqued authorities. Why does Tyler remain anonymous and why the use of adjective ‘infamous’ in his introduction?
Sahil Arora (SA): Tyler, as an artist, is constantly putting himself at risk with the works he creates. He does not shy from being political or honest with his opinions on the current state of society and politics (in our country or at a global stage). Agree or disagree with his views, since they are on the streets – but you can’t ignore them. As left-leaning as we are as a gallery, we are not representative of the population at large. With Tyler’s works too, there is a large section of people who do not resonate with it, and are in fact against it. This was evident with the threats he received with his recent Walk Of Shame series. It is to this large section that he is infamous.
RK: While viewing his work it is hard to ignore the parallels with the work of the British street artist, Banksy. He honestly confessed this in a hand written note pasted at your recent show, but there is a difference between inspiration and appropriation. What are your views about this?
SA: Tyler is a stencil artist who started out in 2010. He creates most of his works on the streets. Banksy popularised this style, theme and trend and became a global phenomenon. Before Banksy there was a French artist Blek Le Rat who first developed the style. There are multiple elements from Blek Le Rat’s works that appear in Banksy’s pieces. Where did the inspiration begin and is it really considered appropriation given the circumstances in which it is created is open to interpretations. Political street artists do not have the luxury of time. Stencil art allows them to prepare in advance in privacy (and safety) and then execute in the quickest amount of time, thus minimising the risk of getting in trouble with the law. The medium being the same will result in aesthetic similarity. If anything, we need more artists like Blek Le Rat, Banksy, and Tyler around us being visually vocal about the state of affairs of the world.
RK: Please talk about Tyler’s general concerns that he addresses through his art practice. Often his work uses found objects. What do you believe he aspires to achieve through this?
SA: Before this show, Tyler only used found objects for a couple of pieces. All his other works have been directly created on the streets. The streets are inherent to his work and significantly contribute to his aesthetic. In the 10 years, I have been observing his creations, I have never seen a piece on a ‘clean canvas’. The grit of the streets is integral to Tyler’s art and he probably felt it is something that needs to be carried into these works. They lend a deeper sense of ‘reality’ to his art.
RK: This is the first time Tyler created art work to be displayed in a gallery environment. Why the move from street to a gallery, from ‘art for everyone’ to ‘art for elite’?
SA: We started Method Art Space in 2019 for two primary reasons. One, we wanted a space we ourselves were comfortable visiting. A space that is not ‘elite’, one that you can come to view and experience art without any expectations. And two, a space where we can view the works of the artists that we love, in person. A selfish reason where the ‘virtual’ experience of seeing a photograph of the art is not enough. My favourite artists were not getting wall-space in the galleries in the city. So, I thought we will just do it ourselves. The question itself implies galleries exist to present ‘art for elite’ and highlights the problem with the so-called art world. We proudly do not exist only for the elite. Method is for everyone.
Also, I do not think Tyler has ‘moved’ from the streets to the gallery. He will definitely be creating works on the streets. The way I see it, the show is a convenient way to view his works without having to traverse the city streets in search for his work.
RK: Is Tyler’s art not vandalism?
SA: I personally see the need for vandalism, without violence, as a necessary by-product of the state of affairs in our city, country and the rest of the world.