by Jerry ElengicalMay 21, 2022
At large the purpose of art is meant to touch the heart and mind of the many. Not of the handful chosen ones who can afford to spend hours watching an art piece hanging on the wall of a white-cube. Bringing forth the essence of the former to a spectrum of the audience with graffiti art is the French artist Julien Malland, widely known as Seth Globepainter. Literally on a journey to paint across the globe, Malland has found building facades, walls of dilapidated structures as the potential canvas to draw graffiti in the countries, besides France, such as China,Denmark, South Africa, UAE, Ukraine, to name a few from the long and impressive list of close to 50 countries.
Malland’s works are sensitive to the history of local communities, which subsequently enable the audience to trace a part of them rendered in the form of a colourful mural. The community-driven projects, closely informed by the collaborative approach, allow the artist to adapt to the surrounding of different places. Talking to STIR, Malland expounds on his interest in the past and current situation of the regions where he travels to paint a large-scale mural. “My subjects are related to my themes of preference, such as the importance of the individual or collective imagination, the preservation of popular cultures and poetry as a tool for resilience during a time when everything moves too fast. Depending on the political, economic or societal situation of the place, or in some cases current events. I try to remain as free as possible without imposing my ideas. Rather, I seek to question the passer-by, encouraging them to interrogate various subjects by identifying with my characters”.
Ubiquitous to mural art is the presence of a child engrossed in a kind of activity. “By painting children, I speak to everyone. This is what I seek to do with my work in a public space. Children have an innocent approach to the world. Through creating a confrontation with reality, I am able to approach sensitive subjects indirectly. They can soften my intention, often contrasting the environment in which I paint. Painting children having fun in a world on the brink of collapse has extraordinary evocative power”.
Inherent to the art of graffiti is the need to communicate an immediate message with the audience. The artist is sensitive to the onus he has to not disavow the meaning of this artistic exercise. “For me, painting in public spaces implies a certain responsibility. Each time I express myself using this medium, I try to do so with a more or less hidden discourse on society. For example, this summer I painted a series of children playing while wearing knight’s helmets. They were intended to evoke the situation surrounding COVID-19.”
The wall is not an abstract structure of the physical reality that turns into an art piece, it stands as an inspiration for Malland who likes to “play with the wall’s materiel, architecture or environment”. He further adds, “I always try to find a theme or idea that will resonate with the place where I paint. I am looking to speak to a place’s inhabitants. They are the viewers who will have to live with my paintings. So, I feel an obligation to paint something that will speak to them, either by drawing inspiration from their culture or from the political and social context”.
A graduate of the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Malland embarked on this journey as an artist in the mid-90s. But it was in 2003 that he decided to explore unfamiliar terrain beyond the known French shores. The travel and art expeditions are documented in the book entitled Globe-painter: 7 mois de voyages et de graffiti, published in 2007. This is preceded by the book Kapital, a collaborative project realised with Gautier Bischoff, and is touted as one of the best-selling books on French graffiti. To leaf through the books means to comprehend how graffiti art comes into being at places geographically separated.
Malland briefly walks us through the steps leading up to the tall murals, “When I first see a wall, either in a photo or in real life, I reflect upon ideas that are the most adaptable. It’s a time-consuming process. I sketch these out until I find the one that seems the most obvious. Like a lonely brainstorm process, everything happens at this moment. It’s not about decorating a space but creating a strong image that plays with its surroundings; it’s not about covering up a wall, but discovering it”.
The liberty to put his thoughts into a representative expression is not limited to the artist, but he is open to the idea of having viewers appropriate the works. Multiple perspectives lend unique meanings to the work. “I try to open doors halfway. Anyone who wants to can imagine what is behind the door”. In an otherwise daily life, saturated with the array of billboards embossed with precise messages to dictate what to do and follow, indeed, Malland’s art is an opportune moment that “opens a space for the creative imagination”.