Have You Seen The Hands And Feet Of A Giant On This Suburban Building In Mumbai?
Sleepy giants, large birds with heavy wings, piles of stones, chairs and charred trunks — French artists Ella and Pitr, who met in 2007 and decided to combine their talents thereafter, create these figures with the utter abandon and wilfulness of two people in love. Their most popular character, the sleeping giants, are depicted as drowsy individuals ensconced into cramped spaces in a bid to escape their mundane lives. These somnolent giants, however, have one unique quality about them — they look like they’re going to wake up and stretch their limbs as soon as the real world signs off for the night. Their magnum opus, a 21,000-sqft. rooftop painting of a sleeping woman in Stavanger, Norway holds the record of being the world’s largest mural, but when we caught up with the artists who were working on their mural for St+art Festival 2018 (an initiative supported by Asian Paints), they seemed entirely unfazed by the fact that their fame preceded them. They are familiar with India and her gregarious citizens having been part of artist JR’s global photography experiment project, Inside Out where they painted another one of their languorous colossuses on a tank at Sassoon Dock.
Gazing up at the half-drawn pair of brightly-garbed giants that adorn the facade of an unassuming building in Mahim East, we launched into a discussion about their work.
Excerpts from our conversation….
What piqued your interest in street art?
Ella: We don’t particularly like to speak about why we do what we do. In the beginning, we felt like there wasn’t enough quality to speak of in the street art movement so we wanted to contribute to the initiative. Plus, we liked that it wasn’t an elitist affair but open for all to view. If you do something in a gallery or a museum, people have to pay to see your work. If you do it in the street, it’s like an accident. You never know who will see your work and what they will make of it.
What do you wish to convey through your art?
Ella: There is no particular message. Our work is very instinctive and words wouldn’t do it justice, because if either of us could convey a message through literature, we would be orators instead of artists. Our murals are another way of conversing but it’s not as direct as words; it’s rather interpretative.
What is the idea behind your work for St+Art Mumbai festival?
Ella: We wanted to do something that was a far cry from our usual aesthetic. When we paint in European countries, the colours are usually subtle and subdued. India is associated with a feeling of such innate joy and we wanted that to come through in our work. We incorporated large patches of red and gold to create what we like to call ‘dance of joy’. Our mural actually features two sweet giants dancing, but you can’t see their heads because they are up in the clouds. All you can see are their limbs — magic hands and magic feet.
How different was your experience painting in India as compared to around the world?
Ella: The people in India are extremely resourceful and it was quite easy to get help with our work because there are so many people available to help. If we needed red paint, we would just ask out loud and 10 people would come back to us in the next five minutes with individual buckets of red paint. This country has the best and biggest hearts.
Whose work are you inspired by?
Ella: Just the quotidienne stuff. Things we see on the street, in the museum and on the internet. Often, it is something completely unpredictable. For example, we are very modern when it comes to our own art but it is the old-fashioned painters, rather than their urban or folk art counterparts, that inspire us.
Can you pick one of your favourite artworks that you have created?
Pitr: The first giant we painted on a very big floor in Chile. When we first started out, our MO was pasting paper on the wall and watching it fall away and eventually disappearing. We use rolls of paper that are 12 meters long and then embed them into stones which professionals then insert dynamite into. We usually do this kind of work in the quarries so that we can paint and film it a few days before the mountain is set to be blown up. The ephemeral nature of this kind of work keeps us grounded, mostly because we don’t think a lot before doing a new piece.
How do you resolve creative disputes?
Ella: Well, when you’re standing in front of the wall, there is not much to do except paint it. Because we are commissioned to paint in such large quantities, we just think about basic sketches and ideas. There’s not enough time to think about anything else, so there’s no scope for disagreement. If one of us really wants to try something out and the other is not convinced, we try it out anyway. If it turns out fine, we celebrate. If it doesn’t work, we learn from it.
Pitr: I just kiss her (laughs). We’ve been working together for the last 10 years so we know each other well enough to know that if one of us really wants to pursue an idea, then it must be a good one.
For more artworks from St+art Festival:
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