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Painting amid destruction inspires mural artist
By Xu Wei

FRENCH artist Julien Malland is fond of simple characters, mostly children, somehow connected to the chaotic environment in which they are revealed. He has created a series of impressive graffiti paintings over the years.


Many of his recent works were made on the walls of demolished buildings in downtown Shanghai’s Huangpu District; some have been wiped off.

Witnessing the outcome of globalization, his creations celebrate traditions, defining a hybrid culture between modern expression and traditional representation.

Malland is also the author and director of “Les Nouveaux Explorateurs,” a TV serial show produced by Canal+; each show focusing on a country and its mural artists.

Malland says that his approach aims to spark an artistic dialogue — whether it is a collaboration with local urban artists or a learning process of traditional techniques from local craftsmen.

In the mid-1990s, Malland began mural painting in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris under the name of Seth. He made himself known among Parisian graffiti artists by creating characters.

A graduate of Ecole Nationale Supurieure des Arts Decoratifs of Paris, he published in 2000 “Kapital, One Year of Graffiti in Paris,” in collaboration with Gauthier Bischoff, which became a best-selling book. Together, they founded Wasted Talent, a publication specializing in monographs from urban artists.

Since 2003, Malland has ventured across the world to exchange with street artists from different cultures and broaden his own perspective on life and mural painting. His travels during the last two years are narrated in a book he authored, “Extramuros.”

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Q: What inspired you to create such amazing works on the walls of the demolished buildings in Shanghai? There are lots of Chinese elements. What did you try to express through these works?

A: I was very touched by the demolition of the Old Town area. It represented the metamorphosis of China, but the abandoning of traditions and lifestyle habits as well. So I found there a lot of material for my inspiration. I wanted to tell stories about the people living there. I use traditional elements that I mixed with the idea of destruction.

Q: How many graffiti paintings have you created over the years? Where did you create them? What are your favorite works?

A: I’ve never counted but I guess hundreds. I travel a lot and these creations are everywhere around the world. I worked five years for a French television channel doing documentaries about street art, which made me paint in Africa, Australia, Europe, Asia and South America. Now I travel because I’m invited by festivals or to do exhibitions.

Q: How long does it take to create a graffiti painting? Where does your inspiration come from?

A: It depends on what I do and the size of the work. To a large wall it may take five to 10 days, and for a small painting as I did in Shanghai, two hours. I take my inspiration from the culture or the history of the country where I am. I try to connect my characters to the places in which they are painted.

Q: Compared with other genres of painting, what’s the distinctive charm and fun of graffiti in your eyes? What is the challenge?

A: What differentiates our painting in the streets from other kinds of art is that it is done in the public space. Which means we must take into account before painting the people who will live with our paints. My goal is to always find the idea that will correspond to the place where I want to paint. The challenge is to create a relationship between the place and what I represent.

Q: The art of graffiti is flourishing in Western countries, but it is still new to many Chinese people. In your opinion, what is the prospect for the art in China?

A: I think there is a difference in mentality. Western countries have developed this need to express themselves in a natural way in the street. China’s reality and history are different. Street art will perhaps one day develop in the country, but I hope it will be a Chinese street art, no Western influence.

Q: Do you have any new graffiti projects at hand?

A: I will paint other big walls this year, but I’m also working on two books about my travels and experiences. I love to write books and use them to tell these stories.

Q: What’s your advice to the novices in this field?

A: The only advice I can give is to stay true to yourself and to your work. Don’t forget that the street is not a gallery; it is a public space. So painting in the street gives you some responsibilities. We should not forget that we paint for people.

Q: How long have you stayed in China? What’s your impression of the country, and of the city of Shanghai?

A: I made two stays of 10 days in Shanghai, but I’ve been to China several times. It is a country that I love and it has always fascinated me. I love the variety of its culture, its art, its cuisine and its people. I discovered Shanghai an amazing city full of contrasts. I think the Chinese culture and the city have inspired me a lot. I hope to come back soon and paint again.

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