Painting for masses

Updated: 2015-04-14 08:49

By Zhang Kun(China Daily)

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French street artist Julien Seth Malland brightens up dark corners of the Earth with his colorful creations. He has now turned his attention to a Shanghai village. Zhang Kun reports.

Julien Seth Malland calls himself a street artist, but since April 8 he has been painting the wall of a pigsty in suburban Shanghai's Wuxing village.

Malland, from France, has been painting in the streets, ruins and public places since the mid-1990s. The 42-year Parisian has now turned his focus to Fengjing town of Jinshan district, a western suburb of Shanghai. He will spend two to three weeks creating 10 paintings in the village.

Malland has been invited by Nippon Paint China, a paint company, to create artworks as part of a charity initiative. Volunteer participants will trek 50 kilometers on May 16, to raise money for children in need in China's underprivileged areas. Malland is going to create 10 paintings on the houses and buildings along the way.

The pigs eat their slops and dig in the mud inside the sty, while Malland paints the outside using the wall as his canvas. A picture of a boy in a sitting position holding his knees is gradually taking shape on one wall, while on another, Malland has painted a boy in a padded jacket, flying a kite in the shape of a centipede. The bright green jacket incorporates an oil cloth that covers the pigsty window, giving the image a rich and vivid texture.

Villagers stop and look as Malland works, occasionally taking pictures with their cellphones. When the strange Caucasian man first drove his little truck, loaded with colorful paints, to the village, stopped by the pigsty and decided to paint the wall, the villagers watched with interest. A man offered to help open the cans of paint.

The owner of the pigsty is a veteran farmer, who keeps more than 200 pigs in the pen. She watches from afar, occasionally greeting curious neighbors passing by. "He is painting someone to look after your pigsty!" says a fellow villager. The remark made her quite pleased.

Malland has previously painted on a wall in Palestine, slum houses in South America, and along French and Belgian avenues.

Last year, Malland and several graffiti artists created a series of paintings in the ruins of Kangding Road in downtown Shanghai, where antique houses were being torn down to make way for new buildings. His depiction of children and women sitting, resting or playing among the broken walls went viral and evoked the public's nostalgia for the past.

Being a street artist, or "Global Painter" as he calls himself, Malland enjoys talking directly with the public and being involved in local communities.

Malland studied decorative art at one of the most recognized art academies in France and turned to street art because of the creative freedom and direct interaction with the audience.

Malland believes that when an artist exhibits artworks in a gallery or museum, people have to go in to see them, but by painting in the streets, the artist brings the work to the public.

Since Malland started to work with the French TV station Canal Plus in 2009, and with the show Globe Painter, he has traveled to 13 countries where he met with local artists and created artwork in public spaces with them. In China he has painted in Chongqing, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

Paintings done outdoors will either fade quickly or be removed, but that is not a problem for Malland.

"What matters to him is how he makes the local people happy," says Cao Bin, his agent, curator and assistant in China.

After landing in Shanghai for the job, Malland first went to the village to visit local farmer artists. Jinshan district has rich heritage of folk art, featuring farming life subjects painted in bright colors and decorative styles.

"I try to integrate some elements of the local culture into my painting," Malland says. His first painting in the village was on the wall of a street-corner grocery shop. In that piece, two children sit side by side, as if looking at the village and the farmlands covered in yellow rape blossoms. One of them, a little girl, is holding a stuffed tiger toy in her arms, an object representative of the local traditional handicraft.

When he creates the last piece in the village, Malland says he will invite local farmer artists to add their creations to complete the project.

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 Painting for masses

French artist Julien Seth Malland paints on a wall in a village in Fengjing town of Jinshan district in suburban Shanghai.

 Painting for masses

Malland stands in front of one of his paintings. Photos By Gao Erqiang / China Daily

Painting for masses

(China Daily USA 04/14/2015 page10)