French artist Julien Malland started painting murals in the 20th district of Paris under the name of Seth. He made himself known among Parisian graffiti artists by creating memorable characters.
Since 2003, he has been travelling across the globe to exchange with street artists from different cultures, in order to broaden his horizon on life and on mural painting. From this experience he has been compelled to draw simple characters, mostly children, somehow connected to the chaotic environment in which they are revealed. Witnessing the outcome of globalization, its creations are celebrating traditions. they are defining a hybrid culture between modern expression and traditional representation. His approach aims to arouse an artistic dialogue, whether it is a collaboration with local urban artists or a learning process of traditional techniques from local craftsmen.
In addition, Seth is the presenter, author and director of “Les nouveaux explorateurs“, a TV show produced by Canal+, each show focusing on a country and its local mural artists. His travels during the last two years are narrated in a book he authored, “Extramuros“.
Seth was invited by Instagrafite to present his works both outdoor at the Art Mile and inside the Urban Nation Museum in Berlin. In this interview we catch up with Seth around a coffee just a few hours prior to the grand opening of the Museum.
Interview by Julie
Julie: You have had the opportunity to realise sculptures, why did you choose this type of medium for Urban Nation Museum outdoor gallery?
Seth: I have already worked on sculptures when I was in Bali, in smaller scale though, but always based on this character. I have been wanting to transcribe my work in 3D for a long time now. I couldn’t find a sculptor and I wanted to do it myself. I started working with wood and I found a wood carver and we then opted for this technique for the Art Mile installation.
Was it produced by a local artist?
I first sent out a smaller model which was created in Bali. It took quite some time to re-create it. They made a fantastic job, their Berlin-studio is called Joost van der Velden studio. The piece can be seen at the Art Mile outdoors installation area underneath the U Bahn rail station. The sculpture is 3m50 tall and is entitled ‘Walter’ (William Tell’s son).
So when did you get to Berlin in preparation for the opening?
I got here on Sunday, at that time the head was not fitted on the body yet. I had seen pictures already, and it took me a week to paint the sculpture prior to the opening. It was only on the last day that I felt that something was missing, and this is when I had the idea to add an arrow in the centre of the head. I already had the idea of the arrow for other artworks and I thought it worked very well for this particular work.
Why adding an arrow?
There are different ways of interpreting this addition.
Would you rather let the public have their own interpretation?
Yes, I prefer that people make their own interpretation and I liked the idea of contrast between the child and the rainbow palette with the darker side represented by the arrow right in the middle. It can be translated into different meanings.
I also thought a lot about the colours theme for my artwork. I kept thinking about the color I was going to use and I tried many things to finally picked one of my rainbow thematic .
It is worth mentioning that we are the gay district. I thought it was interesting to make a reminder of this with the already existing rainbow installations in the quarter from the past gay-pride. The piece not only resonates with the neighbourhood but also it is interesting to think about the scale – the fact of making a child, something rather fragile in this grandeur. this does not mean at all the same thing when it is small or large.
How did your collaboration with Instagrafite came about?
Marina and Marcelo from Instagrafite are part of the curating board of the Urban Nation Museum. I had the opportunity to meet with them before this project. They invited me to be part of the event. I am also presenting a canvas inside the Museum. Actually my indoor piece is the negative of the outdoor artwork; on the canvas you can see a child who looks into the rainbow.
Were you free to choose your thematic?
I was indeed. However, I was asked to work on a specific size for the canvas which at first I thought would be challenging as I only work with spray cans. But it turned out to be ok and I am quite pleased with the spot it got as it can be seen right at the entrance next to other great artworks.
Any thoughts on what is happening here in Berlin with the opening of the first street art museum?
I think what is interesting is that it is a unique place. I mean there are many international participating artists, the roster is amazing featuring different generation and showcasing a multitude of styles inside the Museum. From the abstract to realism all canvasses have been put together by genre in order to offer a coherent journey in the public’ eyes.
This allows the public to perceive different styles from all the artists. What I really like in conjunction with the Museum artworks is the outdoor installations with the Art Mile gallery. All pieces are visible under the tube, on the streets. I find this outdoor gallery amazing, it represents such a beautiful addition for the locals to enjoy.
Are these permanent installations?
I don’t believe so. They will be visible for 3-4 days after the opening, then they will be moved inside the museum. What I can say is that my sculpture was realised to last through time. It is made from fibre and polystyrene so it can last thirty years.
We are a few hours away from the opening. What is your take on this unique event?
Yeah, it’s awesome. It has nothing to do with completing a mural. There are installations, live performances, workshops…We are super lucky to be able to participate to this unique event, and I think there will be more in the future.
As far as I am concerned this is a great opportunity because it was precisely what I wanted to achieve. They didn’t offer me to do a mural. I was very pleased as I completed quite a few murals so it allowed me to do many other things.
Most of the time the work involved on a mural echoes with its social environment. I do a lot of artistic projects for schools (check out more about ‘Back to School’ project here) in unprivileged places or during festivals where I always try to do an artwork that is connected to its surrounding. I always aim at rooting my art to its location, talking directly or indirectly about a specific issue or theme, just like I recently did in Dubai or New Zealand.
With an event such as UN Museum I was very excited to explore something different. It’s not the same audience here in Berlin, visitors are familiar and passionate about art, they are visiting especially for the scene. This is a very different approach and it allows me to explore other ways to express myself and for UN I chose the 3D.
Talking about this, will you continue exploring this technique for your upcoming show in Paris with Galerie Itinerance?
Absolutely, this is something that I will do more and more. The tricky thing is how to start, same as you would do with a car, but once you’re on the road all is fine. In Bali, it took me four months of preparation not only to create my sculptures, to find the ideas and get to creating it, but also find the right persons to work with. It is very complex, but I am going this way. I love exploring new things.
What’s your approach when it comes to gallery and streets artworks?
I am always very enthusiastic about realising frescos. I cannot really make a comparison, both are very different. I think my approach is more collaborative than artistic. For instance, I find collaborations with other artists exciting creates and the communication mixed with the influence of the location is precisely what interests me. It is all about the context. How do we adapt? How do we tell a story in relation to a place and its people? This is what I prefer in my approach.
The work in gallery is different, you start from nowhere. There aren’t any buildings, people or context. I can imagine that for other artists it’s very different, but for me it is a challenge that I am happy to take on.
How do you feel your travels have changed your approach throughout the years?
It definitely impacted my work and my way of creating. I think if I had stayed in France without travelling I would have stopped alltogether. At some stage I stopped creating. My travels and the encounters I have made along the way opened a new way to think and create.
We talked earlier about you numerous travels to South America. I find the artistic approach is very different from what we can see in Europe for instance.
Yes, several artworks in Europe are connected to societal topics whether they are political or econimic, such as capitalism for instance. In South America it’s very different. They already had political muralism to be precise. It was a way to to talk to people through urban art.
Talk me through your upcoming projects!
I am currently preparing for my upcoming show at Galerie Itinerance and I am also working on a project in China that will be revealed in 2018. I am heading to Shanghai this month to discuss the preparations around it. The show will be similar to what I did in Italy, in other words I will invest a location and create outdoor installations which will be adapted indoor in a gallery.
Do you already know what you will be presenting?
Not at all, this is why I am going to Shanghai to explore the location. I am more interested in abandoned or destructed districts in China. Places that tells a story of what is currently happening and how the country carries on developing and transforming with globalisation. China is evolving at a very fast pace and I am very keen on working around this thematic.
Interview by Julie