Upcoming talents take on Banksy and Co at Dubai gallery
What happens when you pit legendary street artists against raw upcoming talent? The answer is an epic exhibition entitled ‘Off the Wall: Street Art Legends’, which opens at Pro Art Gallery on January 18. Featuring the powerful works of established artists already oozing with street cred, such as Brit icon Banksy, US graffiti king Shepard Fairey, controversial pseudo-artist Mr Brainwash and Amsterdam-based group The London Police, the exhibition aims to inspire urban-style art in the region. It will also feature upcoming French DJ turned message-maker Gwenael Salaun and an emerging local artist, Iraqi-born Saif Chilmiran. Here, we asked the two new artists to discuss the work of legends, as well as compare each other’s.
Gwenael Salaun, 40 What does this piece represent? This piece talks about painting today, how it can be a playful game. Also like life in today’s diverse world, there are often clashes (cultural, political) but things somehow manage to stick together and work. As a whole, my works are a way to open the door to new ideas and possibilities, with the observer encouraged to come to their own conclusions.
What style do you use to create your work? My style is to use many different stylistic combinations that appeal to me, with the aim of freeing up new creative avenues.
How has street art influenced you? Street art is an amorphous beast, encompassing art found in or inspired by the urban environment. Like a happening major city, it creates a buzz. It energises me!
Who inspires you? Mankind.
Saif on Gwenael’s work What do you like about this piece? I love the mixing of different things put on to one canvas. The cartoon character with the skull made me love it even more. It’s original and great.
What do you admire about Gwenael as an artist? His creativity and the creation of his own style. I don’t need to ask or read his signature to tell that this is his piece, I know simply by seeing it.
Can you spot themes in this work that are similar to your own? I believe we have two different styles and ideas, but we both love to mix stuff. [Laughs]
Saif Chilmiran, 21 What does this piece represent? Well, honestly, I just wanted to mix two different styles and cultures together, so the Burj is this new icon for modernity and King Kong is an American story based around the Empire State Building. So I took that monkey and put it on a new and improved building in the Arab world.
What style do you use to create your work? There’s no certain answer for this question – I love mixed media, I love experimenting. I don’t like sticking to one style. I just want my work to be unique and original and to stand out.
How has street art influenced you? Street art made me the person I am today – it invaded my life and took over. It’s the only way I can speak to the public. I’m bad at writing, speaking and so on, but my best medium is painting. I’m able to express myself comfortably using street art, which has introduced bliss and satisfaction to my life.
Who inspires you? Freedom fighters, rebels, crazy people, original people, cigarettes, music and my own brain.
Gwenael on Saif’s work What do you like about this piece? I like how he plays with the mythological and juxtaposes it on this ultra-modern tower. It’s worlds apart, but makes a nice concept, a bit like a DJ who spins his two decks together, and comes up with a different tune.
What do you admire about Saif as an artist? His fresh and playful approach.
Can you spot themes in this work that are similar to your own? A propensity to deconstruct, analyse, and then reconstruct a different outlook on the world, much like a poem.
Banksy What does this piece represent to you? Gwenael: For me it’s another touching piece of acerbic iconoclasm from Banksy. It’s anti-war, but I think he could also be hinting at the duality of man. Saif: This piece represents a funny political view for the fight for peace. The idea is contradicting in some way, and I love it.
What about Banksy’s style do you most admire? Gwenael: He’s a very active artist who has become an emblematic figure despite his anonymity. He also uses huge amounts of humour in his works – he uses humour like a weapon. Saif: I admire his rebellious attitude and stencilling technique.
Shepard Fairey What does this piece represent to you? Gwenael: This work is a homage to Jasper Johns and American painters, the brew that makes up the US’s multicultural society. It’s powerful symbolism. Saif: To me this is showing the ugly side of the US’s political system. It’s basically portraying the truth.
What about Shepherd Fairey’s work do you most admire? Gwenael: His ability to harness the sociological forces at work surrounding the use of public space and the insertion of very eye-catching but ambiguous images. By seeing the potential, he created a phenomenon. Saif: I admire his persistence, his views and opinions on the modern-day world. His art work is very unique, original and meaningful.
Do you spot any characteristics similar to your own work? Gwenael: Like me, he strives to inspire curiosity and cause the masses to question their relationship with their surroundings. Saif: Just some of the political views.
Mr Brainwash What does this piece represent to you? Gwenael: This piece is a logical follow-up to pop art – it’s a mish-mash of emblems from mainstream culture. But it’s also an even clearer response to the ‘dumbing down’ of art, that anything can be labelled art nowadays. I think if you look closely, you can see Banksy smiling in the background! Saif: To be honest, nothing came up in my brain.
Mr Brainwash found fame through the Banksy documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, in which he ‘borrowed’ elements of other artists’ work and became famous overnight. Do you agree with this? Gwenael: Every artist develops in their own way. I personally think he is showing us a facet of the world, but which one? Saif: I don’t know whether it’s right or wrong, but it’s not like there are rules to be followed in the art world. In my opinion, it’s not fair. Besides, the struggle in the beginning is the most fun and motivating stage.
What do you most admire or criticise about his work? Gwenael: I admire his ability to get away with it. Saif: I criticise his lack of originality.
The lowdown Exhibition: Off the Wall: Street Art Legends’, until February 15 at Pro Art Gallery, Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 345 0900). Artists: Banksy, Richard Mirando (aka Seen), Shepard Fairey, Mr Brainwash, Mizer, Gwenael Salaun, The London Police, Speedy Graphito, Faile, Mau Mau, Evil Dr Revolt, Saif B Chilmiran. Price range of works: Dhs1000 to Dhs100,000.