INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr
VISI chats to French and Corsican visual artists and filmmaker Julien de Casabianca about the processes behind his larger-than-life pastes, his muses, and when he plans on visiting South Africa.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got interested in art?
I started art as a writer. All my teenage years were writing and writing. I only wanted to write and play soccer. Teachers allowed me to stay in the back of the classroom to continue to write when all the other schoolboys and girls left for the next class in another room. I stayed to write with schoolboys I didn’t know. All-day long. After four books edited by major publishers (Flammarion, Plon) and fairly reasonable success, I opened an artistic occupied building and I became a painter, and then a decided to take 10 years to become a filmmaker. I sent a letter to my favourite writer, Nobel Prize Gao Xingjian, to ask him to write a script for me even if I had no money to pay him. He did it. I did two feature-lengths, with the help of the National Centre of Cinema. And In 2015, I saw a little girl in a painting in Le Louvre and I had a Prince Charming pulsion to liberate her from the castle. I took her in photography, removed the decor, printed her in a human size, and pasted this girl in a new decor, the contemporary street. I did that everywhere: going in a city, in the museum of the rich area, to take a photography of a character from a painting and to paste it in the poor area. After millions of views on networks, museums called me to do it.
How do you decide on what walls you want to paste ?
In graffiti art, most of the time the work is finished when the painting is finished, physically. In my situation, the painting is already done. So my work starts where the painting stops, physically I mean. My work is to create a new landscape. By the integration of a person from ancient times in contemporary life. The choice of the wall depends on the landscape I create. My work is in two steps. The pasting and the photography, which is no documentation of the pasting: it’s another art and I have exhibitions of it in museums, in Brussels, Geneva, London.
What inspires or draws you to these classical works?
I take paintings made by Masters from the classical period, from the 15th Century to the 19th Century. The level they have, nobody can do or copy correctly today. They are engraved in the History of art. I’m fascinated by the sensibility and the quality of people who were drawing and painting with dozen of assistants 7/7, 15/24, 60 years non-stop.
What does a typical day look like for you?
In the morning, drawing. I have a grant from the National Center of Books in France to write and draw my first graphic novel, Requiem for mine, 450 pages about mourning and about human resources to stay in life when death comes around you on people you love.
In the afternoon I’m working on my monumental pastings for Outings Project. I have currently 5 churches to do soon…
In the evening, friends and love.
Do you ever plan on visiting and pasting in South Africa?
I dream of it! During my teenage years in ’80s, I was every month in manifestation in the centre of Paris to Free Nelson Mandela and trust me, nobody in France knew him at this time, and we were happy when we were more than 10… So it has made me a special feeling about this country. As citizens of the world, we all have together a Rainbow Nation heritage. Apartheid. World Cup 95. Sugar Man. Johnny Clegg. Lucky Dube. Desmond Tutu. Lady Skollie.
How do you fare with heights, some of the buildings you paint are extremely tall!
Honestly, the technic is not that hard. If you had to do it on 1x1m, you’ll find by yourselves the right solutions. After that, you have just to do the same 200 times side-by-side to do a monumental! It’s become harder when it’s on a church or a wall that is not flat (I hate flat walls), with lots of mouldings and corcines and bas-reliefs and windows etc. But trust me, I do more mistakes than what you can see from below! People are watching my art from afar, so I can make a lot of mistakes that nobody will see! Sometimes 1 pixel is 20cm.
Tell us the process behind creating one of your murals?
I’m always pasting characters from the local museum. Except when it’s on a church, in that case, I just need a character from the Bible. So I’m always invited by museums to do that in their city. I’m watching all the collections, from the walls to the reserve. I’m free. Nobody tells me what to do, and it’s not advertising for the museum. I’m coming in the museum to take a painting, as I come to an art shop to take paint tube. I only use public domain art, which is our common patrimony. I’m just waiting to fall in love with a character. After that, I go into the town to find walls. I mix both in my head and after with Photoshop to show the project to the museum and the city and the owner have all the permissions we need. Then it’s a lot of preparation with my team to find the right position for the character on the building, to make it the right size, to print it, cut it, paste it, ephemeral or definitive -it’s not the same technic.
Do you have a particular favourite piece that is special to you?
The one in Memphis is special. Because of its beauty. Because of what happened. It is on a factory that’s been empty for 50 years. I pasted on it, invited by Brooks Museum. Two weeks after, the reservoir of water collapsed and all the water fell on the character and removed it… It was like a ghost in action. Scary and magical. I can also say that I have a particular feeling about the largest I ever did, this spring, on a church in Corsica. It’s a so sad image. Powerful.
What are your plans for the future?
As a street artist, my dream is to do a monumental in New York. And become a graphic novel artist.