Two French and German artists add colour to Pondicherry, with visuals of horses and goddesses
Street art is famous in countries like Brazil, London and New York, and well-known artists like Roa from Belgium, Paul Don Smith from England and Banksy from the UK have given us some spectacular work. In India, the art has only caught on recently. In fact, it was in January 2014 that Delhi saw its first exhibition, This is not Street Art, at Hauz Khas Village. Pondicherry has its share of street artists, with Ouvrier and Tona leading the list. You can find their work in different places like Bodhi beach, on fishermen’s boats, the Artika restaurant and on streets like Rue De Bazar Saint Laurent and Rue Suffren.
Artiste Ouvrier began doing street art almost 20 years ago. On one of his visits to Pondicherry, the French national met Punjabi girl Aye Chérie, and the two of them have been painting walls together since. Why walls? “There is no choice if you want your art to be seen by all. You have to do it in the street, and it’s free to see,” he laughs. Ouvrier first started painting little Ganapatis on boats for Bodhi beach’s fishermen, two years ago. “They also asked us to do the drishti bomai (mask to ward off evil) on their door and we ended up making a little temple at the end,” says the artist. As for his first painting, he recalls it was a tiger and for Cherie, it was cherries. Expect subjects like fruits and colourful pictures of Indian deities and horses “because this is the year of the horse,” according to the artist. The duo finds it difficult to source the right supplies. “Spray cans are not easy to find in Pondicherry and it’s not of the same quality as Montana Colours and Plasti-kote, and other brands in France. But we are learning to adapt to Indian tools,” says Ouvrier, who is fascinated by our mythology. “I come from a symbolist background, thus a lot of mythology is involved. But I have a strong attraction towards goddesses, especially Devi,” he says. As for reference points, Ouvrier collects pictures of deities sold at temples to replicate it on walls. “I also like History, right from the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood (19th century England) to Art Nouveau,” says the artist who insists that the subject is secondary and style comes first.
Tona visited Pondicherry for the first time this year to meet a friend, and he is already in love with the town. A self-taught German artist, he started creating art on walls in 1999 and has been making his own stencils since 2002. He admits that his first creation wasn’t profound and almost childish. On street art, he says, “By placing art in the living environment of people, it becomes part of that environment and interacts within it at the same time,” adding, “In a world which seems unfair and cruel, I do not want to create more negativity. So if you look at my work, most of the themes I work on show positivity.” Besides spray paint, the artist shares that he can work with alternatives—be it oil paint, acrylic, etc. As for themes, Tona reveals, “I feature kids, people and animals. I want to show that a corner is not just a corner but another world of imagination.” He also loves working with alphabets in different languages. And a priceless lesson he has learnt from Indian artists? “Patience,’’ he admits.