French artist takes graffiti to a new high

French street art exponent Jace literally took large-format graffiti to a new high, as he stood on the elevated perch of a hydraulic crane to paint on a two-storeyed wall along the beach-hugging Goubert Avenue.

The artist from Reunion Island, France’s overseas territory in the Indian Ocean, had brought in a rented crane to spray paint imagery on the wall of the Maison Americaine, populating white space with Gouzous, little orange-brown cartoon characters that are the hallmark of his art spanning over two decades.

Jace was in the city as part of the “Wall Art Festival/India-Sri Lanka” tour hosted by the Alliance Francaise network in India.

For onlookers, the process of the artist going about his work with cans of spray paint from inside the crane-mounted basket turned out to be as spectacular as the artistic embellishments that took shape on the wall.

In a span of a few hours, Jace transformed an impassive block of white space into a piece de resistance on the beach promenade.

“Wherever I do wall art, I try to bring in elements that speak to the character of the city…images that are signifiers of its culture”, said Jace, whose India tour included commissioned mural art projects in Bengaluru and Lucknow.

However, the Puducherry setting was most ideal, as the pedestrian-only stretch of Goubert Avenue is a popular destination for local strollers and tourists alike, he said.

“Here, I tried to capture the city’s French ties… which was the brief of the art commission”, said the artist, who, for the project in Bengaluru, had added a couple of popular Hindu deities (Siva and Hanuman) into the iconographic mix.

While his approach differs from wall to wall, city to city, and culture to culture, the gouzou characters that he created in the 1990s are the signature that unifies all his work. These characters mirror his inspirations of the moment—joyous, wistful, annoyed, or angry.

The conscious abstraction he chose of not putting a face to these characters has helped the gouzous blend in with diverse, far-apart locales—from the streets of the United States, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, and Portugal to the urban wall spaces of China, Japan, and the Visegrad countries.

Since 1995, when he had his first paid work for the festival Mouv’ en Musique in Rouen, followed by his first exhibition (Biograffiti) in Le Havre the following year, this self-made artist has displayed his work across various cities and galleries. Jace was also commissioned to paint the first panels on the railings that would replace the love locks on the Pont des arts in Paris in 2015. Among his large-format works, the biggest was a piece of mural art undertaken on a 4,000 sq m wall in Marseilles, France.

Though this was his first visit to the city, Jace seemed to have taken a liking to the place and its “open and hospitable” folks. Having finished the art commission well ahead of the expected schedule, he even found time to leave his stamp on a few walls as he took a look around the city.

The growingly omnipresent gouzous serve as Reunion Island’s cultural ambassadors, filling up street art festivals, exhibitions, and museums. The artist’s dream is said to be to take a gigantic gouzou to the moon for all mankind to admire every night!

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