Originally published on Street Art United States
Born in Metz (France) in 1987, Mantra is a self-taught street artist that has been painting in the streets since 2008. He grew up between the noise of the city and the whispers of the surrounding countryside. In his paintings and street canvases, the Artist pays tribute to his childhood heroes (butterflies, owls, spiders, birds…) in a realistic and lively style, like a mirror reflecting on the cries of a nature that we don’t hear anymore. Mantra creates magnificent murals with the combination of exquisite colors and in-depth background, with the intention to leave his footprints in the urban areas like repeated mantras, hence his nickname.
Not only does he have extraordinary artistic skills – freehand sketching without using a projector or grid – but also he has strong passion and motivation. This young French artist is on his way to the international vanguard of contemporary muralism having his works recognized beyond the European frontier: Buenos Aires, Seattle, Vienna, Paris, Lima, Quito, Bogotá.
Sami Wakim, editor of Street Art United States, got in touch with Mantra on Facebook and was able to send him a few questions. Please find his answers below.
Hey Mantra how is it going? For people who don’t know you or your work, could you give them a little bit of background?
What’s up? I’m fine thank you. I am actually back in my studio in France. It is good to be home. I’m trying to plan this coming and exiting year. It’s been more than 9 years since that I began painting, mainly on walls, in the french graffiti scene.
Do you recall your first memories of your interests in art?
I Definitely can’t. My parents made a lot of sacrifices to give me the opportunity to have the best education possible, so they gave me tools to draw and paint really early, like every parent for their child.
A lot of street artists started as graffiti writers, then developed their styles and became muralists. How was it for you starting up and what took you to the streets?
Honestly, every painter has his own and unique path. The graffiti culture is one of the strongest and largest movement in art history; So strong that in the last years, it has become the perfect background and lifestyle for the advertising industry.
I was part of the skateboard culture as a teenager, and skateboarding made me aware of the local graffiti scene of which I later became part of. Graffiti gave me a sense of belonging, and a way of self-expression.
Is Mantra your nickname? If yes, is there a meaning behind that nickname?
I’ve chosen Mantra as a nickname to paint only for a simple attraction of this word. In the beginning, nobody called me Mantra, but after years of painting and building my own universe, the word took a meaning of its own. This, thanks to the diversity and repetition of my artwork.
Your works deal a lot with butterflies, owls, spiders, birds and is quite exotic. Is it a reflection of your interior life?
Oh yeah, all the time ! All wild fauna and flora are really special for me. I guess, I feel more respect and admiration for them than what I feel for humans. Since I was a child, I was outside every moment I could. I felt safe in a natural and wild place. My path was in the forest, lake and the wildlife, rather than on football field, and the frogs, owls, foxes and reptiles…were my super heroes.
In your recent mural in Ambato (Ecuador), we see you depicting a woman in traditional clothes picking up books. Could you tell us the reasoning behind it? And what message are you trying to convey?
Well, First off, this wall is the side wall of the national library of Ambato (Ecuador), so it made sense in the artwork subject I chose. This mural got an Ecuadorian soul, I hope people can feel it, and this piece sends a universal message, both calm and poetic. I wanted to create an artwork that can be identified as a tribute to the Ecuadorian culture, and translate the energy I felt in this country. It was a lot of responsibility, especially because this mural in down-town, next to the city hall, cathedral, etc; and now became a part of the legacy of Ambato city.
Do you consider yourself a muralist/street artist? And why did you choose the streets to express yourself?
I told you, I have spent enough time in the streets, and chose graffiti to express myself, as simple as that. I’ve grown and developed my style in the French graffiti scene, which later gave me the opportunity to travel and meet other graffiti artists and shared our common passion for painting on walls. I think the important thing is not what you paint, but which culture you are part of.
While some claim the physical danger of working outdoors makes women reluctant to participate, do you think women are changing the status quo of street art which is kind of still a boys’ club?
This world has been led by men since the beginning of time, and the selfishness to try to build to their wishes and image, always driven by the feeling of power over women.
Few women were active since the inception of the graffiti scene, but as the movement exploded, more young girls started joining the boys. They have the same ability to paint, they’ve got vision, feelings, two hands and a strong mind! Our movement was waiting for this balance, and women are definitely making an impact. They have proven that they are not only the future, but also the present, for the balance of every culture.
What are your thoughts about what’s going on in the world: social injustice, racism the refugee crisis, Trump…
I can just observe Humanity reproducing the same mechanism, creating the same problems, and the killing culture to impose their own. Homo Sapiens killed Neanderthals, you know, and every Homo Sapiens killed what he feels different for him. We can talk about progress, evolution but nobody can convince me that the world is better now, or that it was better before. I studied history and was very passionate about it, and what I can understand is that Power doesn’t really changes its name, it only reproduces. But for sure, dark days are ahead of us.
The internet innately separates the creator from the audience. What are your thoughts on social media, and how it helps or hurts artists today?
Even if it’s a big mess, I think it is a really strong communication platform. In my opinion, social media a new reality. So like in the “real” world, people act how they want, with or without respect. This public space gives you the opportunity to have your own stage, to declare what you’ve made and who you are. Honestly, I don’t know how it is helping, because it will always help first and foremost the powerful media. Media like the one who appropriates your artwork to use it to sell their shit, or ask you to pay to get more visibility. I guess the most important thing is to stay focus on your own essence, in my case, to paint the way I feel, then if I decide to post my works on the internet, I have to accept that it will find its own way, full of glory, shame and indifference.
Outside of the creating realm, away from screens, what activities occupy your time? Is it difficult to find a balance between “work” and “play”?
Honestly, it’s hard to find time to play in this demanding and independent lifestyle. A lot of discipline is necessary to keep the direction I aim for. Kendrick Lamar says: “It is a disappointment to find a balance between family and music. It comes with a lot of sacrifice, because when you are focused on your music, you are going to miss a lot of birthdays, and a lot of moments”, and he is totally right. Sometimes we can go so far in what we are making, is it for selfish reasons or weakness?
In my case, painting is the best part of playing for me, where I find everything I need. I enjoy the result, the choices, and it brings me such of joy and knowledge, and it gives me the opportunity to learn many languages, and cultures in this journey far from home.
What’s something about you that would surprise our readers?
Wow, how to impress people about me, I don’t know. Maybe that I am just a simple man who does crazy things, and tries to make his best in everything that comes his way.
What can we look forward to seeing from you next? What collaborations, shows or projects do you have planned?
2017 has just started, and a lot of projects are in the making. Even if my agenda is not really confirmed yet, I will try to be in front of walls between Europe and Latin America. I want to stay focused on my mural work, I wish to keep going and evolving my style and technique, hoping that I can find the opportunity to keep painting large-scale murals. But, there will be definitely no exhibitions this year.
Any words of advice for aspiring new artists?
Always respect yourself. Respect everybody around you and who you meet along the way. Accept those who will follow your path, and understand the ones who chose to find another direction. Stay focus on your own way, because it is as unique as you are. Learn everything you can about what and where you are living. Look for your deepest and strongest roots. Learn from bird songs, the wind, the volcano and the stars;. Lose yourself watching a butterfly flying, and find the beauty in the spider eating it, because of this death the other can survive. Remind yourself that you are here, alive, and all the small lessons hiding in small things surrounding us, feed our imagination. Curiosity feeds imagination, and with a lot of discipline and rigor, it will become the strongest weapon you can build in this small part of the universe.
That is it for now! Thank you Mantra and hope to see you in Boston in the near future.
Sami is the founder and editor of Street Art United States, an online community that supports street artists. Sami has organized several legal street art murals in the Boston area and has hosted local and international artists who have contributed to the flourishing street art community in the city.