Graffiti cud to chew on

FRENCHMAN STRAYS INTO STRANGE TERRITORY

By Sudeshna Banerjee
  • Published 2.11.15
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Graffiti artist Marko Clement gets off a ladder after spray-painting the head of a cow on the northern facade of the Alliance Francaise du Bengale building on Sunday. (Sudeshna Banerjee)

A huge head of a cow emerged on the northern facade of the Alliance Francaise du Bengale building in West Range on Sunday. But the beefy Frenchman who spray-painted it apparently had no clue to the debate raging in India over cow meat.

"The first thing I saw on coming out of the Calcutta airport on Friday was a cow eating a newspaper. I felt it was some kind of a message. So that is what I have chosen to draw," said Marko Clement, who goes by the name Marko 93.

The figure corresponds to the number of the suburb where he stays, 10 minutes north of Paris. A self-taught artist, Marko started painting on neighbourhood walls with a spray can around the age of 15. "I learnt to use a paintbrush much later. Now I mix both - no problem," he said, getting off the ladder after signing off his latest creation.

What he created at Prinsep Ghat on Sunday night was a novel mix. With 20 students of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute holding a flashlight each and moving from point to point as directed, Marko created the illusion of a river that swirled through the Palladian porch. "This is called light painting. It is magic. It reveals the invisible," he beamed.

The choreographed movements lasted little more than a minute and the effect was preserved only in Marko's camera as a long exposure.

Marko draws his artistic lineage from Man Ray and Picasso, having discovered the form on seeing a movie poster of a car with its backlights leaving a trail in red on a dark street. "I asked a photographer how this could be done and used the technique to paint my signature with light."

Two years later, he saw Man Ray's 1935 series Space Writing. "Man Ray was a pioneer but I admire Gjon Mili, the Albanian photographer from Life magazine, who told Picasso about the technique in 1949 and captured on camera as the master painted with light."

A luminous white crown painted with light at the foot of the Basilica of St. Denis

As a spray painter, Marko had unloaded goods from trucks for a living till he started earning enough from his art. Now he travels across the globe and even painted a Boeing 727 this August in Tunisia with nine other artistes. "In the 80s, graffiti would be identified with violence and gangs. Now it is called street art and is big in the galleries of France. I might do an exhibition on the work I am doing in India."

A guest of Alliance Francaise and the Arshinagar Project, Marko is on a 10-city trip. "This is my third visit to India. I had done light painting in Angkor Wat. There I heard about the temples of India. I love the Hindu temples for the sculptures," he said.

The reason he likes light painting is because it lets him paint around him. "Canvas is two-dimensional. With lights, I can paint directly in and around monuments."

He brings out a postcard to show what he means. At the foot of the Basilica of St. Denis, where lies buried several monarchs of France, a huge crown looms, writ in luminous white. "I took this picture from the top," he recounted.

But he is no photographer, he quickly adds. "I only do photography to archive my work."