French graffiti artist C215 aka Christian Guémy has left his mark on the walls of Karol Bagh . Delhi walls have seldom been canvas for art. We do have cell-phone advertisements, pretty heroines on hoardings and political slogans, but hardly art on roadside walls. But if you drive down the bylanes of Karol Bagh these days, you’ll see striking stencil work that will force you to take a second look.
A few metres from the Clarks’s International Hotel, in an open space littered with refuse, a black-and-white goat shares wall space with a turbaned man. On the wall of a run-down building nearby, vivid red scooters look down on an overflowing drain. Each picture is detailed and the stenciling is so intricate that it stands out in its dismal surroundings.
These are the works of French graffiti artist C215 aka Christian Guémy, who is travelling the streets of the world, leaving a mark of his journey in unlikely places — on buildings, broken boundary walls and a rusty autorickshaw. He passed by Delhi on October 7-16, and the walls of Karol Bagh bear witness to that.
“Street art is like surfing. You have to travel to experience new situations, new contexts and new people. Karol Bagh is the very heart of Delhi. It was the right place for me to feel the real, urban atmosphere of India,” says Guémy, before rattling off his previous trips to the US, Brazil, Israel, Morocco, Poland, France, England, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. “I love to place my characters in abandoned buildings. They inhabit those places like ghosts, they underline the life that once was there,” he says. His images are solitary faces and figures, captivating in their loneliness. Chand Prakash, who faces a Guémy work from his shop Prakash Electricals, says, “Everyday I look at the face of the woman on the opposite wall and wonder why it moves me so much. I wonder about that firang artist. Cars slow down and people take pictures with their camcorders and cell phones.”
Guémy, who has been drawing since childhood, has a master’s degree in art history from the Sorbonne. “It was only three years ago that I turned to stencil art in order to place nice pictures on the streets quickly and without authorisation,” he says. Armed with stencils and aerosol cans, he was often the centre of public attention at Karol Bagh. “The crowd was sometimes a problem, especially with so many excited kids,” he says. Nevertheless, they were his focus in Delhi, painting portraits, animals and scooters that he knew they would enjoy. “The onlookers loved it and gave me a good feedback which made my day,” he says. He will be back in India soon, this time probably in Puducherry “since I am French”. Walls, be ready.”