Posted on September 30, 2010
London-based Street Artist Bortusk Leer emptied out his flat one day early this year and put all his belongings in storage. He packed some articles of clothing and a legion of colorful, friendly monsters and embarked on a journey to India for six months with his girlfriend. On the route from town to town, guest house to guest house, he observed an amazing country, it’s people, and it’s cows. Not quite sure how to approach the topic of street art, he found people to be receptive, and he even received invitations to paint inside homes and courtyards. The cows were positively enthusiastic!
Following is a personal account from Bortusk and photos from his trip.
A 6-month back packing trip around India presented me with the opportunity to take my work to yet another continent and hopefully spread some more smiles. A nation whose favorite comedian, I discovered, is Mr. Bean would hopefully find my child-like art amusing!? In India, I quickly realized, nothing ever goes quite to plan. After wallpaper paste proved impossible to find while in Goa, my first batch of paste-ups were made with a flour and water paste. These were eaten off the walls by hungry, wandering cows, who seemed to think the colorful artwork’s doughy coating was some kind of Willy Wonka-esque edible wallpaper. Lesson learned. From then on I pasted only up high above the sacred ones’ reach.
Jodhpur brought me an opportunity to stock up on more suitable ‘sticking stuff’. Here I bought an industrial size pot of PVA and Indian paintbrushes made from bundles of straw bound together with string. These were perfect for pasting and much better!
The “Blue City” is a bustling maze of streets and alleyways rammed with shops and street vendors overlooked by the grand fort and was my favorite of all the Rajasthan cities we visited. Unlike the rest of Rajasthan, which we generally found hard work due to the constant sales pitches and tourist blags, Jodhpur felt much more relaxed and we were, in the main, left alone to enjoy its sights unperturbed.
The winding back streets lent themselves perfectly to a spot of pasting while quite a few people milled around when I started. During putting up the first piece I was asked by two locals what I was doing. I told them that it was a piece of art that would hopefully put a smile on they’re faces, which for these two it actually did. Later a guy on a motorbike stopped and asked me what we were doing so I explained again, but he promptly and firmly told me that this wouldn’t make Indians smile… Miserable bastard!
He then decided to try and take control of the situation by telling me that I should put one on his friends’ rickshaw, I wasn’t so sure about this but he kept telling us it’d be fine, as he knew the guy who owned it. So I took his advice and pasted a couple onto the rickshaw and another bigger piece onto a wall. Then he started being a bit weird and tried to take a photo of my girlfriend, who was out with me. We ended up telling him to leave us alone for five minutes but he wouldn’t listen so we eventually decided the only thing to do was to walk off.
We wandered around for a bit before heading back to see the work and see if he’d cleared off. When we got back to the rickshaws, the guy had torn all the pieces down and ripped them up into little bits…Very strange! – And obviously not a fan of art comedy.
My pasting plans were sadly scupper while in Varanasi by a bout of the infamous ‘Dehli Belly’ and the scorching 42-degree (107 farenheit) heat with no breeze! The old city of Varanasi is incredible; a labyrinth of narrow streets running alongside the banks of the Ganges River. Regarded as holy by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It certainly has a special kind of energy and it was fascinating to watch all the age-old religious ceremonies going on along the riverbanks and 24-hour burning of funeral pyres.
The streets reminded me in places of Barcelona. There was plenty of evidence that I wasn’t the first artist to visit as I saw a few works by Invader and others scattered around but between 10 am and 6 pm it was unbearably hot and a struggle to drag myself out from under the fan.
Luckily the guesthouse owners, Shiva and Ganga agreed to let me paint a piece on one of the pillars in the grounds of the guesthouse, which I could work on in the shade during the heat of the day, and more importantly within a short stumble to the toilet! This kept me entertained for a few days as well as giving me the opportunity to try out some new ideas.
The happy hosts then sent us off on ‘the fastest direct train to Delhi, The Shiva Ganga Express’. Journey time; a mere 12 hours. Vashisht and Manali were the last stop on our journey and offered absolutely mind-blowing scenery with my first real mountain view! Stunning, lush, green orchards in blossom were surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides. The village we stayed in was mainly traditional style buildings constructed from ornately carved wood and huge slate tiled roofs.
Although they were beautiful to look at they were not much scope for pasting. Here I opted to instead leave monsters painted on corrugated cardboard, strategically placed in gaps in dry stone walls, in grassy fields and anywhere along the hobbit-like pathways where I thought someone might spot them.
If you’re ever in the area, I absolutely recommend Chris and Josie’s House; Again a friendly guesthouse owner! They allowed me to get busy on his walls so I managed to leave at least one piece of slightly more permanent work. Assuming he didn’t paint over it the minute my back was turned…you never can tell!
Text and photos courtesy of © BortuskLeer