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Mantra in Hyvinkää for UPEART Festival 2018 Finland – Dispatch 5

Posted on September 29, 2018


BSA is in Finland this week to see firsthand the work of UPEART, an expansive mural art festival in its third iteration. Unique for its geographical breadth as well as it’s curatorial depth, UPEART has quietly revealed its amazing strengths without being self-aggrandizing or showy, slowly transforming cities and towns across the entire country with consultation of the locals and an eye toward the incredible international. Come with us this week as we traverse the country with you.


French entomologist, former graffiti writer, and muralist Mantra grew up in the country surrounded by nature – much like the rolling grassy hills and forests and farmland that we have been driving through this week in Finland. Naturally, when he moved to the city to do graffiti in the margins of the neglected sector of the modern metropolis he also brought his scientific/artistic studies of animals, insects and nature.

Mantra. Work in progress in Hyvinkää. UPEA Finland 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

On a cold and damp September day here in Hyvinkää, about 50 kilometers north of Helsinki, for the UPEART 2018 mural festival, we find Mantra high atop a cherry picker finishing the antennae of a butterfly and the shadow of a moth’s wing. He uses aerosol cans, rollers, and brushes to accurately represent a winged fivesome on the side of a residential apartment building.

As we gaze at the nearly-finished mural from across the katu on a slippery, grassy knoll that is littered with yellow leaves we see an oversized yet  realistic display box. To the right and see a man in his t-shirt pulling aside a curtain and looking out his window at the wall where Mantra had stood only a moment before – his wife coming behind him in her house dress to see what he is trying to peer at.

Mantra. Work in progress in Hyvinkää. UPEA Finland 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“When I was a child I was not curious about painting,” Mantra says, “I was more curious about what I could find in the garden so that’s why I spent a lot of time studying these insects and these animals.” Later he shows us images of butterflies and other winged creatures rendered in high fidelity inside decaying factory rooms, including a large dead bird lying on its side. “I painted this because I had seen a dead bird in the garden only a week before.”

Recent years have brought some adamant critique to the Street Art world from so-called academics and thinkers due to commercial festivals that bring murals that lack social or political critique or have little sense of context with their surroundings; simply attractive and pleasant eye candy. While most people will like the image of a butterfly, Mantra’s wants to be clear that his interest is as an entomologist, not simply decorative.

Mantra. Work in progress in Hyvinkää. UPEA Finland 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“For me it makes sense to paint them scientifically the way a scientist would see them and not like a decorative motif for an illustration or an interpretation of them.”
He has often done extensive research to select the appropriate butterflies, even consulting experts to make sure he has chosen the correct ones – like the research he just did to prepare for a wall he will paint in Chile. “I recently traveled to Paris to meet two entomologists who are quite senior to this study – they are working with the Paris Museumand many other museums across the world,” he says.

Mantra. Work in progress in Hyvinkää. UPEA Finland 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

So are these new insects in Hyvinkää relevant to this region?

“These five species are living here in Finland or are migratory so that is why I have selected these five for this wall,” he says. “All of these you can find in Russia or Finland or Sweden…There’s not one that is endemic to this region because we are not really a butterfly paradise here because of the climate.”

And how did he make the mural work so well with the location and the building?

“Because of the architecture of the wall, because of the shape in the format I always have to compose. So in this case because it was very vertical I have not many options. I also use the window frames in the architecture as inspiration to create a frame of the same color.”

Because he insists on scientific accuracy, even the relative size of the moth and butterflies are appropriate. “I always paint them in the same proportion that they would be to one another in reality so we have four butterflies and I saved the middle for the moth. The moth is much larger in reality then the butterflies so for the composition it feels right.”

Mantra. Work in progress in Hyvinkää. UPEA Finland 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

 

Mantra. Work in progress in Hyvinkää. UPEA Finland 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Mantra. Work in progress in Hyvinkää. UPEA Finland 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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