Following on from the excellent interview with Wide Open Walls visionary and organiser-in-chief Lawrence Williams, today we have an interview with the events’ head curator, and one of the world’s most prominent street artists, Eelus.
Thanks again to Eelus for taking the time to answer these questions – you can see more of his work on his website, and over at his very fine blog. And a reminder that you can keep up with the latest project news at the Wide Open Walls Facebook page.
The Gambia Blog (hereafter TGB): Could you tell us a bit about how you came to be involved with the guys at Makasutu, the Wide Open Walls project, and what it entails?
Eelus (hereafter, E): I was approached by Lawrence who’s the brains behind the Wide Open Walls project and one of the 2 founding members of Makasutu. His idea was to bring a small handful of artists to the Gambia to transform some of the local villages into a large open air gallery, with large murals and other pieces painted in and around the areas to not only encourage tourism but to also work alongside the locals, especially the kids, and get them involved through workshops.
I new immediately that this was going to be a great project, the likes of which don’t fall into your lap very often, if ever. So I suggested to Lawrence that he let me hand pick the other artists to be involved, he amazingly agreed and I got to work. I approached each artist for a number of reasons; their style is not only strong and individual, but would fit this kind of environment perfectly, and each artist was known to be passionate, hard working and above all else, a good person to be around.
TGB: Have you, or any of the other artists, been to The Gambia before? Do you know much about the place?
E: I’ve never been and I can’t speak for anyone else in the project. I’m currently spending time researching the local culture so I can try and work that into the pieces I produce.
TGB: Is the idea of being involved with something so original and on a vast scale such as this daunting or exciting right now?! You’ve said a significant portion of your work is now studio-based – are you looking forward to working in the open air again?
E: It’s a good balance of fear and excitement, which I think is good, keeps you on your toes and gives you respect for the job at hand. But yes, I’m extremely excited, I can’t wait to get out there. I’m a huge nature lover as well as a keen photographer so there will be all kinds of things going on out there to look forward to.
Even though I’ve been mainly painting inside on canvas and other materials, I’m no stranger to producing much larger works on walls both inside and out, but painting the walls of a mud hut in Africa is certainly going to be a new challenge.
TGB: The styles of the various artists involved are all quite different, and at various times have courted controversy – how do you see these styles combining within the project?
It was important for me to make sure every artist involved had a very different style than the next. I think the mixture of styles will give the project huge scope and appeal to many different people and will make the overall environment look fresh and exciting.
TGB: I’m intrigued by the workshop element of Wide Open Walls – could you tell us a bit about what this will involve?
E: Both myself and Lawrence realized the importance of involving the kids as once the artist have been and gone, it’s them who will be left behind with the work, it’s their homes we’re painting on and around. It’s a perfect opportunity to offer insight and education to those who may have never considered art as a way of expressing themselves. So we’ll be doing what we can to allow them to be involved through the use of workshops, which will hopefully inspire them to continue creating art once we’ve gone.
TGB: And what do you hope for in terms of a legacy for the Ballabu project?
E: I hope the project Lawrence and James is running continues to protect the forests, wildlife and people of the Ballabu area. I hope that through increased tourism through projects such as Wide Open Walls, a better education and life in general will be possible for the future generations living in that area and above all else I just hope that the local villagers will enjoy us being there as we paint their homes and provide inspiration for the new generations of artists growing up there.