When French and Corsican visual artist Julien de Casabianca visited The Louvre, a museum filled with the work of universally revered artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, he was inspired by an obscure painting featuring a beautiful young female prisoner. “I had a Prince Charming compulsion to liberate her from the castle,” he confessed.
While the urge to swoop in and save the damsel was a primitive one, de Casabianca’s idea of rescue was unusual – he photographed the painting, printed an enlarged copy of it and pasted it on an old and decrepit wall in Paris.
Inspired by “the power of the image on the street”, the 46-year-old journalist and filmmaker started Outings Project, a global initiative aimed at bringing museum works to city walls. Since the inception of his project in 2014, de Casabianca has pasted paintings in 40 cities, across more than 19 countries. He also clicks pictures of completed collages and publishes them online.
“Museums are about knowledge and preciousness, but when I take that one character out of the museum and give it to the street, the painting loses all questions of knowledge and value, it becomes only beauty,” de Casabianca said. Given his preoccupation with distilling each painting down to its pure aesthetic value, it is fitting that he prefers to paste them in poorer neighbourhoods, where he said, “people need beauty”.
Outings Project invites participation from anyone who has access to a camera phone and a printer. In some cases, de Casabianca assists them with the printing of the artwork. Participants from a diverse range of countries, including Paraguay, Ukraine and Tasmania, have contributed to the project with photographs of paintings, which they have displayed on walls in their cities. According to de Casabianca, social media, especially Facebook, has played a pivotal role in generating interest in the project, and is responsible to a great degree in expanding its reach.
An intrepid traveller, de Casabianca is careful not to restrict the Outings Project only to “rich and clean cities”. After visiting Hong Kong, Hanoi, Tokyo, New York, Jacksonville and Moscow in a single month, he travelled to India in January.
“It was great how I was welcomed in India,” he said. “When I said that I would just like to choose a wall with the people and offer it some character, it was great to see young and old people around me, encouraging and positive.”
While he was particular about pasting work painted only by local Indian artists, his selections were also influenced by “heart, emotions and feelings”. Most of de Casabianca’s pastings in India are Mughal miniatures. Apart from a portrait of Prince Khurram (who grew up to become the Emperor Shah Jahan) by artist Abu’l Hasan pasted in Goa, and a painting of Shah Jahan’s second son, Prince Shah Shuja, pasted in Mumbai, the paintings selected by de Casabianca feature unnamed men and women. He also selected an image of the Hindu goddess Kali in her avatar as Mundamalini, vanquishing the demon Mahishasura.
De Casabianca pasted nine paintings across Mumbai, Kochi and Goa, but published images of only eight on his website. “I didn’t like one finally, but people in the street can enjoy it anyway.”
Photographic representations of de Casabianca’s street art are pivotal to the project, and have ironically found their way back into spaces tailored to showcase art. Selected images of the paintings-as-photographs-on-walls have been displayed on the walls of museums and art galleries in Geneva, Brussels and Torreon.
The lines that separate art, street art and vandalism are amorphous, and deviate with the eye of the beholder. De Casabianca maintains that his penchant for weathered and damaged walls ensures that he does not unwittingly wind up vandalising diligently maintained property. The cracks and imperfections in the walls also provide a canvas, he said, which actively interacts with the paintings he pastes on them – de Casabianca painstakingly cuts the original background out of the image, while preserving the details of the person or character featured in it.
The artist ensures that the people featured in the paintings are anonymous. “It’s better to paste anonymous people,” he said. “If you paste some icons, some kings, Jesus or Mary, there’s a message added to your artistic act. That’s not my goal.” He also avoids paintings which are protected by copyright, restricting himself to the work of artists who have died more than 70 years ago. With the choice of his paintings, de Casabianca aims to rescue lesser-known images from obscurity, and provide them with a contemporary context.
Paintings are important slices of history, but when they are tucked away in the hallowed halls of museums, large swathes of people are unable to access knowledge about their own past. Outings Project removes art from places frequented largely by privileged art connoisseurs and pastes them on walls which are universally accessible, allowing lesser-known paintings to narrate neglected personal histories. With the project, de Casabianca hopes to bring art in the everyday lives of ordinary people.
“It’s just an opportunity for people to be connected with classical beauty, and to stop for few seconds on their walk to school or work, be surprised and feel a little bit happier,” he said.