Perched on a ladder inside the new tunnels on Salwa Road, clutching a spray can, eL Seed might look like a vandal: but he’s really an artist.
‘Graffiti has different types of expression and different artists working under its’ umbrella. Some graffiti artists like to focus on vandal aspects, others on finding the most unusual and dangerous spots to paint. Others focus on messages, others on rivalry. It is a very diverse movement, especially now with calligraffiti hitting the spotlight,’ he says. ‘My art is a mix of graffiti techniques and Arabic calligraphy styles, so it is called calligraffiti. It takes street styles; the spray can and the techniques used in classic graffiti writing, and blends it with the creativity of Arabic script and the flexible nature of calligraphy.’
He’s hard at work creating 52 large-scale murals featuring different themes inspired by Qatari culture in the four underground tunnels on Salwa Road. A partnership by QMA and Ashghal, some of the calligraphy writings are verses from Qatar’s national anthem, including such quotes as “Travel the high road; Travel by the guiding light of the Prophets” and “Doves they be at times of peace, Warriors they are at times of sacrifice.”
‘It is one of my biggest challenges to-date in terms of size and content. To generate content on 52 murals that is different, yet connected, is quite a feat. This is a major challenge for me as an artist, and also a very different way of presenting calligraffiti to people,’ says Seed. ‘In Paris, graffiti artists fight over the best spots on highways in the city, and here I am getting handed 52 murals to paint!’
He grew up in France and started spray painting in the 90s. Growing up Tunisian in France, followed by some time spent in North America, his style was influenced by the clash and blending of cultural influences.
‘Graffiti is different in that it is connected to a very specific sub-culture. It was born on the streets and takes its’ inspiration from the streets, so it is different in terms of intent and also style,’ he says. Many other artists, since the early 90s, have experimented with a mix of graffiti and Arabic script. I developed my own expression of this art through trial and error, lots of practice and of course a passion for both graffiti and calligraphy. Different designs in my work issue from different inspirations, and I try to tease these out to create unique styles.’
With such detailed work (not to mention on such a large scale) it takes time to go from idea to full creation on the side of the road.
‘The artistic creations are my own designs, and I have a team of six assistants who help me with filling in block colours, letters, contours and so on. The process starts in my head, then works its way onto paper in the form of a rough sketch or colour scheme,’ he says. ‘Most of the work comes when I am in front of a wall – this is where I picture the entire process and result. With large-scale projects I like to use tape to define different segments of the wall, but whether small or large scale, I work free-hand on the calligraphies. I am in my element when I paint, and the spray can becomes an extension of my hand so the whole process becomes so natural it is difficult to describe how it happens.’
It’s well worth the effort. This will be the latest in a series of public space art projects Qatar has launched, and the first of its kind, marrying underground graffiti techniques with Arabic culture in Doha.
‘Graffiti is not always public – it can also be very secretive and stay within graffiti circles. When it is public, it can be a great tool to democratize art, and bring awareness in a creative manner,’ says Seed. ‘I think it is important because, for now, it is still unusual in places like Doha and can attract a lot of positive attention to this art form, especially Arabic Graffiti. I hope this visibility inspires young folks to develop different and unique experimental styles, and brings art to the forefront of cultural activities in the public space.’ The murals can be viewed as the tunnels on Salwa Road, connecting Doha with the Saudi Arabia border, are completed.