French street-art sensation Saype is in South Africa – check out his amazing land artwork

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French-Swiss artist Saype painted these interlocking hands in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix in Yamoussourko, Ivory Coast. The painting is part of his global Beyond Walls Project. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ @SAYPE_ARTISTE)
French-Swiss artist Saype painted these interlocking hands in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix in Yamoussourko, Ivory Coast. The painting is part of his global Beyond Walls Project. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ @SAYPE_ARTISTE)

His canvas is the earth, his vision is breathtaking and his message is togetherness. 

The incredible frescos of French street-art sensation Saype have been painted everywhere from the hillsides of Switzerland to the Champ de Mars greenspace beside the Eiffel Tower in Paris. And now Saype (31), real name Guillaume Legros, has brought his eye-catching work to green, grassy spaces in Sea Point and Philippi in Cape Town. 

Travelling to various locations around the world, self-taught Saype has started an initiative called the Beyond Walls Project. Using 100% biodegradable paint, he creates giant, detailed, graffiti-looking artworks of interlocked hands on grass which lasts only days. He aims to shed light on the common bonds we share as humans and wants his art to be “a symbol of togetherness at a time when people are more and more turning in on themselves”.

Saype grew up in Évette-Salbert, a town near the Swiss border. His mother worked with X-ray equipment at a hospital, and his father worked in IT. “I never went to a museum or a single exhibition as a child,” he told The Guardian. 

His passion for art began when he was 13 and he got into the graffiti and spray-painting scene. As he grew up, he decided to turn away from the urban-setting graffiti on walls and aimed to make more of an impact on society with his skills. “There was so much visual pollution in cities that no one really saw graffiti anymore,” he said in an interview. “So I wanted to find another way to get people’s attention.”

He decided to make an eco-friendly paint from coal and chalk that would minimise the impact on the environment and in 2015, took to parks and giant grassy spaces as a canvas for his land art.

“I always set out to have an impact on people’s minds and memories, without leaving much of a trace. For people to reappropriate my work by walking all over it, that’s no problem to me. I paint on something impermanent, which is constantly changing,” he says.

The inspiration behind his work came from articles he’s read on climate change and global issues to humanitarian crises. He then uses his art to promote messages of kindness, hope and mutual aid.

With help from friends, the baseball-cap-wearing artist carefully designs and plots out space for his gigantic pieces, which span anywhere from 4 000 to 10 000 square metres.  Some of his hyper-real works include a woman’s face in the French Alps, a giant grandfather in braces on a Swiss mountainside and a little girl reading a book on a hill in Switzerland.

The inspirational work by the artist, formerly a full-time nurse, can be seen in full effect from above, as its beauty is captured by drone, but you have to be quick as the paintings soon disappear into the landscape.  

“When I paint, I can’t see what I’m doing. It’s very philosophical – if you’re emotionally too close to something, you see nothing. It’s only when you step back that reality hits you.” His work has seen him make Forbes’ list of top 30 under 30 most influential people in arts & culture in Europe in 2019. 

His philosophy is simple: “I paint, I come back the next day and it’s different. People say it’s ephemeral. But that’s my point – isn’t everything?” 


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