When French pop and street artist Argadol was in town earlier this month, he had all of 30 minutes to make an impression on passersby with his live painting demonstration at Pavilion KL on a Saturday afternoon.
By the end of it, he had Mona Lisa with a mohawk on his easel. Her trademark mysterious smile was retained, but here she flashes us the “rock on” hand sign.
Music blared from speakers as Argadol worked with a quick and precise hand, writing in bold black letters: “Too Loud?”… no, “Too old!”
No mystery about the message here. If you need more of Argadol, his solo exhibition, A Brave New World, is now showing at Alliance Francaise de Kuala Lumpur till May 11, after which it can be viewed at Gallery des Artistes at Tropicana in Petaling Jaya, Selangor till end August.
Brave New World features 20 works that was created exclusively for this year’s Le French Festival in Malaysia. In fact, there is always music accompanying his art-making, so what was the soundtrack in the making of A Brave New World.
“The Rolling Stones, my all-time favourite rock band,” says Argadol, 43.
“I love classic rock and my dream was to be a musician, but I failed. Music still plays a crucial role in my art. I always paint while listening to music.”
Argadol is known for his bright, bold portraits of icons and superheroes, and a propensity for filling up the entire space with messages, symbols and other pop culture references. But the more you read into it, the more you realise that, despite their cheerful dispositions, his paintings are not just fun and games.
“When people see my work, most of them think it is happy art. But I am not an optimist and what I want to convey are in fact deep messages. All my works have black borders and black drips, to signify the dark side of humanity. I paint mostly icons and superheroes but maybe not in the way most people think.
“For example, superheroes can be awful, ultra-violent people who use their super powers to hide their vengeful side. It is only a veneer to mask their terrible intentions. Batman witnessed his parents’ murder, then goes seeking for vengeance,” he notes.
So when you pay a visit to Brave New World, take some time to read between the lines, because it is there that you will get the real story.
“Ideally, my work would lead people to rethink things in their lives or in society today. I believe we have a ‘Kleenex’ life: use it, then throw away. Only our fabricated self-image seems to count nowadays in this selfie generation and I am worried about the values we are going to transmit to the next generation.
“I want people to discover the works and their meaning by embarking on a journey – like an archaeologist uncovering each little piece, trying to find where it fits in a bigger puzzle,” he says.
It is probably a really big puzzle, because in what other world would you find a bigger-than-life Jimi Hendrix, Mona Lisa, Karl Lagerfeld, tigers and dollar bills all in one place? In Argadol’s brave new world, that’s where.
A Brave New World is on at Alliance Francaise de Kuala Lumpur, 15, Lorong Gurney, off Jalan Semarak in Kuala Lumpur till May 11. Opening hours: 9am to 6pm, Tuesday to Saturday. Free admission. Closed on public holidays. More info: www.alliancefrancaise.org.my.