RING MASTERS OF THE CIRCUS POSTER
A Spotlite on ANDRE BATHALON & SAFEWALLS, an Art Project Curated by CIRQUE DU SOLEIL Re-Envisioning the Circus Poster
Andre Bathalon by Lori Zimmer
When I think of Cirque du Soleil, I can’t help but remember the Simpsons spoof. The parody was called Cirque du Puree, a snooty French circus complete with a leotard-clad performer who gyrates in Homer’s face and a pretentious clown who weeps, “I cannot get the lid off my jar of rainbows.” But over the past 25 years, Cirque du Soleil has made leaps and bounds from their original hippy circus reputation to a cutting-edge cultural and artistic organization. The animal-free circus has grown to 20 shows running concurrently across the globe, with themes ranging from jungles, magic and space to the King of Pop and the Beatles. The success of the company quickly upped the bar for each show’s makeup and fashion, attracting fans from the fashion, music and entertainment world–and now the conglomerate has gone back to its roots, with the Safewalls poster project.
The project was brought to my attention when I received a mysterious “We need to talk to you” message from Andre Bathalon on Facebook. I was admittedly totally weirded out at first, not knowing who these people were or what they wanted. After a friend at Montreal’s Yves la Roche Gallery filled me in, we planned to meet up in Miami for Art Basel and talk about Safewalls, art and artists. I got Andre back by totally creeping him out when I recognized him (from his mostly Star Wars themed pictures) from Facebook as he passed my booth at Scope Art Fair. After 20 minutes of total sarcasm was exchanged, I knew Andre was someone I had to add to my life.
Since Safewall’s conception in 2010, Andre has been traveling tirelessly along with Yan Cordeau, to Cirque-sanctioned cities–Houston, London, Madrid, Vegas and New York–making videos, meeting artists, spreading the word, and all the while sending me hilarious texts that make me laugh in public. I sat down with my new friend to discuss this amazing new project.
Lori Zimmer: What is Safewalls?
Andre Bathalon: SAFEWALLS is about the celebration of art and creativity, Cirque du Soleil through the many Cirque du Soleil universes. This project allows us to return to the origins of Cirque du Soleil, not only by bringing the Circus poster under the spotlight, but also by allowing artists from all over the world to be part of this creative adventure.
LZ: Safewalls has been around for about a year now. How did it come to fruition?
AB: SAFEWALLS officially started in the minds of myself and my friend Yan Cordeau. Yan was working for Cirque du Soleil for about 5 years as a graphic designer–Cirque always gives the opportunity to its workers to bring new ideas and concepts to develop new projects. One night, Yan and I started discussing and brainstorming about what we would love to see come out of Cirque, other than shows. Our common passions being web and art, we decided to merge the two things that we loved and knew the most in life. I often organized toy customizing shows, where artists could let their creativity loose on a blank toys. The toy as canvas was the same for all artists at the beginning of the show, but ended up being extremely different at the end, as each artist brought their personal technique, art and touch to it. We navigated around this theme for a while, trying to figure what canvas would make sense if we decided to merge the art customization show with Cirque du Soleil. The idea of producing a toy was quickly discarded. We tried looking for a circus element that could be easily customized by artists: Clubs, diabolos, balls, plates. Nothing was sticking or keeping our attention, until we had the epiphany we were waiting for: the poster!
It quickly became obvious to us that the poster was the ideal art canvas for our brewing Cirque du Soleil online art project. Circus posters have been around for almost 200 years, and its connection to Cirque du Soleil was a no brainer. SAFEWALLS was born.
Yan and I spent several months building every aspect of this project, doing the “sales pitch” to more directors than we thought possible. Every single person we talked to fell in love with the concept of SAFEWALLS, until it was finally approved on September 2010.
SAFEWALLS.org went online during Miami Art Basel 2010 with a coverage of Sanrio’s Hello Kitty exhibition.
LZ: Do you have a background in the art world?
AB: I studied Art in college and then I moved to the big city of Montreal to study traditional cartoon animation. In the meantime, I jumped on the Internet bandwagon around 1993 and was amazed by the many business opportunities that the Internet unlocked. I worked for many years in the cartoon industry while actively exploring the world of e-commerce. Due to my growing love for the Internet and because of the strong Asian competition in the animation field, I decided to quit the animation industry and study E-Commerce at the Montreal School of Business. I managed the Internet sales of a toy retailer for a few years then decided to launch my own business. That’s how I began promoting the art of my talented friends. I also began to co-organize many of those custom toy events, where I met many talented artists that I think needed to be known. I love to draw, but I’m a lonely creator, I draw for myself. I’d rather be involved in my friend’s creative process then creating my own stuff.
LZ: Circuses have always been a deep-rooted contributor to poster culture. Dating back to the early 19th century, colorful and bold posters emblazoned with charging elephants, plumed dancers, and top hatted performers, were as integral to the history of the circus as the performers themselves. What made you decide to rekindle this tradition with extremely contemporary artists?
AB: Cirque du Soleil was started by a small pack of artist friends, doing acts and performances in the streets of the nearby town and villages. Their logo was created by one of troupe members, that same logo is still in use today. For SAFEWALLS, I wanted to choose an artistic direction that mimicked Cirque du Soleil’s debut. I went for artists with strong attraction to popular and cultural references, artists that are often emerging from the unknown, thanks to the Internet. I have a weakness for street art, it has a very strong relation to Cirque du Soleil’s roots, but I decided not to only choose street artists, as I want this project to offer diversity, not only in styles and techniques, but also in the people that it will reach.
LZ: You’re working with many of the top artists in the specific niche that can be dubbed as illustrative/street art/pop surrealist. What is your process for choosing each artist?
AB: Would you think I’m stupid if I told you that my process of selection is: I choose artists that I like (I’m talking about their work)? It is often a difficult task to choose an artist, especially when that choice is limited to 3 per month. Hopefully we will someday be able expend that ratio. I try to choose creators with different styles and techniques, so that every Cirque du Soleil show is depicted in totally different ways.
LZ: How do you think the Safewalls project fits in with the contemporary art world?
AB: I’m not sure if it fits in the contemporary art world. I see Safewalls as a way for Cirque du Soleil to open its many universes to the creative arms of today’s talents.
LZ: Being that Safewalls is in its infancy, where do you see it going in 1 year? 5 years?
BA: Personally, I want to SAFEWALLS to manage walls in different cities and offer them to artists so that they can create without the fear of being punished by police or building owners. I’d like the creations on those walls to change every now and then, and to promote the work of the collaborating artists via the Internet. I also see Safewalls taking part in “Social Cirque,” Cirque du Soleil’s intervention to help youth at risk around the world. They’re using the circus art to help young people develop a sense of belonging, freedom, creativity, perseverance and discipline. I would like to add visual art to their intervention toolkit. Then I want to open SAFEWALLS galleries all over the world and work in one different galleries per month, but that’s only me dreaming awake.
Andre Bathalon, with Yan Cordeau, are the creators of Cirque du Soleil’s new SAFEWALLS Project. The idea behind the project is to re-envision the circus poster, through utilizing the talents of great artists.
Each month, SAFEWALLS is pairing up with three cutting-edge artists to create original art posters inspired by Cirque du Soleil shows. With these artworks, SAFEWALLS tours the world following the trail of Cirque du Soleil shows to hold a monthly exhibition that grows in size as works from previous cities are added to the collection. By bringing Cirque du Soleil and visual artists together, SAFEWALLS celebrates street art and culture–the very roots of Cirque–and breathes new life into the time-honoured art form that is the vintage circus poster.
Andre Bathalon interviewed by Lori Zimmer
Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography © & Courtesy of Andre Bathalon / SAFEWALLS
Design by Marie Havens
Photography © & Courtesy of Andre Bathalon / SAFEWALLS