portraits
Portrait
Visual arts

Saype

Everything is ephemeral, even the most beautiful things.

Halfway between street art and land art, Saype designs monumental works, painted directly on grass. The biodegradable frescos by this humanist artist disappear after a few weeks, but their messages of hope and solidarity create a lasting impression on viewers.

 

Updated on 06/11/2020

5 min

Saype – real-name Guillaume Legros – grew up near the Swiss border, in an environment that didn't resemble art very much. At the beginning of the 2000s, he developed his orientation by teaching himself, by doing graffiti under the pseudonym of Saype, a contraction of the words “say” and “peace”. From 2012, he started a career as a nurse while developing a more classic workshop experience on canvas and Perspex, with the series Métros (2015) and Les Aurores (2016). A lengthy reflection, marked by Buddhist philosophy, followed by the invention of his biodegradable paint, opened a new path for him.

In 2015, L'Amour – a 1,600 m2-fresco he painted on the grass of a mountain in the Alpes – inaugurated the series of monumental portraits that sealed his success. Saype abandoned his career in healthcare to fully concentrate on his ephemeral art. Committed to ecological and humanitarian causes, he often reacts to current affairs through his works. This is the case of Message from Future (2018), produced to support SOS Méditerranée, or the Beyond Walls project (2019), a response to the walls built by the president of the United States.

Saype’s style is a fusion between the hyperrealist techniques of street art and the conceptual approach of land art, first stemming from his training. Unlike many graffiti artists, he grew up in the countryside. This rurality infuses his aesthetics. He quickly found that urban decor, eroded by different types of visual pollution, seemed to limit his message whereas virgin landscapes provide a way to have a bigger impact on the viewer. 

His work also uses two technological revolutions. The first is the paint that he invented in 2015, made of water, casein and natural pigments which doesn't have an ecological impact. The other is the drone that lets him have a more distant view of his paintings. This is because Saype paints blind, with a mix of very precise logistics and an immanent pictural gesture. The fresco is seen only once the necessary distance has been taken and lasts for the time the grass grows. Impermanence that he likes as much as the Buddhism he often refers to.

The huge and unprecedented nature of Saype’s works really resonate. Before the well-known Qu'est-ce qu'un grand homme ? (What’s a big man?) (2016) painted on more than 10,000 m2 of land at Leysin, no one had designed such imposing frescos on grass: this pioneer status has taken him to an international level. The places, often emblematic like the Champ-de-Mars by the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the first stage of Beyond Walls in 2019, increase the impact of his work even more, seen by millions of people.

The appearance of a little girl letting a paper boat go in Lake Geneva, near the UN in 2018 (Message from Future) even enabled political lines on the question of migrants to be shifted. An artistic and human undertaking that caused him to be included in Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 most influential personalities in the art and culture world, published in 2019.

  • 1989

    1989

    Guillaume Legros was born in Belfort. He grew up a few kilometres from there, in the village of Évette-Salbert.

  • 2014

    2014

    Saype exposed his first works in specialist galleries in Belfort (Cheloudiakoff) and Strasbourg (St'art).

  • 2015

    2015

    The artist created his first fresco on grass, L'Amour, at La Clusaz.

  • 2016

    2016

    The portrait Qu'est-ce qu'un grand homme ?, created on more than 10,000 m2 at Leysin, generated international success and set a size record for a fresco of this type.

  • 2019

    2019

    Saype started the Beyond Walls project on the Champ de Mars in Paris. 30 other frescos representing interlaced hands in as many international cities around the world are set to create a huge human chain by 2022.

The Institut français and the artist

As part of his Beyond the Walls project, Saype went to Istanbul in October 2020. He created three frescos to create a symbolic bridge between Europe and Asia: one at Boğaziçi university (on the European side), one on the Golden Horn of the Bosphorus and the last at Beykoz (on the Asian side).

The Institut français in Turkey was a partner of this event.

L'institut français, LAB