Muses have been around since the first painter. They inspire and push their patrons. Now, thanks to the intense symbiosis of French street art duo Zag and Sìa, steps and underpasses get a new lease of life as urban canvasses.
Sìa is everywhere. Crouching naked, splashed across stairs. Or smiling down from a wall, face only. Or in the guise of huge smiling lips, spread over concrete. Sìa is the muse of French street artist Zag.
Although the two have known each other for years, they only embarked on their “mystical” (Zag) relationship in 2012. Back then, the now 40-year-old artist left his life behind to conquer the streets of France with his new muse. “Sìa has this power,“ Zag adds.
Before this meeting of minds, the self-taught painter had been covering canvasses for years. These works, found on an old Facebook page after extensive research, betrays references to Dali’s surrealism, featuring plenty of female bodies, magic realms, and even sci-fi-style elements.
Today, Zag has left all this behind. He deleted his homepage and prefers to keep his real name a secret, although it has surfaced in a few features. His life and art is all about his new direction and mission to take art to urban streets.
To Zag, street art not only means painting anywhere inspiration strikes, but also getting seen by as many people as possible. It means leaving traces in the world, no matter how ephemeral – or legal.
Illusionist painting with 3-D effect
Zag and Sìa started out at Metro stations. They worked at night, always risking to get caught. The duo likes to explore trompe-l’oeil effects – an illusionist painting technique based on three-dimensional effects. Viewed from certain angles, their motifs jump out from the walls and address the viewer directly.
Yet street art remains illegal in most cities – it’s considered vandalism of public property. Looking back to those times, Zag remembers it as the “both hardest and most rewarding” phase of his life. Their very first collaboration, “Parisienne,” was painted over after just five days.
This only awakened their competitive spirit. “It was almost like a game where we wanted to prove we had the greater staying power,” states Zag. In 2014, his battle with the authorities came to a head when, in the Northern French city of Morlaix, they were forced to scrub their own painting off public steps.
“That did it, really,” declares Zag. “We are artists, not criminals. Calling our work vandalism was simply insulting.” Ever since, they’ve been ignoring the system, according to Zag. They continue to paint, without authorization. And beyond a few commissions, their art does not make them any money.
Poetic, romantic, autobiographical
At the same time, their relationship has changed. They had started out with a traditional set-up where muses, the patron gods of the arts in Greek mythology, inspire their chosen ones. So, Zag painted, while Sìa modeled and served as a projection surface … until she developed her own artistic ambitions.
Zag taught her to paint, and nowadays they work together. The result of this symbiosis is clear to see: Their joint works, which usually take around a day to complete, have become more complex and sophisticated. In one we see a small girl in red rubber boots, looking at the floor while her scarf gets tousled by the wind and a butterfly approaches. A poetic, almost romantic image with thoughtful, often autobiographical touches.
“Everything is a symbol,” states Sìa. “Everyone will see what they want in our images.” And that’s what good street art is all about: Since the viewer – passing it on foot, on a bike, or in a car – cannot ignore it, it needs to be open to interpretation.
All the pictures, incl. the header image: Zag & Sia