Since arriving in Ithaca nearly two months ago, the French graffiti artist known as “Roti” has graced concrete walls in the city with three public murals.
The 23-year-old artist, who operates under secrecy, has already tagged walls on the Green Street parking ramp next to City Hall, at the intersection of Taughannock Boulevard and Seneca Street, and at the Standard Art Supply and Souvenir on Seneca Street.
The mural on Seneca Street was a collaboration with another graffiti artist, known as “Meal,” with whom Roti shares an art exhibit at Standard Art Supply and Souvenir.
“The owner of the gallery came to ask us if it could be possible to make a show, to make this an exhibition. We had just one week to make all the stuff inside — all the drawings, all the paintings, we did that just in one week,” Roti said.
Roti said he decided to come to America to travel to different cities and work on several projects.
“I don’t know exactly why, but I just wanted to come here to see what happens here. I was just curious,” he said. Roti said he came to Ithaca because he has relatives in the city.
“When I arrived I didn’t have any real contacts, and I didn’t really know the English language. I needed to take some time to discover the local mentality, the American mentality, and to learn some English,” he said.
The artist said he began tagging in his hometown in France around age 15. At that age, he tagged his uncle’s car in Ithaca.
“I started with some friends … I was in love with the idea to paint on walls in the street and to be seen by everybody. Day after day I started to do it, more seriously,” he said.
According to Roti, he is a graffiti artist from a new generation — one with new ideas about how graffiti can be made.
For example, Meal, the artist with whom Roti collaborated for the mural on Seneca Street, is a classic graffiti artist who tags using letters and words. Although Meal has the same spirit as the French artist, according to Roti, the graffiti is different, as he uses characters more in his art.
Graffiti in America is different than the graffiti in Europe, Roti said.
“The graffiti writing is really present here, and you find the same in Europe, but there is a new generation making more characters,” he said. “Here there is really beautiful graffiti writing, but you have to know this culture to appreciate it.”
For Roti, graffiti is a popular art and requires the use of popular images to be understood by everyone, he said.
“It’s possible to paint really complicated pictures, but you need to be understood by everybody,” he said. “What I like in graffiti is everybody can do it.”
This idea inspires one of Roti’s main themes in his murals: his idea that “Everyone has his own boat and flies in the sky with his boat and builds a city that depends on his imagination.”
This can be seen in his murals in Ithaca, which portray a fish coming out of a building and a man flying in his boat while holding hands with a horse.
“You have to use your boat to travel to different places. You can really travel all around the world. You can travel in your mind. Just be richer, but not with dollars, with experiences. This is the meaning of the city. If you are really rich inside you, you get a huge city on this boat. And you make this city by yourself. You are the owner of the city,” Roti said.
Roti said his ambition in life is to discover beauty everywhere and build a beautiful city, and his murals publicize this idea.
Roti said he has many different inspirations, but each inspiration derives from an aspect of another artist.
“For example, I love how Michelangelo uses the body in his sculptures because it transforms the body like an abstract thing … I love how Monet catches light just with one touch, and so on,” he said. “And it’s the same for many, many different artists. I’m talking about old artists but it’s the same with new artists.”
Roti said he learned how to draw from studying these artists’ techniques on his own, without any guidance or schooling.
“I come from an art family. So we have a lot of books in my house and a lot of drawings and a lot of art. I started to draw at the beginning of high school. When I discovered that, it was a little revelation because it was more important than high school for me. I started to draw a lot, but always alone, without my parents, without the rest of my family,” he said.
Roti began tagging with his friends, and he jokes that he moved onto tagging different cities when he covered his entire town.
Especially after he met his older friends, Roti moved to tagging in different cities.
“My own town is pretty close to Switzerland, and the mentality in Switzerland is really different than in France. We went a lot to Switzerland to paint, and to be in this better mentality,” he said.
Roti’s profession is stone carving. He also makes copies of classic sculptures in marble and restores old buildings, such as cathedrals.
“All I do in the street is really only for me. I share it with everyone and I’m glad to do that,” he said.
He added that if someone tries to tell him to do something a different way, his response is, “Yes, you could be right, but right now you are wrong.”
Original Author: Sylvia Rusnak