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Belgium

French artist Guillaume Bottazzi paints Brussels mural for a 'frustrated, fragile' Europe

For the last six weeks, French artist Guillaume Bottazzi has been creating a vast mural in honor of the victims of the Brussels attacks. On a break from his work high above the EU quarter, he told DW about his project.

Up on the scaffolding from dawn until dusk, seven days a week, facing winds and sometimes bitter cold: abstract artist Guillaume Bottazzi isn't easily deterred.

The French muralist, who has made Belgium his home for the last six years, has been working on his latest project in Brussels at Place Jourdan, in the EU district, since the end of October, in partnership with the European Commission and the French Embassy.

Affixed to an otherwise unremarkable building, the huge mural (16 meters high, 7 meters wide/52.5 feet by 23 feet) dominates the square, overshadowing the famous stand selling fries that tempted German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this year.

With its immense curves in glowing colors - yellow, ochre, red and mauve - the permanent mural will serve as a memorial to the 32 victims of the attacks that hit the Maelbeek metro station in the EU quarter and the Brussels airport on March 22.

Belgien französischer Künstler Guillaume Bottazzi (G. Bottazzi )

Bottazzi's mural is part of a larger renovation of Brussels' Place Jourdan

Bottazzi, known for more than 40 mural projects around the world in places like China, Japan, France, the United States and Britain, said he expects to finish the Brussels project by the end of the year, weather permitting. The mural is part of a larger renovation of the square which, when completed, will incorporate the artwork into its overall design.

Spattered in paint and sipping an espresso on a terrace at the foot of the scaffolding, Bottazzi told DW about his work-in-progress.

DW: You're working at the Place Jourdan, in the middle of the Belgian capital and just a few hundred meters from the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council buildings. How has the location of your project influenced the development of the mural?

Every project is different - each project is connected with its surrounding. Here, at Place Jourdan, the Belgian people have decided that this is the most European place in Brussels. It's a place where people mix: European parliamentarians, civil servants, but also the Belgian people. I love Place Jourdan because there are many different cultures - Armenian, Italian, Belgian - and they live together, and they live well. This place is a symbol. The city wants to promote Brussels not only as the capital of Belgium, but also the capital of Europe.

But the mural isn't just a symbol of the neighborhood - it's also a memorial to the victims of the attacks that hit Brussels earlier this year.

Guillaume Bottazzi Künstler Gemälde Metrostation Maelbeek (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Glaubitz)

Guillaume Bottazzi said his work has been well received by local residents

That's why I paint my lips [with the Belgian colors of black, yellow and red] every day, because I want to show my empathy for the victims. All of us in Europe, we are all frustrated and fragile - after the attacks, after Brexit - and we don't want to speak about it because we are afraid.

But we are still continuing to prepare for the future, and with my painting, I don't want to remind people of what's happened. I want to bring us somewhere else. I want people to discover another world, an unreal world.

I am not special; I am just like everyone else. That's why I decide to paint alone, to show that we have a great capacity to do many things as European people.

This isn't your first major mural project. In fact, it's not even your first project following a tragic event.

It's my first project of this size in Belgium, but I've made more than 40 large projects elsewhere. In Japan, I created the country's biggest mural painting at the Miyanomori International Museum of Art in Sapporo - they proposed that I paint the whole museum, 900 square meters. This was just after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. I thought I would lose the project, but the museum saw it as an opportunity to support the victims, and also to bring hope to the Japanese people.

A woman writes a message on the ground as people leave tributes at the Place de la Bourse (Getty Images/C. Court)

After the attacks, people showed their support for Brussels with public chalk drawings and messages

You've been working non-stop since the end of October, and Belgium isn't known for its sunny weather this time of year. What attracts you to this kind of project?

As it's oil paint, I will be able to work until the temperature drops to minus 12 degrees [Celsius/around 10 Fahrenheit]. Up [on the scaffolding], it's windy - and it's a very athletic activity, climbing up high.

But when I paint here, I have a dialogue with the space and I'm influenced by the area. There is the verticality to the art, with curves flying to the sky, and the painting connects to the space.

What has the response been from the locals?

I could paint in my studio, but I have to paint in front of people. This is part of the process. I want the people at this square to see the work in progress, and this will help them to understand what I'm trying to do.

This morning, when I was looking at my painting, a man put his hand on me and said "thank you." I feel an energy is growing here, and, step by step, there is something positive happening. Even if I am cold, I am very glad to participate in a process to make life better in this place.

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