This year's WALL\THERAPY roster includes four collaborative duos. Within this group are Swiss artists Onur and Wes21, who each have solo projects but have created murals together a number of times. Though the duo live in neighboring towns in Switzerland -- Onur lives in Solothurn and Wes21 is located in Biel, which are 15 minutes apart, by train -- they plan their collaborative creations over Skype meetings. "Then we can paint and speak at the same time," Onur says.
Since Saturday, they've been working on a piece that wraps the back of a building at the Market Apartments at Corpus Christi (880 East Main Street), rolling up shapes and earth tones with exterior house paint, thinning the layers with streams of water, and refining the shapes. Over the course of the week, they'll incorporate spray paint to bring out the details and pull the imagery together.
"We were looking for something mystic; we wanted to create a myth," Wes21 says. The imagery is not drawn from any specific narrative, but from the fantasy of "nature striking back," they say.
For this work, Onur and Wes21 take into consideration that the natural world is stunted and strangled by human activity, and imagine this dominant species thwarted.
The sketch they are working from depicts a breathtakingly atmospheric forest with incredible depth of space. Two giant human legs stalk carelessly through the foliage, thicker than the surrounding trunks, and anonymous. At the base of one boot, a beaver sits and gnaws at the leg, trying to fell the human like a tree.
Wes21 says that they always try to incorporate a social message in what they paint, and draws a parallel between visual art and songwriting. "You can make a song about nothing, that has a good melody," but doesn't say anything in particular, he says. "But we always have something to tell, to communicate."
Though they are not strangers to their chosen theme, this mural is a departure from the way Onur and Wes21 usually collaborate -- they typically create murals with an object as the subject, floating on a flat background, but for this piece they are experimenting with more emphasis on the environment, immersing the viewer in a larger-than-life scene.
"We would like to fill the whole space with the structure of nature, to create an atmosphere, and to do that, it's best if the background is the object," Wes21 says.
Onur and Wes21 say that each wall they paint is a new challenge, and joke that they haven't yet met the one that will present itself at this wall. Collaboration is a challenge too, but also an interesting study in symbiosis, in give-and-take, which is apparently important to the two, given their subject matter.
Like any relationship, this one requires a careful balance, and is only inspired by mutual respect and sustained with mutual trust. This is perhaps especially important in art, where egos tend to be unavoidably large and yet dangerously fragile.
And here, some of the high-pressure parts of the relationship are played out in public, because street artists work in a fishbowl.
Instead of painting alongside one another like members of a crew, "we paint layer over layer," Wes21 says. There's a layer from Onur, then there's a layer from me, then again Onur, and we over-paint each other all the time."
It's easy to see how this could cause tension between even friends. "You can't be a person with a huge ego," Onur says.
At the end, the mural will look like it was painted by one person, Wes21 says. "But together we paint stuff we would never paint alone."