The World Enlightened - Art Profile
Issue 76 January 2011
Light, calligraphy and graffiti merge into one with Julien Breton’s work. Fatema Zehra explores the artist also known as Kaalam.
At first, the smooth golden lines of calligraphy streaming across the page seem like an easy feat; one would likely assume that the image had been extensively digitally manipulated. However, this is not the case. This is the creation of a masterful technique implemented by French artist Julien Breton, also known as Kaalam. Kaalam refers to the traditional tool used in Arabic calligraphy, but also means ‘to speak’ or ‘to express’. The strokes of light are produced by a technique referred to as light painting, merged together with methods used in calligraphy – both hard skills to master and now known with the newly coined term ‘light-graff’. Breton combines the two and does it remarkably well; impressively, his interest in calligraphy began as a hobby in 2001, initially by imitating Arabic calligraphers. But his passion grew and Breton began teaching himself new techniques that developed into the various faces of Kaalam we see today.
It is evident from Breton’s artwork that a strong influence of Arabic calligraphy and graffiti style runs through each piece, giving his work an obvious contemporary feel mirroring that of street art.
The process of ‘light-graff’ adopts photography and movement in three-dimensional spaces to create works of light calligraphy. Each shot is produced with one ‘shot’ combined with bright lights and a careful process of capturing the movement of light over a long space of time with a camera. The end result of each ‘shot’ appears when the photograph is developed. Alternatively, a similar technique known as virtual calligraphy works with a camera and an infrared lamp. The results for these images appear in real-time and can be seen as the piece is developing.
Notably each piece emits a level of energy that adds new depths to the meaning of the chosen texts and a movement that can only be described as mesmerising. Each piece speaks volumes, with the streams of light overlaid on stunning landscapes or architecture, often less magnificent and more edgy than the light that shadows it. The stark contrast of two worlds ties in together with unexpected beauty whilst also leaving the viewer pondering in thought.
This experimental movement has come to discover a new expressive form of calligraphy that links the world of tradition with modernity, whilst adding new depths of colour and light; taking the viewer to a world of escapism set in real life scenes of the often hard hitting reality of our surroundings.