Ella & Pitr: Giants Among Us

The roof of Café Graffiti’s new building, as seen from the air

By Colin McGregor

“Sleeping giants on a large surface that bring humans back to their small state of things.” This is how artists Ella & Pitr describe their colossal works.

Ella & Pitr have created more than 60 “Sleeping Giants” in different countries around the world. And this duo from Saint-Étienne in France even painted one of their works on the roof of the building where we, Café Graffiti, recently moved, at 3894 Ste-Catherine Street East! The giant on our roof is called “Entre les jambes de Ste-Catherine” – between the legs of Saint Catherine.

This duo travels the world to paint their murals horizontally, on rooftops – including in Quebec.

Ella & Pitr, respectively born in 1984 and 1981, began painting their art on the walls of Saint-Étienne in 2007. They met in the streets of Saint-Étienne one night painting murals clandestinely: he, a taciturn inveterate tagger; she, an outgoing and energetic muralist. Chased by a barking dog, they collided. It was love at first sight. They became a couple in real life, one who has started a family with children. Love is powerful, they frankly confess. Opposites attract.

Rooftop mural at the Parc Expo de Paris

They are still based in Saint-Étienne. It was in 2013 that they began to paint giant figures in different countries.

The building that Café Graffiti has just moved into, at 3894 Ste-Catherine Street East, has a real Ella & Pitr mural on its roof. It depicts a bent and sleeping woman, squatting, in a pink dress, amidst the noise and pollution of the urban environment that surrounds her.

The concept of Ella Besnaïnou and Loïc Niwa, their real names, is increasingly recognized in the world of urban art: their giants sleeping peacefully on the roofs of cities are found in Europe, South America and Canada. On their very large flat murals, they draw giants curled up and dozing, ready to wake up at any moment. Their sizes vary, ranging from 500 square meters to 25,000 square meters.

According to Ella & Pitr: “They are often cramped in the place where they sleep, as well as in their way of life. So maybe they dream of another way of life. But also, we imagine that they could wake up one day, and this idea is very brilliant. There’s an interesting tension for us because of that.”

Rooftop mural of King Olaf and his (huge) Queen Lilith, Norway

Why do they like to paint on the roofs? “Because there are such good vibes there. You can talk with the birds and the noises of the city sound different from there.”

In 2019, they created in Paris, on the roof of the Parc Expo de Paris (a convention center), the largest figurative work on the roof in the world, 25,000 square meters. The title of this work: Quel temps fera-t-il demain? (What will the weather be like tomorrow?) It depicts a grandmother in front of the flow of cars on the overpass, as a plastic bag flies above her head.

In Norway, their 21,000 square meter artwork of King Olaf and his Queen Lilith are noticed. There’s an urban myth that planes flying in from Stavanger Airport divert their routes to stare at Lilith and Olaf.

The duo came to Québec to paint in 2015 and 2016. The mural on the roof of the Café Graffiti building was painted in 2016. The works they created at that time are a little faded with the abuses of our winter weather. So Ella & Pitr would like to come back to paint in Montreal and are looking for roofs! Do you have any suggestions for roofs available, ready to be turned into giants? If so, you could contact us; or contact the couple directly at: ellapitr@gmail.com.

All photos credit: ELLA & PITR © / E. Parlefort ©

French version on the Reflet de Société website March 27th, 2023

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