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‘Trompe-l’oeil’ homage to coastguards in Brittany wins prize

The painting of brightly-coloured toy boats in a bag won the best street art 2021 award

"Kit de secours" was painted by the Dutch artist Leon Keer Pic: Leon Keer / Trompe l'

A trompe-l’oeil street art piece that celebrates the work of emergency coastguard workers has been named the best mural of the year in France.

The 3D-style piece is by Dutch artist Léon Keer. It depicts a plastic bag of brightly-coloured children’s toy boats and has the words “Kit de Secours (Rescue Kit)” on the package.

It was painted on the side of a building in Plougasnou, Finistère (Brittany), in June 2021, and has now won the Golden Street Art 2021 award in the Mx Arts Tour competition.

Mr Keer beat competition from the second place painting, “Pensive fisherman” (”Pêcheur pensif”) by Rennes artist Aéro in Calais (Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France), and the third place painting, a piece called “Marianne the Unifyer” (“Marianne fédératrice)” by Toulouse artist Snake, in La Seyne-sur-Mer (Var, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur).

Mr Keer said: “Winning a prize is a great gift and recognition. There were so many beautiful pieces of street art in the selection that it was a big surprise to be chosen as the winner.”

Explaining the inspiration for his piece, he said: “I had the idea on the spot. The coastline here is magnificent, and I think that it helps if you want [as I do] to create the feeling that the painting really belongs to the place.

“I’ve highlighted the coastguard heroes, and honoured them by putting four different boats in my packet of toys. Because when I was a kid, I always admired people who went out, without hesitation, to help those who needed it.”

The top 10 works in the competition can be seen here.

The work is a “trompe-l’oeil”, a phrase often used in both English and French to describe a piece of art or decor that appears real and 3D, but is in fact 2D. 

It translates literally as “tricks the eye”.

It also denotes photographically-realistic detail, or hyperrealism, whereby a painting looks as real as a photograph. It is also used in interior decorating, especially for 2D painting or wallpaper that makes it look as though the room is covered in real wooden panels.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the first known use of the phrase was in 1889, but the actual painting technique is far older. 

French artist Jean-Étienne Liotard has been particularly associated with the type of illusion, as he painted around 10 works in this style; and many Dutch and Italian artists are also known for their experiments in the technique.

It is also recognised to have started as far back as in Ancient Greece and Rome, when many murals and pieces of art were created to suggest a real still life, or to give the impression that a room was bigger than it really was.

The MX Arts Tour is organised by a street art group in Morlaix and the artist ZAG, and aims to promote and celebrate street art, as well as Breton language and culture.

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