Mantra Specimen boxes of butterflies blown up on urban buildings

Cover Image - Mantra

Growing up, Youri Cansell, or Mantra, wanted to be a naturalist. Now, he makes larger-than-life murals of his favorite objects of study – butterflies.

“As a child, I was lucky to spend a lot of time in my family’s garden. I’m sensitive to all the small living things I found there, like birds, insects and spiders,” Mantra says. “Butterflies feed my curiosity and they built my childhood dreams.”

And so he started to collect boxes, given to him by his parents for his birthday, in which he collected all the curiosities he found in his garden to “discover, study and draw them.”

These boxes from his childhood found their way into the French artist’s huge, lifelike murals. We see gorgeous, detailed butterflies inside picture frames as if they’re archived away.

“Last year I was fortunate to see Amazonian butterflies in their own environment and the chance to see the same species at the PUCE University of Quito at the biology department,” Mantra says.

Based on a picture he took of that archive, he made his first butterfly mural in Thionville, a city right in the north-east corner of France, near the German border. From there he went on to paint the insects many times, weaving together his personal memories and inspiration taken from the sites he was working at (butterflies from the local area for example).

“I finally became a painter who dreamed of being a naturalist,” he says. And in some ways the two careers have things in common. In both you need a great eye for detail, almost endless patience and a willingness to immerse yourself in a single task for hours on end.

Maybe that’s why his artist name is so fitting. He likes what mantra stands for, but he also likes how it looks as a tag. “Mantra is a common word, especially present in the Buddhist culture,” he says. “Since starting out as a graffiti artist, I used Mantra as my nickname because of my attraction to this word.”

“After years of painting I found my own balance. I realized that I’m finally close to the definition of a mantra – repeating my proper mantra in painting, always with more concentration and assiduity.”