If you come across a butterfly display so vividly realistic but that also happens to be on the side of a building, then there are good chances you have stumbled upon a piece by Mantra.

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Mantra, whose real name is Youri Cansell, is a French artist and naturalist who has always had a life-long fascination with entomology – butterflies and moths in particular. He tells Lonely Planet that his childhood imagination “found shelter between gardens, forests and rivers” and that while he grew up in a city he considered butterflies to be “a part of all of [those places], [as] they appear and disappear in such an unpredictable way.”

A picture of the artist looking at his work in progress
Mantra standing in front of a piece he painted in Cancún © Mantra / Gino Caballero for Proyecto Panorama

This interest translates into the subjects that populate his large-scale artworks, murals painted on the façades of buildings both modern and abandoned that he animates with vibrant butterflies – looking extremely realistic thanks to Mantra’s technique and the artistic device of trompe-l’œil. While his works may look similar, Mantra tells Lonely Planet that “every piece is a journey on its own,” and that “[his] intention is always to find the right balance between the purpose of the project, the location and the evolution of my painting.”

A picture of a mural realised by Mantra in Las Vegas
The piece in the picture can be found in Las Vegas © Mantra / Justkids for Life is Beautiful

“Like a scientist, I see each [piece] as an experiment,” he continues. “[One] where I’m able to collect memories and knowledge [and] helps in this way understanding my surroundings and moving forward as a human being.” And because of this, he says that he wouldn’t be able to choose a favorite piece as all of them are unforgettable memories.

A picture of Mantra working on a mural in Turin
Mantra pictured working on a piece in Turin, Italy © Mantra / Martha Cooper for Toward 2030

“I started to paint in abandoned sites, especially a factory left behind from the mining activity in my region,” Mantra says about his beginnings. Today, he’s been everywhere around the world from New York City to Las Vegas to Turin to do his pieces and bring his message of eco-consciousness and alertness to disappearing biodiversity.

A picture of Mantra's work in Brooklyn
Mantra's work brings butterflies into urban settings like this one in Brooklyn © Mantra / ODA

If you’d like to see more of Mantra’s work and learn about his artistic vision, you can check out his official website here.

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