Tyrell Valladares, the Man Behind the ‘I Am Bandra’ Artwork

He quit his lucrative job as a flight purser to pursue his childhood fascination with art

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If you’ve walked through Bandra, you’ve most likely seen the ‘I am Bandra’ and ‘We are the world’ art installations. Tyrell Valladares is the artist responsible for those very same wonderful installations. Tyrell’s most recent street art project was the beautification of the bomanji steps in Bandra that leads up to the Mount Mary Church. Thousands were caught in awe of the beautiful mosaic installation, as the two adjoining steps became the perfect spot to portray elements of opposite designs on it. The project started with just four people and went on to add another 10 people to finish the work in the stipulated time. The beautification project of the steps was supported by Rahul Kanal, the founder of the ‘I Love Mumbai’ Foundation.

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On the right hand steps, Tyrell designed a hand that is reaching up for the moon in the night sky, and on the left hand steps is hand that is reaching down towards the rising sun. It took him five days to finish the mosaic detailing of the right hand steps, after which he had only two more days to complete the other side. “I’d start work at 9 am with a team of workers and we’d go on until the wee hours of the morning. After the other workers left, my coworker at Metalhead, Stefan Pereira and I would stay back to draw outlines of the design to prepare for the next day. One of the days, I think it was the 9th of September, it started raining very heavily and our work came to a standstill. I was very concerned about being able to deliver on time and kept checking the weather app to see when it would clear up, so my team could continue to work,” he recalls.

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Tyrell Valladares drew inspiration from his fascination for opposites, and the night sky, which became the theme of his design on the steps. As a child he was always fascinated by street art and graffiti, and loved to play with different shades and bright and dark colours. Besides, he always found himself surrounded by art and creativity since his childhood, as Tyrell’s mother, father and sister are artists themselves. He quit his lucrative job as a flight purser when he found what he truly enjoys. Being in the aviation industry for over eight years exposed him to all types of art and culture from across the globe, which he wanted to bring to Mumbai.

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His first big break came in Jan 2013 when Nike approached him to create the Indian Cricket Team jersey, a 20×16 foot structure that was made out of gears and sprockets (4000 pieces), and was displayed at the Kala Ghoda Art Festival (2013). “The project I did for Nike is very close to my heart; it gave me the opportunity and much needed boost that I needed as an artist, to work on a project on such a large scale. I wasn’t a recognized artist at that time, so it was a challenging task for me to enter the industry without any prior experience. It was a major achievement when a brand like Nike put their faith in me,” says Tyrell, who has also worked with brands like Adidas, Google, MTV, and Johnnie Walker. Tyrell recalls how he had to forage in the scrapyards with cash in his pockets while searching for sprockets and gears for the Nike art installation.

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The Nike project gave Tyrell the confidence take his career one step further by starting his own company that creates structures made out of metal. The company is called ‘Metal Head’, and started in 2013. Metal is not easy to handle or work with, and he realized this the hard way, early on. “I burnt my head and face and injured my legs a few times while welding the metal. To understand how to use a grinder was a process, which I failed at many times until I finally got it. Getting the right shape and size while melting the metals also took its time.” Metal, fibre, glass, wood, aluminium are the few materials that he loves to play around with. More often than not, you will find Tyrell scouring through the scrapyards in Mumbai. Scrapyards in Bandra are where he finds metal rods and pipes, Kurla is for car parts, and CST is for bike parts. So if he isn’t in a scrapyard, he’s welding scrap in his workshop. “When I’m in a scrapyard, I’m like a kid in a candy shop,” he chuckles. He recalls a hilarious incident when he accidentally trespassed a scrapyard. When he saw all the scrap available there, he started going through it enthusiastically. “The next thing I knew was that the owner, along with some workers were standing behind me with bamboo sticks and rods in their hands. I had to explain myself in detail, and profusely apologize for trespassing,” recalls Tyrell with a laugh.

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All the artwork that has been produced by Metal Head is the brainchild of Tyrell. Apart from the support and assistance he gets from Stefan Pereira, he prefers not to have permanent employees, because his work is project based and periodical. One of the biggest troubles he faces in this industry is that of timely payments. There have been multiple occasions where he has had to wait for six months to a year to receive his payment for a project.

As far as plans for the future go, Tyrell hopes to take Metal Head to cities such as Delhi and Goa in the near future. We still hope he will continue to beautify Mumbai the way he does.