GPS artist Pravin Xeona: finding shapes and designs in Melbourne’s streets

How a creative new hobby helps this cyclist stay fit while exploring his city.

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During Melbourne’s lockdown in 2020, local Pravin Xeona found an interesting outlet to ‘stay sane’: mapping Melbourne’s streets on his bicycle.

These pre-planned routes took the shapes of an elephant, a guitar, the Google T-Rex, and even video game character Mario.

“I’ve been cycling since I was a child. It’s a form of exercise that I’ve always enjoyed,” Pravin told Indian Link. “Then a few years ago, I came across this video on the Global Cycling Network’s YouTube channel by a British GPS artist and I knew I wanted to try it out.”

Finding Melbourne’s extensive network of alleys and laneways to be the perfect canvas, the then-international student of RMIT University began his GPS designs.

“I look for inspirations at other people’s artwork. Then when I have an idea in mind, I look at the map of Melbourne to see if it’s possible to execute,” he explained. “Sometimes I’ll be halfway through a route and hit a roadblock and have to change course entirely or give up on this design.”

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pravin xeona
Source: supplied

He says it takes him around 2-3 hours to thoroughly plan his route.

“I take a screenshot and then use my tablet to plot out the route visually,” Pravin added.

Now no longer limited by a 5-kilometre lockdown radius, the 29-year-old has gotten to work exploring more parts of the city. To date, he’s successfully completed around 18 designs.

His GPS artwork of a kangaroo has been particularly well received, having been shared by ABC Melbourne on social media and executed by a few other GPS artists. (Like many others, Pravin routinely shares his routes on platforms like Komoot for others to try out.)

Source: @s.art.va / Instagram

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His most recent GPS artwork is the traditional snake boat of Kerala, an ode to his home state in India. It took more than 4 hours to complete and spanned around 86 kilometres.

“I’d say my longest design has been around 85, 86 kilometres. Sometimes I divide this between days and merge the routes to get the design,” he said.

Another fascinating design saw him collaborating with German artist Christian Ohantel for a ‘GPS route swap’ across continents. Pravin drew an eagle, to be executed by Ohantel in Munich, while he received a dingo design to be executed in Melbourne.

gps collab pravin xeona and christian ohantel
Source: @s.art.va / Instagram

GPS art, while not new, has been taking off on social media platforms in the last few years. Some artists, like Pravin, complete the designs on their bicycles while others may run or jog the route.

They use platforms like Strava or MapMyRun to execute the design, either completing it in one single shot (keeping in mind that a single wrong turn could ruin their design) or by using a start/stop technique.

“It can be considered cheating, but I only care about the drawing,” Pravin noted.

Lockdowns around the world also caused a rise in a subset of GPS art called ‘burbing’ wherein locals explore every road of a particular suburb. In November last year, Pravin rode every single street in Fitzroy.

And despite the many sceptics of Indian roadworks, GPS artist is also gaining prominence in India through artists like Vikas Ruparelia of Bangalore and Amol Wadhwani of Indore.

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covid vaccination GPS design
Pravin’s ‘Get Jabbed’ design for COVID vaccination uptake in 2021. Source: @s.art.va / Instagram

“GPS art is a really fun way to stay fit while being creative!” Pravin grinned. “I often post my designs on the Melbourne sub-reddit and people comment that it looks hard, but really, it’s something anyone can do. Trust me, I don’t have any artistic skills. It just takes some planning.”

In fact, that’s his advice for anyone looking to get started.

“I’d say the hardest part is starting out. But once you have a plan, have a route in mind and hit the road, it gets easier,” he said.

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Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath
Rhea L Nath is a writer and editor based in Sydney. In 2022, she was named Young Journalist of the Year at the NSW Premier's Multicultural Communications Awards.

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