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Paris: a burgeoning street art capital
Paris is gradually reconstructing its cultural life, frozen by the coronavirus during the lockdown. Although museums are now open, many Parisians and tourists alike are discovering (or rediscovering) the cultural offerings to be had right on the city’s streets through street art.
The streets of Paris are like one huge, open-air museum of street art and graffiti. Considered vandalism for some, and art for others, street art is everywhere in Paris, and thanks to it, Paris is constantly changing its skin. Street art gives an explosion of color to a city that is often gray and rainy.
“Paris is full of works (of urban art), and its nearby suburbs, too: Vitry (sur Seine), Saint Denis, Montreuil… It’s a city that can be explored through street art, which we find in different neighborhoods and under different formats,” explains Stéphanie Lombard, author of the “Guide to Street Art in Paris” whose 2020-2021 edition has just been released in France.
To see street art in Paris, you don’t have to pay any entrance fees or stand in line. You just have to walk the streets and keep your eyes open. You can discover it on your own or through an organized visit with a guide.
From the heart of Paris to the picturesque Montmartre, the bohemian artist’s neighborhood, through the areas of Oberkampf, Belleville, and Ménilmontant, and the banks of the Canal de l’Ourcq… exploring Paris street art allows you to get off the beaten path and discover other lesser-known neighborhoods, all while remaining socially distant during the pandemic. You can visit rue Denoyez, a street taken over by graffiti artists that resists real estate speculation; discover the feminist street art of the Butte-aux-Cailles neighborhood; or photograph the monumental frescoes of Boulevard Paris 13, a must-see for lovers of street art.
Unknown graffiti artists coexist side by side with local artists and big international street art stars, like Banksy or Shepard Fairey, better known in the community as “Obey,” the name behind the iconic Hope poster that was part of Barack Obama’s first election campaign.
Among the best street artists in the capital: Speedy Graphito, Blek le Rat, Seth, the artist Miss Tic, Jérôme Mesnager and the omnipresent Invader, who boasts 1,442 works in Paris alone, with his pixelated ceramic mosaics. “There are many. Personally, I like the work of Mister Pee, Le CyKlop, JBC, Ardif, Madame Moustache, FKDL…” says Lombard.
Chuuuttt!!!, the giant self-portrait by Jef Aérosol, calls for silence from a wall on Place Igor Stravinsky, next to the Centre Pompidou. Next to him, Obey’s The Future is Unwritten and a giant mosaic by Invader coexist with the colorful Stravinsky fountain, by sculptors Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle.
The association Le M.U.R. organizes 24 artistic “performances” each year, where you can watch French and international artists create their works of street art on a “legal wall” located in the working class Oberkampf neighborhood. “Our objective is to animate the neighborhood, to bring art to as many people as possible, and to allow the artists to make a living from their work,” explains Maddalena Gilles, from the association.
The Boulevard Paris 13 project, the result of a collaboration between Galerie Intinerrance and the City Hall of the 13th, is a true open-air street art museum. Some thirty urban artists – including Invader, the British D*Face, Seth, Conor Harrington, Hush and Daleast – have painted giant frescoes on bland social housing buildings in the area.
The featured works include a cat painted by C215; Obey’s fresco Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité in homage to the victims of the November 13, 2015 attacks in France; and Love won’t tear us apart, a fresco by British artist D*Face in which a blonde woman and a disfigured man are hugging each other, a symbol of the past loves that remain in our memory.
Over the past decade, Paris street art has matured as it has become institutionalized. Has it lost its essence? Has it stopped being a spontaneous art? “The two coexist and this is positive from my point of view. We can, for example, discover a lot of famous artists on the buildings of the 13th but we also have the pleasure of discovering works that have been spontaneously created in Paris,” says Lombard.
“When an artist has something to express and when we like their work, we’re happy to see it in a gallery, on a legal wall, as well as walking around the city,” concludes Gilles.