Street Art in Paris / L’art de la rue à Paris
The French at large, and the city of Paris in particular, seem to have a different relationship with street art than I see in the States, where street art is generally treated as vandalism. I love Parisian street art. I live on the southern edge of the 11th arrondissement, a haven for all kinds of street art from graffiti to collage to tiling and beyond. The 11th is part of the stomping grounds of great street artists like miss.tic, who I’ve mentioned before, as well as toctoc, hopnn, the famous Space Invader, Thoma Vuille with his M. CHAT, lomozano, and others who prefer to remain anonymous or whose tags have been erased by the changing conditions of the street.
I’ve always been vaguely interested in street art, since I’m interested in “low art” graphic arts in general (see this post on comic books in French culture, for instance). Paris is where I’ve really started noticing street art, though, and the credit for really getting my attention should go to Vuille’s M. CHAT, who adorns a tiny square a few doors down from my apartment —
— and to miss.tic, three of whose works adorn the walls on my street, at or below waist level:
An interesting thing, living on this street, has been watching what the city cleaners and businesses decide to clean (ie get rid of), and what they decide to keep. Within a few weeks of my taking the above photo of M. CHAT, it had been tagged with the f-word in black paint – arguably street art in itself, of course, but which I couldn’t see as bringing anything to the wall except a not very welcome reminder that M. CHAT, like most things, is of a porous and transitory nature. This tag stayed on the wall for another few weeks… after which it disappeared. Someone cleaned it off, without altering the underlying painting of M. CHAT, who, though he is currently accompanied by various little posters and other such bits of street art, continues to grin unblemished.
miss.tic’s work also seems to be considered something worth keeping – the third one shown above, “La passion dévore le temps,” was clearly stenciled / sprayed over the decorative painting around the doorway of the shop next to my apartment building, which can be seen through it. (I’m not an art critic so I won’t actually start trying to analyze these works, but I will say I often like the layering effect a lot of these artists either achieve or use to their own ends.)
Work that does /not/ seem to fall into the category of things people with hoses think are worth keeping, or which may inherently not be possible to keep, are the chalk babies-in-wombs (“foetuses” makes them sound more gruesome than they actually are) — clearly hand-drawn, not stenciled — that I’ve seen pop up a few times in the 11ème and the 1er. Judging by this post at Pavement Graffiti, the foetuses have been around for at least a couple of years.
I have no idea what’s going on with these and nothing I’ve come across online has been of much help. Being half-American, my first thought were that these were pro-life in goal, but I don’t think that’s a safe assumption here. Who knows? If anyone knows more about this artist and this series, let me know.
Meanwhile, I occasionally teach class in a building on the edge of the 12th that gives onto a courtyard called the Cité de l’Ameublement (near Faidherbe-Chaligny), where the city-installed ball-topped metal posts are painted by an artist called le CyKlop to look like monstrous one-eyed animals. I have no pictures of my own of this setup – I’m always there in the greyness of early morning so I haven’t gotten a photo yet – but it’s worth taking a look at here.
You went to see and came back? Good. I may not have a picture of the cyclops-figures, but I do have one of this great big green alien posted last week on a wall of the Cité de l’Ameublement:
I’m quite fond of this space alien; I hope it’s still there when I return on Monday. It was already peeling, as you can see. I don’t know how I feel about the transitory nature of street art, as I’ve perhaps been implying. One gets that it’s part of the point, but at the same time, one wants familiar things one likes to stay where they are, reasonably unharmed, or at least to show up again in such a way that there’s, at least theoretically, the promise of seeing again the image one liked. (I wouldn’t go so far as to say I “like” the foetus drawings – I find them curious, mostly – but that’s the sort of transitory-with-a-promise situation I have in mind.)
Also on the cartoony side, there’s the work of toctoc (french for “knock knock”), which I recently discovered gracing the other side of the courtyard over which M. CHAT presides, as well as a nearby passage. Toctoc is known for caricature-like figures, and for some reason, both of these are carrying knives. I haven’t figured out yet whether they’re meant to represent real people (toctoc’s website says something to the effect that he often is caricaturing famous figures).
Images that are stuck on rather than painted on – such as toctoc’s and the green space alien above – seem to be more common than I’ve noticed before. Ender uses this technique for his monsters and gargoyles, one of which I found a couple months ago:
Back in the 11th in late October, I came across – once again in the small courtyard watched over by M. CHAT – a sort of neo-classical stick-on work, a disembodied head carried by disembodied arms over an ornate pedestal in two separate pieces, the whole accompanying a Nietzsche quote about the will to power (I have no idea if the quote was written on the wall by the unnamed artist):
Space Invaders’ worldwide tile-alien phenomenon is also in evidence, notably across the street from Le Stone:
And, yes, in M. CHAT’s little square:
Had enough pictures yet? I’m going to wrap this up. But first, a few of the small things…
Finally, a couple of the many interesting links you can find about Parisian street art:
Love on the Wall (in French; includes “chroniques” – essays – about individual artists, including many of those I’ve named)
Paris Street Art (I kind of want to sign up for this project)
Dots Paris (street art blog; thanks to Poncif for the tip)
Paris’ surprising street art
On an ending side note, folks, I visited a 13th century castle in Auvergne last week, le Chateau de Murol. In a few spots, walls are covered in graffiti carved into the stone. Pretty much all of it consists of people’s names (and/or the names of their sweethearts), with the occasional date (1956 was the oldest I saw). I can tell you one thing – if graffiti doesn’t have something more interesting about it than “x loves y” or “z was here ,” it takes at least three hundred years to become charming.
EDITED TO ADD (12 November 2012):
First and less importantly, I got my own photo of “zoo street” to throw out there:
I can’t tell if the thing is somewhat cute and mostly unnerving, or just unnerving. The eyes are all painted at different degrees of rotation, so the thing sort of follows you as you walk through it.
More importantly, I got a photo of what is left of the black-caped toctoc figure I called “place au peuple” above, after the repainting of the passage de la Main D’Or sometime in the last two or three days:
This is a rather interesting and perplexing piece of censorship combined with preservation, I think. Whoever repainted the inside of the Passage got rid of absolutely everything besides this: the little spiders, the mushroom/chess pieces, the populist and anarchist slogans – and the character’s bloody knife. I can’t believe that it was a coincidence that had toctoc placing a black-cloaked figure holding up a bloody knife over aforementioned populist/anarchist slogans. I don’t know that artist’s intention is really an interesting question here, but I do find it interesting that the bloody knife is gone. Why only the knife and not the figure at large? Did the painter who “cleaned” the Passage enjoy the cartoon – or think that it had some sort of inherent artistic value that the rest of the stuff in the Passage didn’t have – but feel somehow obliged to, well, pull its teeth (render it non-violent/harmless, even castrate it, si on veut)? Did someone instruct that anonymous Passage-painter to handle the cartoon this way? Is the cartoon robbed of everything threatening? (After all, it’s still wearing a rather spooky ghost-like black cloak.) In other words: what just happened?