Street art: Or, how I fell in love with Paris / Comment je suis tombée amoureuse de Paris

"Des bombes sur la ville / Les couleurs explosent sur les murs" [Bombs on the city / Colors explode on the walls], JPM. Rue de la Forge Royale, Dec '12.

“Des bombes sur la ville / Les couleurs explosent sur les murs” [Bombs on the city / Colors explode on the walls], JPM. Rue de la Forge Royale, Dec ’12.

People talk about falling in love with Paris. I didn’t fall in love with it – at least not in the way I heard people talking about falling in love with it, or the way I imagined one might fall in love with it. It’s a beautiful city in many ways (just as it’s an dirty, smelly city a lot of the time), and I’ve always been strongly fond of it (insofar as I knew it); it’s always been one of the only major cities I enjoy. But insofar as I fell in love with that city, I fell in love with the streets – not the charming but impossible-to-walk-on cobblestones of certain areas or the famous lampposts of the City of Lights or the impressive façades of the centre-ville or even the bouquinistes (much as I love those) – no, I fell in love with the street art.

I miss the street art more than any other parts of that city. Street art is the life of the city; it changes like the light, like the people. It doesn’t just adorn, stay fixed; it moves. Ça bouge. I don’t regret not going to Versailles or the Tuilleries or the Sacré Coeur or museums x and y; those I can get to any time I’m there (and museums bore me more and more; how could they not, when they freeze art the way they do?). I regret never making it up to Montmartre to see the ever-changing street art in that neighborhood, where so many artists hang out, hills and staircases and my bad knees be damned. I regret not making it to any of the street art exhibitions, not going to the Butte aux Cailles, not spending more time in the back streets of the Marais – not having the time or the energy (I was often sick from the pollution and the climate) to hunt out more of the many areas covered in art. Thank God I lived in a haven for it, down in my slice of the southern edge of the 11ème – thank God I lived on Rue de la Forge Royale in particular, where new art crops up every few days, often in profusion.

It’s not fair to where I am, but now it feels like there’s nothing to look at. Oh, I’ll readjust and remember my love of the natural world, so magnificent in the US, of the trees in the East and the coast in the West; I’ll look and marvel at the oaks and the redwoods and the greenness and the ocean and the cliffs; I’ll go to Utah and be still and awed in that sublime vastness — but all of that is different, much as I intellectually reject the binary nature/artifice. I’ve never been a lover of cities; I’ve always been a lover of the open; but now I see one of the attractions of urbanity. Street art is a different thing, a precious thing of its own, fleeting and thought-provoking and delightful, injecting joy into what might otherwise be dreary, might otherwise be too orderly, too squared-off, too blank, too dead.

So thank you to all the street artists out there, both the ones I know and the ones I haven’t discovered yet. Thank you to all the people who love street art for itself, who look at it with enthusiasm, who see what I mean. Everyone else, forgive me this perhaps overly sentimental (but heartfelt) effusion. And on that note — a happy New Year to all! Une bonne année à tous! May it be full of love and joy and art among the ruins (or even just the boredom).

"Nature's Revenge," Mosko et associés and unknown artist. Paris 4ème, Rue des Hospitalières St. Gervais.

“Nature’s Revenge,” Mosko et associés and unknown artist. Paris 4ème, Rue des Hospitalières St. Gervais.

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