Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Shocks of the New (apologies to Robert Hughes)

It’s always pleasant to be able to revisit places for street art and to be able to see, over the years, how favourite artists are evolving (hopefully). As mentioned in the last post, I was able to see a show by Miss.Tic, an artist whose work I’ve enjoyed for many years. I also went back to several locations that had featured a lot of street artworks in the past – around Belleville, for example, or in parts of the Marais, or near the Canal St Martin – and was rewarded by some interesting new works. here are some of them…..

And some artists whose work I had seen in Berlin in 2010 (Prost, Alias and others) seem to have been visiting recently, and they have put work up, in clusters, all around different parts of Paris:

Every new discovery brings with it a little jolt of pleasure. To walk around a corner and see a beautifully constructed artwork, or to catch a glimpse of something high up on the rooftops – anyone who appreciates street art will be well acquainted with these experiences. But ‘newness’ can also bring shocks that are not quite so pleasurable. For example, as I mentioned, I went to Belleville, a hilly, hectically multicultural part of Paris that is home to Paris Free Walls in the rue Denoyez (which feels rather like Hosier Lane, for anyone reading this in Melbourne). Paris Free Walls organises walls for artists to paint and collaborate on. Here’s a great one, featuring the work of Dode Shillinglaw and Ben Slow on rue Amelot:

Belleville is also close to Le Mur (The Wall), the curated ex-billboard space that features a regular turnover of artists, some well-known, some new.

Here’s what was on Le Mur when I went to see it:

Sounds all good, right? Spaces with a regular turnover of work, some legal, some illegal, street art happily existing within a local community….

And, yes, that’s so, except that when I went to see La Forge, an area that had housed the studios of some fantastic street artists and had displayed some amazing work within its spaces, it was clear that nothing should be taken for granted when street art is concerned (something that I do know, but had forgotten). Two years ago, I visited La Forge, and spent a fascinating few hours with Jean Faucheur and with L’Atlas, both really interesting artists. On this occasion, the gate appeared locked, there was no sign of any access to the studios, and the open space at the front looked semi-derelict, with a whole row of cars parked in it. In addition, there was this:

This is a ‘Permet de Construire’ (Construction Permit), indicating that the site is to be developed. Well, if the housing that results provides accommodation for people in need, then all well and good, I guess. But I;m not sure it will – my suspicion is rather that this is one instance of a dynamic we have seen in cities many times before (Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Fitzroy in Melbourne, the East End of London). Street art is part of what establishes an area as an interesting, vibrant district; gentrification ensues. There’s a vast amount of academic literature on gentrification (and the connection between it and street art is one of the issues my new research will study), but it’s summed up nicely by this stencil, seen when I was in Stokes Croft (an area clearly on the verge of gentrification) in Bristol the other week…

Nothing stays the same on the street; that’s part of its pleasures (unlike museums, which exist more to preserve, or freeze, culture). But sometimes the newness brings little chills with it, especially those moments when you imagine you can see a whole neighbourhood beginning to change. Given that street art is associated as much with rising rents, the exclusion of artists who can’t pay those rising rents, merchandising, ‘hipsterdom’, and commerce as it is with any kind of pure creativity (if such a thing exists), then these moments, imaginary or not, should give us pause.

An old favourite

I arrived in Paris last Thursday night, with just enough time to get to the opening of a new show by Miss.Tic. Miss.Tic is something of a cultural (and countercultural institution) in Paris. She has been making stencils and putting them up for many, many years – probably about two and a half decades.

Her works are tremendously recognizable, because they always feature the same devices: a woman, or a woman and a man together, occasionally a cat or a woman and a cat. The images have a nicely stark, graphic appeal, and accompany a brief line of text. The text, for Miss.Tic, is the crucial thing: she describes herself as a ‘poet’ rather than an artist. the words are carefully chosen, and play on language, using puns, double meanings, and subtle satire. The text often has a feminist overtone, which is then placed in tension with the illustrating image, in that the woman in the picture often assumes poses that are stereotypically provocative. For many years, the woman in the images was a representation of Miss.Tic herself; in later years, she has created a generic female, who appears with a stereotypically ‘beefcake’ male.

Her work is now regarded very highly in French art circles. The show was held in the Galerie Lelia Mordoch, in a very trendy part of Paris. The opening was filled with chic Parisiens, all clutching plastic cups of white wine or Evian, and all desperate to speak to the artist.

When I was in Paris two years ago, Miss.Tic was kind enough to do an interview with me, so I felt brave enough to go up and say hello. She appeared to remember me (‘Ah oui, la petite Australienne’) but there were certainly too many people around to have any kind of conversation. Here are a couple of examples of her work, one inside the gallery and one in the street nearby:

(Sorry for the slightly dubious photographic quality – it was very unclear whether it was OK to take pictures so I was being very hasty, and it’s not the best framed shot.)

Every now and then in Paris, especially in certain areas like La Butte aux Cailles, it’s possible to come across street-based works by Miss.Tic. These are a great pleasure; they seem much more raw than the gallery works (which, by the way, have rather large price tags – many of the works in the current show are priced between 8000 and 14000 euros). Here’s one I saw yesterday:

And here’s one on a gallery door (Le Cabinet D’Amateur, near Ledru Rollin):

And just in case you thought, when I said that Miss.Tic is something of a cultural institution in France, that this was just a figure of speech, check this out:

Miss.Tic’s work has been immortalised on a set of stamps, an indicator that a previously minoritarian activity is becoming increasingly mainstream. But aside from that, I love it. She’s on a set of stamps! How cool is that?

On the road again….

I’m travelling right now. In the last 9 days, I’ve been in London (briefly), Oxford, Bristol, and now Paris. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading back to London, to spend 10 days there. So what’s the reason for all this gallivanting? Over the last four years, as some readers may know, I’ve been researching the emergence of street art as a distinctive cultural practice, and the range of social, cultural, political and legal responses to it. The project has been a comparative one, and I’ve been able to travel to San Francisco, New York, London, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin, to meet artists, collectors, bloggers, gallerists and curators, as well as in my home base of Melbourne. I ended up interviewing 62 artists and over 20 gallerists and other art professionals. I walked many miles in different cities, photographing what was on the walls.

And now I’m in the process of writing up this research. In addition to academic articles along the way, it will be published as a book, tentatively entitled Crime and the Urban Imagination, in 2013 by Routledge. (I just have to write it, of course – no problem!)

One of the things that became clear over the last four years was the increasing interest shown in street art by galleries, museums, graphic design, architecture and advertising, among other fields. It was also clear that the art market was deeply interested in the collectability and marketability of street art. So last year, I applied for funding from the Australian Research Council to extend my research by investigating these developments – to examine what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has called the ‘cultural field’ as it relates to street art.

My application was successful, and the project is now underway. This trip is the first fieldwork trip of the research; I’m also hoping to get to Berlin and the Fame Festival in Grottaglie in September.

So that’s what I’m doing, on the road again. The emphasis of the project is different from the previous research, so I’ve been going to galleries and taking notes on what it’s like to be a spectator of ‘urban art’ as it’s exhibited in gallery settings. But of course there’s the art all around on the walls of the streets, too… So it has meant that I find myself to be incredibly busy – visiting galleries, trying to meet gallerists and dealers, sometimes getting stood up for appointments by said gallerists and dealers (grrr), and always, always, walking, walking, walking. I’ve seen some great things on this trip so far, and a few posts will be following this one. My feet may be aching, but my eyes are happy.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers