Archive for the ‘Paris’ Tag
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.
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?
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.
Street art and graffiti, when spoken about by those who don’t enjoy the experience of discovering unauthorised art in city spaces, are sometimes said to deface the walls of the streets in which they are found. Calling it ‘defacement’ is a way of saying ‘damage to property’, of course, but interestingly, when street art’s detractors want to focus on the question of purely physical damage to property, they usually use the term ‘vandalism’. So the term ‘defacement’ seems to speak to something else, as though the walls of the city have an outward face, which has been altered, spoiled, or even destroyed by the artwork – literally de-faced. (There’ an excellent book on the concept of defacement by Michael Taussig, if you are interested in thinking more along these lines…)
Thinking of city walls in this way sounds odd, until we start thinking of how we are quite accustomed to speaking of the facade of a building, for example; both ‘facade’ and ‘face’ share the same root, from facia (face) in Latin.
On my way home from Paris to Melbourne, I was thinking about the term ‘defacement’ and how it gets used as a negative descriptor of street art and graffiti (well, it’s a long, long flight, you have many hours in which to ponder these things). If walls have faces that can be ‘damaged’, then that sets the street artwork up as operating as a form of disfigurement.
[If you don't look at street art as a form of disfigurement, then of course the addition of artworks to the city walls by its artists can be construed in many, positive lights (as written about in previous posts on this blog): as a gift, as a contribution to the community, as a means of beautification of drab spaces, as a form of communication between the artist and other members of the community, and as a means of celebrating the city itself.]
It seemed particularly fitting to me to think through the idea of street art and graffiti as a form of defacement and disfigurement after having spent two weeks in Paris this May. I spent hours walking through the streets and saw some amazing and inspiring work. One of the things that was striking about it is the preponderance of figurative work: there are hundreds of portraits by dozens of artists adorning the walls of Paris, and here is a selection of some of the ones I enjoyed most.
Here’s a section of a large work by the Vancouver-based artist Indigo:
One of the curving black figures created by FKDL:
A beautifully placed image by C215:
The incomparable Miss.Tic, making stencils since the mid-1980s:
Two works, dancing together. The corps blanc, or white figure, is by Jerome Mesnager, the female figure is by Jef Aerosol, both also veterans of the French scene:
And here is one of Nemo’s typically segmented scenes, in which a dark silhouetted figure tumbles through various scenes against a backdrop of sandstone:
As a graduate student, much of my time was spent reading the work of the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (and since becoming an academic, a lot of my time is spent teaching his work too), so it was a great pleasure to come across his face on a number of walls, placed there by the stencil artist PITR:
And I was fortunate enough to catch some freshly painted stencil works by Jana und JS, stunning in their photorealistic detail:
Finally, a slightly different kind of portrait, that of the grinning yellow cat made famous by Monsieur Chat. These cats apparently bound across many of Paris’s rooftops, but I caught sight of only one. You can just see its Cheshire-cat happiness high above the street, beaming down at the passers-by:
It’s easy to find this kind of street art appealing: well-executed images in bright colours, skillfully applied in well thought-out spaces. What’s not to like? Who could call these images a disfigurement of the walls? But I think that what I saw in Paris was more than just a negation of the criticism of street art’s detractors. And so I’ll say this: instead of simply being not-disfigurements, these works actively re-figure the streets of Paris, opening for the passer-by moments of narrative and instances of beauty where previously none had existed.
About 18 months ago, I wrote about being on a train on the London Underground one night when someone stuck a sticker on the carriage wall (it read ‘Peak hours may necessitate that someone sits on your lap’, and looked just like the ‘official’ stickers placed on the carriage for information by the Transport for London corporation (you can read about this sticker here and updated here).
Today I was on the Paris Metro. I was sitting on one of the folding seats next to the carriage door. A man entered at the far end of the carriage and sat down. I didn’t pay him much attention at first. he was carrying a roll of paper towels and whatever the French equivalent of Windex is.
I assumed that he had been shopping and was on his way home. It turned out that this was not the case.
He seemed to notice something on the glass of the window in the door next to where I sat, and he got up and came over to look closer at it. Windows on the Paris Metro often have a lot of scratchiti and tags applied with paint or marker pen, and this window was no different. What the man had noticed was a tag, and he ran his finger over it several times, then sprayed Windex all over the glass. When the glass was quite wet, he proceeded to scrub away at it with one of his paper towels.
Because the tag he was rubbing away at was applied with some kind of paint, his efforts had no effect upon the window (except to remove whatever smudges and streaks had resulted from passengers going in and out of the train all day). Nevertheless, as the train neared the next station and people began to cluster around the doorway prior to getting off, he turned and said to another passenger, ‘That’s better, isn’t it?’
It could be that he was indeed someone who had been out shopping and who was simply inspired for some reason to use his Windex to clean the window. But I don’t think so. I think he was one of those people who make a project – one might almost say, sometimes, a crusade – out of removing graffiti from the surfaces of the city. They are not council workers or people doing this as their job; they are ordinary people who set themselves the task of graffiti removal.
For this man it meant cleaning windows on the trains in the Metro. I feel pretty lucky to have seen this guy in action – a case of being there just at the right moment (again) to witness an act of anti-graffiti taking place.