Walls have been perfect places for communication since ancient times. In all major world cities, alongside museums and galleries, the attention of visitors is attracted by art on the streets – this is also perhaps the best way to get to know the true spirit of a city and its inhabitants.
Paris has over 130 museums, with the Louvre alone exhibiting more than 35,000 artworks. If we assume that a tourist visit to Paris lasts between five and seven days, you could spend your entire trip in this one museum. Even if your visit to the Louvre boiled down to touring Mona Lisa, in front of which there are at least one hundred tourists with selfie sticks at any time, you would spend at least three hours just in the queues and corridors of this monumental building, as the Louvre covers an area of 60,000 square metres and is visited by about 15,000 people a day. And let’s say that the sun is shining outside, and the Parisian bistros are full, and rushed waiters are carrying trays of tarts and milky coffee, and let’s say that, while you’re on your way to the museum, street musicians start to intoxicate you with the sounds of the chanson”La vie en rose”, and that the scent of croissants from the nearest bakery compels you to inhale deeply, and that the earth trembles from the underground metro carrying thousands of Parisians under your feet, which reminds you that you are in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, that is the moment when you can abandon your plans to tour museums without feeling any guilt and instead devote yourself to the streets of Paris and the artwork on its walls.
The sincerest art is on the streets, and you don’t need to buy a ticket to see it. And you can enjoy street art while you tour various locations in Paris. Here are a few suggestions.
CENTRE (4TH ARRONDISSEMENT)
In the very centre of Paris, in the immediate vicinity of the Pompidou Centre, on the square Igor Stravinsky Place, is a huge mural measuring 350 square metres and entitled Chuuuttt! (meaning Ssshhh or hush). It was authored by artist Jef Aérosol, who painted the face of a man with a finger to his lips, with this gesture calling on passers-by to pay attention to the sounds of life surrounding them. From this part of the city on the road to the Jewish quarter, Notre Dame Cathedral and further across the Seine to the Latin Quarter and the famous Saint Germain, you will enjoy numerous traces that have been left by artists on the city’s walls – from fine details that often fit into existing architecture, to larger murals. These works are often created and disappear overnight, but that is where their beauty lies – you see them while they are still there and enjoy discovering new ones. If you are a fan of the character and work of Serge Gainsbourg, one of the most famous French artists of the 20th century, you should certainly take a walk down the street Rue de Verneuil. Here is the house in which Gainsbourg lived until his death in 1991, and its walls represent an open book which his fans still sign today and thus pay tribute to him.
BELLEVILLE (20TH ARRONDISSEMENT)
In the eastern part of the city, in the districts of Oberkampf, Belleville and Ménilmontant, street art is visible at every step. And in these parts of the city, there are numerous cafés, bookshops, a Chinese quarter with authentic restaurants and shops with Asian assortments, the house in front of which Édith Piaf was born and the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Head along Rue Oberkampf to the Boulevard de Belleville, then beside the famous Aux Folies café you can enjoy the passage of Rue Denoyez, which is full of interesting works. From there to Ménilmontant and Pere Lachaise Cemetery, you will uncover artworks on the walls of buildings.
In the last few years, the 13th Arrondissement, with the support of the City and Municipality, has become a true open-air gallery. Near the Nationale metro station, there are over 40 large murals that cover the walls of the kinds of multi-storey buildings that you will not see in the centre, and thus where you will not see works of this size. The world’s most famous street artists have decorated these walls, and you will undoubtedly be impressed by their size, the topics they address and their details. From 2009 to date, some 22 artists have decorated the walls of this part of the city, while visitors can visit the website of the 13th arrondissement to download a map showing exact addresses and embark on their hunt for these masterpieces. The streets around the National Library, which houses an archive of all works published in France, are particularly flamboyantly painted. This part of the city also includes the gallery and shop of Le Lavo//matik where you can find street art books, prints and framed works, while the adjacent wall is full of the works of various artists.
MONTMARTRE (18TH ARRONDISSEMENT)
Touring this part of Paris is obligatory. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Sacré-Coeur), Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge, while on the streets there is art… everywhere… on every corner, wall, staircase, on window, bench etc. You will enjoy yourself whichever passage you choose to head down from the cathedral, but best let your route include Le passage des Abbesses, which is a true treasure trove of artistic works, social messages and critiques of contemporary society. In the vicinity of the passage, there is also the Wall of Love (Le Mur des Je T’aime) on Jehan Rictus Square. This wall is the combined work of artists Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito. Here the statement ‘I love you’ is written in almost all world languages and dialects. Above the wall is a femme fatale saying: “Love is a disorder … and so we love!” (Aimer c’est du désordre … alors aimons!). In the 18th arrondissement, a few metro stations away from Pigalle, near Marx Dormoy station, there is a place for lovers of the street art, L’ Aerosol. Here everybody – from children to adults – can try their hand at drawing on walls and show their artistic prowess without fear of punishment. This place, which includes a workshop for spray paints and a gallery of street art, is where families and young people gather, where they enjoy drinks, pancakes, rollerblading and decorating walls.
One of the most engaged French artists on the streets of Paris is the author Space Invader, who has been active since 1998. His works are recognisable by his specific style – he uses tiles to create pixelated characters, inspired by the graphics of computer games from the 1980s. Miss Tic is a Parisienne artist famous for patterns of dark-skinned women and poetry that are often seen on the streets of the capital.
AUTHOR: Jelena Popovic Djordjevic
PHOTO: Aleksandar Djordjevic
Jelena and Aleksandar spent a month in Paris, where they presented the book “Street Art Belgrade” and organised the exhibition “Face au Mur”.
This text has been published in the November issue of ELEVATE magazine, the in-flight magazine of the Air Serbia company.