Do you know its art when you see it? What makes it art? What makes it vandalism? If it happened a long time ago, is it art? Like these carvings on the side of St. Pierre in Senlis?What about newer carvings on walls like this carving on a wall in Belleville?And old doesn’t even make it necessarily interesting. The defacement of this statue on the tomb of King Louis XII and Anne of Bretagne at St. Denis may have happened as early as the French revolution — but is appalling to this day.Does it depend on where it is or how beautifully drawn it is? Is some of this art and some of it vandalism?Does political or cultural expression make it art? Or is it the intent of the artist?There is a lot of distressing and ugly graffiti in Paris which like graffiti anywhere creates a sense of chaos and despair. I see something like this and I don’t think ‘artist’, I think ‘nihilistic loser’. It is always easier to destroy than create.While there is a lot of ugliness and chaos, there is also a vibrant street art culture in Paris. It is perhaps most fully expressed in the working class areas of Belleville which stretch across parts of the 19th and 20th arrondisement. A number of artists have settled in this area and among them are several who produce signed masterpieces on city walls. I have run across a number of interesting paintings in my travels to various parts of the city like this mural in the 11th. And I have found it out of the city including this path along the Seine near Villeneuve Triage (the guinguette post of June 27).But ground zero for street art is Belleville in the northeast of Paris. I would never have discovered the richness of the material in Belleville without an excellent self guided walking tour published at: http://freepariswalks.com/walk3.aspx
The walk I took began at the Telegraph metro, the highest point in Paris and the first piece of wall art was just down the street.These stick like figures are a motif produced with stenciling by Jerome Mesnager and which he has incorporated into street art and more traditional paintings around the world. http://mesnagerjerome.free.fr
One of the hazards of making the world your palette is that others may choose to express themselves on it.The stick man crops up here and there including this trompe d’oiel scene on an obscure street near Parc Belleville.There is a profusion of quite varied artistic expression in this neighborhood. It ranges from whimsical (by Nemo)to darkto inspiringAnd back to whimsical.The walk led me through streets of Belleville (all downhill:) and gave focus to a stroll through a distinctive part of the city.It led past a number of very public tableau like this wall by a garden — which was once filled with whimsical figures that are now made ugly with tagging.The path leads down main streets, but also into little allees into which tourists seldom venture. Here is a little city unto itself: Cite Le Roi. Paris has a lot of these surprising little neighborhoods which crop up here and there as country lanes in otherwise dense urban neighborhoods of six story buildings.The ghost whisperer stands guard at the entrance to a green leafy back alley. The allee begins with verdant green but will end in a burst of color.There are lovely little niches along the way.And then an explosion of art? Graffiti? You be the judge.Just around the corner was one of my favoritesContinuing down streets and alleys near Parc Belleville there were a number of powerful images. Some of them are like easter eggs — little treasures tucked her or there. Many of them are animals from the ‘zoo project’. And some of these animals or cartoon figures are in spots like this construction site where they don’t last long.Perhaps the most impressive piece is this dramatic mural by Jean Le Gac, at Place Frehel; even this acknowledged city treasure does not escape being marred by graffiti. This is a detective searching for clues. In one neighborhood shopkeepers have embraced the genre and it is hard to tell store hype from from graffiti from street art. Rue Denoyez merchants have decided to incorporate the art into their sidewalk cafes and businesses. One enters by these warriors, proceeds past the tongue and can enjoy a drink by this hint of revolution or someone’s ‘blue period.’There are dozens more stunning pieces just in this area and there hundreds more angry ugly swaths of chaos all over the city. Art? Vandalism? On balance it feels good to me. Who cannot smile when turning the corner to glimpse this charming fossil?