The urban art scene in Paris
The tour and how kids can get involved
Tourists flock to Paris to soak up the culture and admire the art on display, in the city’s greatest and most beautiful museums. However, some may be unaware of the creative explosion of artistic talent, that can be enjoyed en plein air across Paris. Using the walls of the city as a blank canvas, talented graffiti artists have been projecting their point of view for years. As their work gathers critical acclaim, the interest and excitement surrounding the scene is building momentum.
In an effort to ascertain the story behind this rise of creative talent and explore the scene further, Mama Loves Paris had the pleasure of participating in a tour by Street Art Paris, the leading tour group for urban art in Paris. Here’s what MLP discovered.
MLP took the tour that not only planned the perfect route but was also led by an extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide! At least 20 of us gathered in the 11th district, the birthplace of urban art in Paris, for the start of the walk. It would take just over two hours and introduce the raison d’etre and motivation of the talent living in the surrounding neighbourhood where we stood. At this point, it’s important to share with you that having not really ‘done’ tours, preferring to use books and stroll at a leisurely pace in whichever district, I didn’t really know what to expect.
Within minutes of this tour however, the expansive knowledge and the incredible insight that was being shared went beyond expectation. Virginie (the tour guide) was so well acquainted with her subject matter, it felt as though she spent her evenings with these artists. She shared inside information about them, that clearly wasn’t common knowledge which added so much value to the experience. I don’t want to give too much away to you but what can be said is that, the history documenting the rise of the urban art scene, out of the underclass of Paris is fascinating. The subsequent explosion of creative voices, now revered, each expressing themselves using different styles, formats, techniques and materials, is just as intriguing and inspiring as any exhibition you would see in the Louvre or the Museum of Modern Art.
There are two core districts in Paris where one can see most of the work on display, but without the narrative, they are just a series of beautiful works of art – paintings with no back story. In the trendy village of Belleville the tour begins in front of Le Mur, an old poster site turned over to graffiti artists, who showcase their work there twice per month. As an artform dodging the law, getting the city council to agree to fund this open installation was a breakthrough. Twice per month an urban artist is commissioned to fill Le Mur with something special. For 15 years it was a billboard for ads and now, it’s for the street art Paris collective.
Next to Le Mur is a terraced café, that one might describe as an outdoor auditorium, where curious onlookers sit to watch the work in progress, weather permitting. So far over 200 artworks have been displayed here and it provided the perfect starting point for the tour which eventually meandered through three districts of the city. Virginie led us through Parisian streets that one would perhaps have previously ignored, alleyways that we might have avoided. She forced us to grasp creativity, stories & self-expression in defaced spaces that we may have considered as mindless scribble or urban decay.
From the tops of buildings to corners of obscure streets, hundreds of images filled our frame of reference. Some tagged with competitive or local dissenters – like the artwork above, produced by the only female graffiti artist in Paris – Kashink The standard of artistry was breathtaking. Being informed that the talent behind much of what we were seeing were now critically acclaimed, was no surprise. A favourite, introduced on the tour called Seth aka Julien Malland, is internationally renowned. Born in Paris in 1972 many of his original works did not show faces because, as we discovered, he was still trying to perfect the art of ‘la visage‘.
His work is widely displayed in Paris and also features in an amphitheatre in the north of the city.
Some works were beautiful in their aesthetic, others more gritty and blunt in form.
From pop graffiti to brush paintings and stickers, Virginie covered it all with enthusiasm. So much so that if she had extended the tour by a further hour, none of us would have complained, we were mesmerised by what she was teaching and showing us. I was thinking how much the children would be inspired by this tour but also mindful that their little legs wouldn’t be able to cover the ground without complaint. So it was wonderful to find out that the Street Art Tour team have an initiative designed specifically for kids, that not only informs them of this scene in Paris, but gives them the chance to create their own art!
I asked them to tell MLP more about it and this is what they sent me.
“Our purpose is to propose to our participants to live a unique adventure by joining our workshops and to be, for one day, the actors of the graffiti world. Since its launch in 2012, Streetartparis.fr has been very well received by children and families, especially for our workshops. Indeed, our workshops are a great activity for team building but also to develop each participant’s creativity. During this fun experience, parents often discover another part of the personality of their children and vice versa. It is a different way to strengthen ties between all the family members and a good way to meet new people. (This is a link about our workshops.)”
We welcome children from the age of 6-7 and our workshops take place in Bercy Skate Parc. As a first step, all the participants brainstorm together and start to draw their ideas on paper. After that, the instructor helps this new team to work together and to create a beautiful wall with all their ideas. The instructors are used to work with children and teenagers.
Feel free to contact them on +33 9 50 75 19 92 and don’t forget to mention Mama Loves Paris!
The workshops take place on the first Sunday of every month at 10am but they can also arrange private workshops for families every day of the year.
The public workshops are €35/person and the price for private workshops depends on how many participants they have. The workshops are 2 – 3 hours long, the instructors speak English and they can welcome about 25 people per workshop.The dates for the next public workshops are August 7 and September 4.
The Street Art Paris tour is a great option if you want to know more about the urban art scene in this town. They recently started another tour covering the Left Bank of Paris, so that is next on our bucket list. There are other tours like this in the city but this being my first, it sets a very hight standard.
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