- 25, Oct 2018
- All things Paris
- Rupert Comer
When you think of Paris as a place of culture, you think museums, galleries, restaurants. But something that often goes unnoticed is the city’s vibrant street art scene. Forget the Louvre, the streets are Paris’ largest gallery, and touring the many murals throughout the city is a brilliant way to get to know exciting neighbourhoods that might otherwise go ignored. Graffiti culture in Paris goes way beyond ugly tags on walls alongside railway tracks, and in more recent years has come to be respected as a legitimate art, with many French “graffeurs” having their work displayed in prestigious galleries. Here’s our guide to all the graffiti artists, young and old, who have each in their own way shaped the Parisian scene.
Probably Paris’ best known graffiti artist, street corners all over the city are covered with his small video-game inspired mosaics. Taking his name from the old-school arcade game Space Invaders, Invader brings together the old and the new by making reference to 8-bit pixels with his square ceramic tiles. A style that is instantly recognisable, look out for his works particularly next to street signs in the city. The artist views his mosaics as ‘invasions’ of the urban landscape, almost like a virus, and they often make reference to the street name or symbolism of the place where they are found.
JR’s project at the Pantheon
Starting out as a graffiti artist as a teenager in Paris, JR changed his direction after finding a camera in the Metro. He now mixes photography and street art, pasting huge black and white portraits of his subjects onto buildings across the world. These anonymous portraits aim to give a voice to marginalised and forgotten communities, and often interact creatively with the spaces they occupy. His past work includes covering the Louvre Pyramid, plastering the inside of the Pantheon and projecting his photographs onto the facade of the National Assembly. He has even co-directed an Academy Award nominated documentary called Faces Places, with veteran French filmmaker Agnès Varda. This playful collaboration shows the two artists travelling in a van across rural France, photographing the people they meet along the way.
While most use a spray can or stencil, this street artist opts for the more traditional paintbrush. Kraken only ever paints in black, and his subject (as the name suggests) is always a tentacled octopus that seems to swim through the walls it is painted on. This squirmy character has become a common sight in the city, and can sometimes be seen interacting with the work of other artists, or climbing the stairs of a building, for example. Kraken even once used it to try and seduce a girl, adding the caption “Kraken je t’aime”, which apparently worked very well.
“It's complicated becoming simple.”
Part of Paris’ first generation of graffiti artists, Miss.Tic made a name for herself with her black and white stencils of female characters, a style not dissimilar from that of Banksy (and developed many years before him). Her paintings are often accompanied by poetic (albeit slightly cliché) aphorisms as well as her characteristic signature. Within a scene too often dominated by male artists, Miss.Tic plays with female stereotypes. Her female figures represent the way women are treated in magazines and advertising, where their attractiveness is exploited to sell products. Rather than promoting such images, Miss.Tic instead invites the viewer to question what they see.
Kashink’s bright colour palette and interweaving images take their inspiration from Mexican art, and it is no surprise that this female street artist often cites Frida Kahlo as a major influence. Whereas Kahlo was known for her characteristic unibrow, Kashink dons a mustache she draws on herself. Her murals, too, often challenge ideas about gender, identity and sexuality, with their typical four-eyed androgynous characters, inviting the viewer to make their own interpretation. Kashink’s art is also strongly rooted in activism. In 2012 she was shocked by protests in France against marriage for all, and so decided to come up with the project 50 Cakes of Gay, painting over 300 cakes across the world in support of the gay community.
While certainly not a Paris native, Banksy was greatly influenced by the street art scene here (particularly artist Blek le Rat), and has recently made his mark on the city with a series of around a dozen paintings commemorating the 50th anniversary of France’s 1968 May Events. With his typical ironic humour and minimalistic stencils, Banksy makes clever comments on current political debates in France. A painting of a young, homeless refugee criticizes France’s harsh stance on immigration, and an image of Napoleon covered in a headscarf highlights controversy over the banning of the burqa. Banksy has aimed to capture the rebellious spirit of the students who took to the streets of Paris in 1968, and several of his new works can be found in the Latin Quarter, where many of their protests took place. Follow this link to find a comprehensive map of Banksy’s work in Paris.
Honet is certainly not the biggest name in the Paris street art world, but he is one of its most prolific and long-standing muralists, starting out his graffiti career in 1988. When he is not out painting in the streets, Honet works as an illustrator, and the characters in his murals take their inspiration from cartoons and comic books, borrowing the same endearing simplicity as illustrations found in children’s books. His style is minimalistic, and many of his works use only a handful of colours. While many street artists go for shocking and self-evident political messages, Honet’s work is heavily charged with symbolism and has a timeless feel.
For over a decade Parisians have been grappling with the following question: who is John Hamon? A master of self-promotion, this infamous artist has built around himself a cult of personality by plastering the streets of Paris with the simple image of his smug face. Strolling through the city, it does not take long to stumble across one of the many variations of this iconic poster, and it has even been projected onto the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. The mystery and allure that Hamon has managed to create through this one picture, says something interesting about our natural curiosity, as well as the power of promotion and publicity in the world of art.
C215 (Christian Guémy)
Making a name for himself in Ivry-sur-Seine, in the southern suburbs of Paris, street artist C215 paints vibrant stencilled portraits complemented by free-flowing lines. While Ivry may be well outside of the traditional tourist circuit, it is a huge centre for street art and C215’s colourful paintings can be seen on post boxes and walls throughout the town. More recently, the artist has also collaborated with the Pantheon, painting the various famous figures who were buried there, in the surrounding 5th arrondissement. Victor Hugo, Louis Braille and Marie Curie, are among some of the portraits he produced for the project, and this map will show you the rest, a great opportunity to rediscover some of the people who shaped the history of France.
Whether you're strolling through a new neighborhood to discover Parisian street art, or wandering the halls of a Paris museum taking in the classic and contemporary pieces, artwork in Paris is abundant. From the streets to the stage, Paris is simply full of artists of all kinds. Our recommendation? After hitting the streets, head inside to one of the hundreds of Parisian playhouses to see a performing artists for yourself!