Since starting to write Urban Kultur Blog over a year and a half ago, I’ve spent time in some of Europe and North America’s most renowned cities for street art. Berlin, London & New York, for example, had all been scored off the list, in some cases more than once. Yet Paris remained unexplored.
Sometimes a city whose tourism persona revolves around romantic breaks, a playground for the hopelessly in love, doesn’t immediately scream and shout ‘underground culture’…sometimes it’s the quiet ones you need to watch for.
Beyond the familiar sights of the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, and Sacre Coeur, in the cities grittier neighbourhoods less visited by the ‘long-weekenders’, lay some of Europe’s most respected street art. All notions of romance are put on hold while digging into the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements to root out the city’s prime artwork.
It can be easy to become bogged down in the same culture and artists specific to certain cities. So as an outsider of the Parisian scene, coming into contact with it in person for the first time, it was great to experience some new art and artists first hand. Here are just 5 of the many artists that I really enjoyed discovering, or in some cases revisiting, in Paris.
As one of a small group of female street artists working in the French/Parisian scene at the moment, and even fewer operating with a delicate moustache, Kashink’s work refuses to go unnoticed.
Her characters, usually men, “preferably fat and hairy, looking like badass yet sensitive gangsters, alien-looking ogres, or shamans from ancient tribes” are unmistakably hers. Similar in their vibrancy, vividness and immediate likeability to the work of Mr Penfold and Malarky, but with the clear influence from Frida Kahlo’s work, most notably through her inclusion of references to Amerindian and Mexican culture.
Despite the playful appearance of her paintings, her recent mural at the Canal St Martin in support of proposed same sex marriage laws showed that she’s not afraid of tackling current affairs through her art.
Her work commands the space it appears in with its vibrancy.
2. Le MoDuLe De Zeer
Le MoDuLe De Zeer (LMDLDZR) is an artist whose creations I had never previously crossed paths with. However, his work has seen wider audiences in Europe and North America as part of his citywide tic-tac-toe series.
His designs are simplistic, but masterful in their composition. What appear to be futuristic style machinery components merge into one another, with a melange of stark black lines emerging.
With every refocus, a previously unseen element emerges and forces another adjustment in perspective. Le MoDuLe De Zeer’s art keeps on working, pulling you in and refusing to let go.
Having initially discovered Ludo’s art through his “co-branding” project where prime advertising hoarding locations in cities throughout Europe were hi-jacked and his collage work inserted, I’d made sure to keep an eye out for more from this popular underground figurehead.
Since moving on from that project, the majority of his art explores the theme of ‘nature’s revenge’ by creating a collage composed of nature’s elegance and the uncompromising harshness of technology (often war technology), diversifying nature into something more mechanical, brutal and industrial. Part of what makes it special is that it starts a dialogue with passers-by, shaking them with his message in trademark nuclear ‘Ludo’ green and grey.
People who aren’t necessarily interested in street art can be drawn into the ‘conversation’, while others can stand and admire the art for what it is. It’s street art for everyone, even if the intended argument is not one with which they fully agree.
4. Space Invader
While it can be rewarding and interesting to be drawn into discussion over the themes and messages of street art (I’m guilty for over analysing, can you tell?), work with a light-hearted outlook is often just as satisfying to discover and see in person. Chances are your city has been invaded by the 8-bit creations of Invader, now a global phenomenon.
Space Invader (the alleged cousin of Thierry Guetta aka Mr Brainwash, featured in Banksy’s feature film, ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’) first set Tomohiro Nishikado’s 70s video-game inspired aliens free in Paris during the late 90s, and have dominated global street art since.
Part of what endears me, and possibly others, to these tile mosaics is the enjoyment of finding them, it feels like an achievement to spot them, and know their background. It garners a notion of being ‘in on’ the story, or one of the group, as others wander by oblivious.
5. Jérôme Mesnager
As far as veterans of street art go, Jérôme Mesnager can be considered one of a handful of pioneers of street art, not just in Paris, but worldwide, active since the early 80s.
His name is stands side by side with the likes of Blek le Rat (often cited as a heavy inspiration of Banksy’s stencil style), JR and Jef Aerosol. From a personal point of view, I felt that it was his work, both on street-level and in the large scale ‘C’est nous les gars de Ménilmontant mural, helped to distinguish Parisian street art from that of London or Berlin.
His art is subtle, almost classical, and uncomplicated yet the white man – a symbol of ‘light, strength and peace’ – is still formidable after all this time. UKB