I’m a big fan of street art, and the place I know best is the city where I first discovered just how great street art can be: Paris, bien sûr! Come along with me to visit my own piece of Parisian street art, and to see some art I photographed this past June.
Above: a gorgeous, larger-than-life bison wall mural in the 12th arrondissement. I had trouble finding the artist’s name, but my friend Dan found it: he is Ruben Carrasco.
My first glimpse
It all started 11 years ago, when my husband Dale and I enjoyed a blissful two weeks in Paris. The day we arrived, we left the métro station and walked with our luggage toward the apartment we’d rented. Along the way, we spotted something high on a corner of one building: there was a small patch of colorful tiles, with a picture of a character from an early video game. Dale took a photo of it and posted it to his Facebook page, asking if anyone could identify it. His sister Kathy responded quickly, telling us that this was an installation by the street artist Invader. We were immediately hooked. During those two weeks in Paris, we noticed and photographed a lot more street art. On our return home, I was tickled to be able to identify most of the artists.
Street art is still technically illegal in Paris, but it’s largely tolerated. The police continue to keep giant binders full of photos and information about the different artists, both as evidence of this highly ephemeral art, and also in the hope of identifying and possibly nabbing the artists. Thus, nearly all of them use aliases, and some have become quite famous, like Banksy.
There was a Banksy exhibit near our apartment in Paris, so one day a couple of us went to see what was there. How do you have an exhibit of street art inside a building? You put up walls to resemble the originals and have street artists come in to paint replicas. Thus, the above Girl with Balloon looks very much like the first one Banksy produced in 2002. Among many others, there was also a replica of The Segregation Wall in Gaza and of the Banksy original Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem. Like many artists, and especially street artists, Banksy uses his art to raise awareness and to encourage people to think.
My own piece of street art in Paris
Back to that trip to Paris in 2011, when we noticed a lot of decorated plaster masks of someone’s face, stuck to walls all over the city. I later learned this was the work of Gregos, who had made a plaster cast of his face, painted it, and stuck it to a wall. An idea was born, and he installed a lot of these masks, each unique; two more casts came later, with different facial expressions.
I also learned that the plaster casts were available for sale, undecorated. We could buy one and paint it ourselves, and we even had the option of mailing it back to him to put on a wall somewhere in Paris.
We both thought this was a splendid idea, so we ordered the mask. We never got around to decorating it, though, and two years later my husband died. Some time after that, I was pondering a trip to Paris to study French, and I remembered our mask. I contacted Gregos to see if he’d be in town when I was there, and he said yes, and he’d be happy to install my mask. So I got to work figuring out what I wanted to do with it.
When I arrived in Paris, I contacted Gregos, and we met the next day, on the street near where my classes were held. I handed over the mask and was about to ask if he would let me know later where he had put it, when he asked if I’d like to accompany him for the installation. Are you kidding me? I absolutely wanted to go. So we picked a neighborhood and we met later that night at a métro exit.
The neighborhood we selected was the one where Dale and I had stayed a few years earlier, the 5th arrondissement, near Place Monge. It has the nice connection to us, and it’s also full of street art. I exited the métro at 10:00 pm and it was still light; I was surprised that Gregos was willing to go ahead with this plan during what was effectively daylight. But he was enthusiastic about the whole project and threw himself into it like a gleeful child.
We strolled around the neighborhood, looking for an ideal place. I was intrigued to witness the thought process of a street artist: his main interest was to find a wall where my mask would have good visibility and a low likelihood of being vandalized. Alas, we did well on one count but utterly failed with the other. I’m OK with it, though, because it’s such a great story.
I adore the work of Clet Abraham, one of the few who goes by his real name. Clet was born and reared in France, and now lives in Florence, Italy. Around ten years ago, he began adding humorous details to traffic signs in Florence, a project whose great popularity probably helped save him from the wrath of the civil authorities—well, most of the time. Clet has been able to show that his additions don’t interfere with the meaning of the signs, and that residents and tourists alike appreciate the wit and humor. He points out that traffic signs in big cities tend to become invisible, and making them into little works of art actually calls more attention to them.
The last time I was in Florence, I paid a visit to his gallery, in the San Niccolò neighborhood, and had the pleasure of meeting him. He’s a gracious man with a sweet smile, and it’s clear that he’s happy to have fans who appreciate his creations. I was pleased to see that he has begun making installations in Paris, too!
I first noticed the painted windows at my grocery store during my first Christmas in this area. The store hires an artist and her assistant to decorate the windows at the entrance, and also just inside the building, and each year the paintings are fun and festive. I’ve shared photos of them in this blog. There is often art commemorating other seasons, too, although I haven’t found those to be as interesting. But this year’s decorations for summertime are really wonderful, and I’m here to share them with you.
Here are the two exterior windows, on either side of the double doors leading into the store. I didn’t photograph them straight-on because there are trash cans partially blocking the scene on each side.
It’s mid-August, and the calendar says that summer is winding down, but the thermometer has yet to receive the message. I hope that wherever this finds you, you’re safe and healthy and enjoying the season.