Street Art in Paris

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.

“Girl with Balloon” first appeared at Waterloo Bridge in London in 2002. It is no longer there. Next to the art, Banksy wrote “There is always hope.” Banksy has created many variations of this piece, such as a Syrian girl with a gold balloon to raise awareness about the years-long conflict in that region. In 2018, a print of the original “Girl with Balloon” sold at a Sotheby’s auction, and as soon as the gavel came down, a tiny shredder built into the frame began to shred the print. The buyer bought it anyway, for nearly $1.4 million (and the value immediately skyrocketed).

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.

“Season’s Greetings,” when viewed only from the right-hand side, looks like the very image of a happy kid playing in the snow. But by stepping to the left, the viewer can see that the ”snow” is ash coming from a burning rubbish bin. This piece was originally done in 2018, in the Welsh town of Port Talbot, at one point named the most-polluted city in the U.K.

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.

Here is Gregos’ plain plaster mask as it arrived to us in 2012. At right, the mask with my decoration: a theatrical tragedy/comedy mask, painted in the colors from our wedding.

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.

Left, the mask shortly after it was installed in 2016. Right, I guess someone took exception to my mask, because it was damaged almost immediately. This photo is from June 2021.

The wit and humor of Clet Abraham, seen on “Do Not Enter” signs in Paris.

More artists
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!


Jérôme Mesnager is another of my favorites. In 1983 he began making these white figures, in a form that crosses a skeleton with muscles; the figure is always facing away from the viewer. Mesnager says that his “Men in White” are figures of light, strength and peace, and they can usually be found doing happy things like dancing, swimming, or reaching for the stars.
I learned that Mesnager’s studio is open for visits, so we all went to see what there was to see. There was a lot of work on found objects, like the piece on the left. I don’t know what that thing is, but he made use of the round red bit, morphing it into a big wheel for his Men in White to turn. The work on the right was on a door we passed while out walking.

The concrete installation on the left is by Los Angeles-based artist Kai. He created his figure, named IF (Imaginary Friend), to be a character of no particular race, color or sex, to bring messages of love, happiness and success. The intricate wheatpaste portrait on the right is by an artist whose name I cannot find. I’ve seen other works by the same artist around Paris.
Left, I love the wit of matching the three monkeys with the street name, which translates to “Street of the Three Brothers.” Right, a large Invader installation of Donald Daffy Duck (thanks for catching that, Carol!). Invader has created a database of every one of his installations, and followed that up by developing a sort of Invader scavenger hunt game. Each installation is worth from 10 to 100 points; this one was worth 100 points! The app is called FlashInvaders, and the leading scorer has found 3,008 installations for a total of 88,890 points. I, on the other end of the scoring, have 3,210 points for my 88 discoveries.
Mosko is an artist who uses stencils to add animals to what he views as a desolate cityscape. His works are fairly intricate, usually quite large, and really lovely.
Olivier and I had some fun with this trompe-l’oeil installation by Parisian street artist JR. We decided to take each others’ photos to look as if we were falling backwards into the chasm beneath the Eiffel Tower. Olivier did a great pose, and I like his shadow, too.

Parting shot
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.



7 thoughts on “Street Art in Paris”

    1. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the square and saw first a wolf, and then a bison! Thanks for writing, Jean! I hope you’re keeping cool. Be well, Lynne

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I find it a bit strange to choose bison. Maybe they existed millenia ago. It would be an equivalent of a mural artist painting a giraffe or African lion outdoor mural in Canada. Thematically it seems out of synch with our natural history though there was a prehistoric camel that existed in Alberta. But that’s dinosaur era! The public murals in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary feature animals you normally find in Canada. Ok, maybe polar bear isn’t found in our region. But they exist plenty in Canada’s Arctic.

        Like

  1. Jean, I’m pretty sure that the wolf and the bison were commissioned works. Not commissioned are the installations by Mosko (see the leopard in my post), who does beautiful stencils of animals of the African savannah, seen all over Paris.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Trisha Ray Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.