If Paris is home to a treasure trove of artwork, and the inspiration for artists over the centuries, during our meanderings it soon became apparent that it’s also home to a wealth of the art world’s poor cousin, the art of the street. The city is filled with a huge variety of work by numerous street artists, enlivening grubby buildings and dark corners across Paris … and providing proof that the City of Lights is still the inspiration for subversive art.
To be fair, street art is increasingly mainstream, and some street artists are definitely more financially successful than Vincent van Gogh was in his lifetime. For all the street art that has crossed over into public art though, mostly it remains the preserve of those working in the shadows.
We saw a lot of wheatpaste art works – where the artist creates a piece of work on paper and sticks it to a wall with a mixture of flour and water. Very practical and also bio-degradable. Much of this type of work was by street art collective, Le Mouvement. Their work can be seen just about everywhere in Paris, frequently featuring normal Parisian couples underneath umbrellas.
The work of ‘Invader’ was all over the city. It’s very distinctive. Mosaics made from ceramic tiles become pixellated 1980s-style computer game images. Early game motifs – Pac Man ghosts and Space Invader aliens – appear in odd places. Occasionally, you see other styles, like a woman in red underwear on a balcony. He once sold a piece of work for $250,000, which subverts the perspective of what you’re seeing.
Generally, I think street art is a positive force for making the cityscape more attractive, but I know that many people view it as akin to vandalism. This debate makes the crossover from graffiti to public art all the more interesting, and in Paris it’s clear that businesses are beginning to see the benefit of commissioning street artists to beautify their buildings. Long may that continue.