Paris: Graffiti Paradis

I worked out it had been 25 years since I last visited Paris — it was a Sixth Form school trip so my memories are pretty vague anyway — so I decided that as part of my break from work to de-stress a bit I’d give it a go.

I had two main reasons;

(1) I wanted to try out Eurostar — 20 odd years after everybody else 🙂

(2) I’d been reading a lot about the Paris street-art scene so I wanted to check that out.

Anything above and beyond that would be a bonus and it meant not having to stress about flying.

I stayed in a nicer than usual (for me)boutique hotel not far from Gard du Nord called Hotel Paradis (which I basically pronounce like Vanessa Paradis as you’d suspect). The staff spoke brilliant English and the room was lovely. The great, free wifi didn’t hurt.

Directly opposite there was a wonderful bar called Les Petites Écuries which again had great staff who didn’t laugh too hard at my attempts to order in French. The place had this cool vertical garden thing going on as well on the walls.

The area around the station was a bit rough and two things stood out — the traffic is insane, worse than London or pretty much anywhere I’ve visited and there were a lot of homeless/beggars — some of whom were a bit aggressive.

The main goal on the Tuesday was to visit Rue Denoyez in Belleville which is a well established graffiti spot. I decided to walk as it didn’t seem far (it was) and it looked like a good way to see a bit of the ‘real’ Paris.

If I’m honest the spot was a bit of a let down — smaller and less impressive than other blogposts would have you believe — though I guess for these sorts of things once you’ve been to 5Pointz they often seem small fry (not to mention our own See No Evil and Upfest). Still I got some nice pics.

I spent the afternoon wandering the Latin Quarter via a closed Pompidou Centre (oops!) and Notre Dame (where I had NEVER seem queues like it!). I enjoyed following a literary trail recommended in a guide book and seeing the haunts of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and it was fun browsing in Shakespeare & Co. The Sorbonne was a let down given how private the place was and I got a bit lost looking for Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits but finding a brilliant comic book store, Album, somewhat dulled the pain and I enjoyed a picnic in Luxembourg Park (how Parisian!)

On the Wednesday I set out for the 13th Arrondissement — apparently a formerly slightly rough suburb of Paris which is now basically a mass street art gallery. I successfully managed the Metro to get there and the sun came out (the Tuesday was pretty gloomy) and I spent a couple of hours wandering the streets looking for paintings. I was not disappointed.

There is apparently a load more that I didn’t discover but two hours was plenty of wandering about in the sun on this occasion. The amazing thing was the sheer scale of the pieces — it really was breath taking.

After taking another unplanned Metro detour on the way to the Eiffel Tower (just to do a little something traditional) I spotted a poster for an exhibition of graffiti on canvas from the 70s/80s/90s including some works from Jean-Michel Basquiat so after a bit of Google Map action off I trundled on another Metro line in search of the gallery.

Paris is famous in graffiti/street art circles for being the first place in the established art world to view it as anything more than vandalism and a passing fad. A lot of the artists showcased in Subway Art and on Style Wars found themselves traveling to Paris in the 80s and a number of them stayed.

The exhibition was amazing — with works from pioneers like Taki 183, Blade, Crash, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones (Zorro in the movie Wild Style as well as the artist behind the first piece I ever saw — in the Buffalo Gals video from Malcolm McClaren) and Fab 5 Freddie alongside works from the artists who moved things on from the street like Basquiat, Rammellzee, Futura 2000 as well as one of my all time favourites Mode 2. I even bought the exhibition programme even though it was in French!

All in all I really enjoyed the trip — the Eurostar experience was mixed thanks to the additional security measures which led to huge queues but otherwise it was pretty much plain sailing. It turned out I remembered just enough French from school to work out the basics of things but not enough to avoid embarrassment when trying to speak it. Still people seemed to appreciate my, weak, efforts.

Berlin next I think. I seem to remember a big wall there with a few paintings : )

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