July 31, 2012

STREET ART PARIS Here at Urban, we’re about as addicted to street art as we are to bands we’ve never heard of and secret underground cafes where you eat wearing a blindfold. Heads up, that’s a lot. So hearing that the street art scene in Paris was lively and begging for a visit was like music to our ears. It was in the hip hands of Alternative Paris that we were shown the highlights and hotspots of one of the world’s most fast-paced and precarious cities for street art. We could even see through our wayfarers that Paris, a notoriously arty city, attracts a huge range of international street artists from Space Invader to C215. By the end of the tour, we were enthralled and overwhelmed by the creative talent we had discovered on the streets of Paris. Not quite so overwhelmed that we couldn’t manage a crepe, though. And we even managed to grab street art expert Demian Smith for a cheeky Q&A…


How did you get into street art?
After a trip to Tel Aviv in which I discovered a thriving street art scene, I began to paint graffiti in the late ‘90s with the RareKind crew in London, whilst being a professional journalist. After uni and ending up working as a finance journalist, I sort of freaked out and started leading street art tours around Brick Lane in London. Prior to this, I owned the Frisson Gallery exhibition space and graffiti and music shop, and taught spray-can art and silk-screen printing to young under-privileged people. Having the gallery exposed me to street art and the scene that was bubbling away in London. As part of my degree I was allowed to study another subject, so I made a campaign of street art which I exhibited indoors as a series of photographs.

Why do you think that Paris is such a hotbed for it?
London is the best place in the world for street art at the moment, because of its commercial scene. In London it is confined to a very small area around Brick Lane. The French have a much more laissez-faire attitude to street art than Londoners, and while the overall quality here is perhaps not as high because artists aren’t as focused on the art gallery market, there’s far more of it to be found. You have politician’s here as well who see the benefits of giving street artists a platform.


Who’re your favourite street artists?
My favourite French street artists are probably Gérard Zlotykamien and Ernest Pignon-Ernest, both no longer making work on the streets. I must mention Zoo Project, whose work can be seen all around Belleville and the 20th arrondissement – the main artistic quarter of Paris. Another favourite is Horfe, who has developed a very authentic take on traditional graffiti, and whose work is in practically every train tunnel, on the side of every truck, and on every rooftop in Paris. Then, of course, there’s Paris’ number one street artist, Space Invader, who last year celebrated his thousandthspace invader mosaic put up in Paris. He’s considered by Parisians as a national treasure, kind of like Banksy in the UK.


If you had to pick one artwork as a favourite, which would it be?
Across from my girlfriend’s apartment is a disused railway line. Underneath the boutique hotel and restaurant, Mama’s Shelter, you’ll find this gift from baby Jesus himself, painted by Zoo Project.

Where are your Parisian street art hotspots?
Belleville is the main artistic quarter of Paris, kind of like Brick Lane was in the early ‘90s, with a few cool art galleries, cafes and music venues.

Do you create your own works?
I feel that blank, white washed walls are unfair to the people who have to walk past them, including myself, so if I’m in the mood, yes, I add some art. But it’s much more about the benefit gained from the actual act of expression of having contributed something positive to the surroundings.

Where else in the world can you see great street art?
Some of the best cities for street art at the moment are London, New York, Paris, Buenos Aires, Bologna, Sao Paolo, Barcelona, Berlin and Tel Aviv.


What do you say to people who call street art vandalism?
I tell them, yes, it’s vandalism; and, yes, it’s art.

What kind people come on your tours?
We get a wide range of people coming on the tour – we had a seventy-five year old lady join a tour a few weeks ago. Lots of people come with no knowledge of street art and are just looking for an interesting experience, and it’s like you’re giving someone chocolate for the first time. We also receive street art enthusiasts, who know loads about the scene already.

Any funny stories to tell from your tours?
We had a middle aged lady come on the tour a few months ago. As I was showing the group the artwork on the front of an old artists’ squat, she decided she wanted a souvenir to take home, and started ripping bits away from the wall. She took the concept of street art being a gift to the public a little too personally!