The City of Light is divided into 20 arrondissements and dotted with expensive boutiques, while the left and right bank are separated by the Seine river. Looming over it all, the Eiffel Tower twinkles at night and makes for a classic selfie during the day. This is the image of Paris that never fails to touch out-of-towners. [Yawn] [Eye roll] It’s old, it’s dusty, it’s time for some new color.
We find ourselves enveloped by jumbo, candy–colored letters, loading trucks tagged by graffiti artists, and dingy-looking walls bloated by overlapping coats of spray paint.
Today we’re walking in Belleville, a neighborhood near the 20th that has a huge Chinese influence and is mostly working-class. The streets remind me of something straight out of Mario Kart, the most magical track in the game called Rainbow Road. Here we find ourselves enveloped by jumbo, candy-colored letters, loading trucks tagged by graffiti artists, and dingy-looking walls bloated by overlapping coats of spray paint. It’s a relief to step away from the stuffy conformity of indoor museums.
After the Paris attacks in November 2015, it’s easy to see reminisces of street artists’ support using the tag “Spray for Paris.” While its mostly illegal to do graffiti in France, the Paris Freewalls Project has fostered a community of legal graffiti artists. Local art adds flair to cobblestone alleyways and the Haussmannian architecture.
When the Impressionists in the 19th century brought modern art to the landscape, the traditional art community resisted their work. As art evolved, graffiti has incited the same reaction. Some might consider it tasteless, but I see so much more. If you want to take a break from the generic sight-sees in Paris, I recommend a simple walk through some of Belleville’s side streets.
See you soon, explorers. ■
To those of you who love documentaries, Exit Through the Gift Shop is about a French filmmaker who spotlights street artists in LA. Below is the first scene: