Despite recent clean-up efforts, Paris remains one of the friendliest cities on Earth for street artists. Whole areas, such as the 20th arrondissement actively encourage graffiti; while some of the biggest names in street art hail from its urban quarters. Here’s our brief guide to the most intriguing artists and works you’ll find in this most-venerable of cities:
Graffiti-vandal turned bankable artist Zevs was/is a true pioneer of the Paris street-art scene. Having started life bombing the entire goddamn city, Zevs later began producing work that mimicked the world around it in weird, surreal ways. Jagged parking lines, chalk-white outlines sprawling over pavements and funky ‘shadow’ effects are all a part of his oeuvre. More likely to be encountered in a gallery these days than on the street, Zevs’ pieces remain high currency in Paris for their rich inventiveness and aptitude for the truly bizarre.
The Invader brand may have gone global yonks ago, but Paris is where it all started out and remains the most ‘invaded’ city on Earth. For those not in the know, Invader made his name pasting up characters heavily inspired by retro-classic Space Invaders. Since first appearing over the French capital in 1998, his creations have spread across the known world; becoming so ubiquitous no-one any longer comments on how basically strange they are. Covering just about every flat surface in Paris, special Invader tours can ever be organised for the true connoisseur.
The ‘father of stencil graffiti’ made Paris his own in the 1980’s; bombing every single available surface with his iconic black rat images. To street art what Elvis was to rock and roll, Blek did everything Banksy did, better, 20 years before Banksy ever thought to do it. Now in his 60s, Blek has become a world-renowned artist; although he is still said to prefer the street to a gallery. Like Invader above, his surviving pieces are pretty well mapped: a quick Google search will set you on the right path to uncovering his best work.
Imagine Cy Twombly honked all the crack, grabbed the nearest spray can and ran amok on the Paris metro system. Now you have some idea what Azyle’s work is like. A true loner, Azyle made his name spraying trains and bathroom walls with curly, dribbly lettering; often retagging the same area time and again till the words lost all meaning, metamorphosing into an elaborate cacophony of colour, space and form. Either a recluse or a genius, depending on your point of view; no overview of Parisian street art is complete without his mind-bending contributions. Those of you unconvinced by the pictures should check out 2.20 on this video.
Finally, there’s Andre: a cheeky sod who bombed his colourful characters all across the French capital before deciding to chuck in the towel and become a global ‘personality’. His work is bright, entertaining and hugely undemanding; a wonderful distraction to pass time on your journey across the city. It may lack the punch of Zevs, the insanity of Azyle and the posterity of Blek, yet Andre nonetheless left Paris an even-more beautiful place to look at; an achievement not to be underestimated. Popular with the general public as well as those in the game, Andre is the joker in the Paris street art pack.
Of all the capitals in the world, Paris may have the most-prestigious tradition of street art. If this brief overview has told us anything, it’s that all forms and ideas are represented in its inner-city: from the comic to the brash, from the political to the surreal. Those interested in visiting should either aim for the 20th arrondissement and have a nose around; or Google one of the many online maps tracing the work of (say) Invader, and use their wanderings as a springboard into a whole new visual world.
Editor note: Contributor Darryl Hardcastle is a photographer and writer for PrinterInks; the online portal for toner and ink cartridges from well-known brands like Samsung, Dell, Epson, Canon and HP.