This is an opportunity to discover the city of Paris in the different light. The 13th Arrondissement on the Left Bank (the south side of the river Seine) has since 2010 been commissioning artists from the street art culture to go ‘big’ on social housing, putting out a vote to local residents to decide on what gets painted. Our tour of the 13th visits a number of these big works, as well as introducing you to the thriving local underground street art scene. On any one of our walking tours, you will see works by Shepard Fairey, C215, Vhils, Seth, Borondo, Miss Tic, and Speedy Graphito. The larger works we encounter are largely thanks to a friendship between a local art gallery and the mayor – contemporary art enthusiast Jérôme Coume – which was also the spark that led to the 2013 spectacle, La Tour Paris 13, an ephemeral exhibition in which over one hundred French and international street artists occupied a tower block marked for destruction.
Not long afterwards a number of new murals were commissioned in the same district for Nuit Blanche, Paris’ annual overnight art event. The Parisian East, the cradle of the French revolutions (1789, 1830, 1848, 1870), and traditionally the richest territory for fans of the urban arts to explore – and where the Street Art Paris project has primarily been rooted – doesn’t have the drab 60s high-rise architecture that predominates in the 13th, and because of this relatively lower architectural value, unique conditions exist here for the propagation of large-scale commissioned murals. Meanwhile, the underground street artwork we look at is highly ephemeral, so the tour is constantly changing.
Sanctioned street art like any public art, is made to fit with the dominant political, social and cultural agenda, and ‘contemporary urban art’ (street art on canvas) has become big business, with big murals acting like giant billboards for the artists. On the tours we like to try and formulate questions about these topics to better understand this new global art movement!