Hidden Street Art in Paris
November 20, 2017
Written by: Laura Jaye
Photographed by: Laura Jaye
Wide boulevards lined with glowing streetlights and manicured trees come to mind when I think of Paris. But with hundreds of museums within the city limits, many visitors miss the more authentic Parisian art scene hiding in the alleyways and side streets. With the help of a local resident, Nathalie, I had the chance to explore a more unconventional and artistic side of Paris.
Battling the clamor of the subway on a brisk fall day, Nathalie and I ventured to Belleville, a neighborhood where stereotypical Parisian buildings boast a bit more color and character than the what is found in notable city boulevards.
It’s easy to visit the Belleville and not see a single work of art - not for lack of it, but because artworks are well hidden to those not looking. With Nathalie’s help, we scoured facades looking for any hint of street art. We roamed alleyways off the main boulevard to discover painted faces peering down on us from window sills, or tigers prowling in a tangle of neon flowers and vines.
But even wandering with Nathalie, a frequent visitor to the area, we still discovered new artworks freshly painted over previous murals. That’s the nature of street art in Paris, she tells me.
Artists accept their works may be removed, painted over or even manipulated. It’s that understanding that makes street art unique to any other medium.
In stark contrast to the quaint wandering streets and hidden artwork of the Belleville neighborhood, Nathalie and I immediately jumped into the bustle of the 13th Arrondissement. With an overhead metro regularly clanging by and locals walking under the shadows of multi-story apartment buildings, I couldn’t help but notice some of the most well-known murs boldly against the skyline.
But beyond the paintings, I also noticed the lack of distinctive Haussmann style buildings that make Paris an architectural landmark. Instead, rows of bland apartment complexes lined the roads. They were government subsidized buildings, Nathalie informed me.
But dull apartments don’t mean the neighborhood lacks a sense of individuality. Agreements made between artists and building owners help employ popular street artists to design and execute monumental murals on their building facades. Not only does this create character for the residents, but it brings a personality to the neighborhood that is increasingly becoming a destination for many art and culture lovers.
With some direction from Nathalie, I ventured on my own towards the neighborhood of Ourcq. Expecting a similar atmosphere to Belleville, I was surprised once again by the distinct culture and artwork of a neighborhood in proximity to trendy bars, quaint canals and concert halls.
Vibrant and energetic murals line the walls, painted by artists who aren’t afraid to paint over other artworks, forming a continuous wall of never ending street art. Even along the nearby canal, artists’ walls are lined with people hanging out at local bars and restaurants, proving how seamlessly the public views street art in Paris.
Unlike in the 13th Arr. and Belleville, in Ourcq, the artists chose mostly to paint along underpasses and stand-alone walls rather than paint directly on the surrounding architecture, giving the neighborhood an ever-evolving atmosphere.
After exploring many local neighborhoods and streets of Paris, I certainly felt I began to understand the true appeal of these neighborhoods.The next time I visit Paris, I will be searching up and down the facades at a chance to spot the latest Parisian art.