Paris’s museums are legendary. And while it’s true that you could spend months exploring the insides of some of the most famous museums in the world and still not see everything Paris has to offer, a person doesn’t need to stand in line or pay multiple entrance fees to see some pretty cool art. You can find some of the best art out there on the streets of Paris.
On virtually every city street I wander, I spot some sort of street art — ranging from graffiti to murals to tile art to to 3-D sculptures to simple, hand-written scrawls. While this form of art has underground roots and much of what you see is more subversive in nature, in Paris there are multiple officially designated public spaces, murs d’expression, where artists are commissioned to create and install pieces.
Some of the work you’ll see is signed, though most seems anonymous. Some of it is clearly the work of true artistry, but much of it is raw and messy and amateurish. For me, these past few months I’ve been captivated by it all, for what it says about a human need for preservation. In my eyes, street art is a sort of modern-day petroglyphs, the creator’s way of leaving behind a message, a statement, a reminder that they were once here.
One of the fascinating things about street art is watching it evolve. Stare at a wall long enough, and you’ll start to notice the layers of art past; walk past that same wall over the course of a few weeks, and you’ll see the future emerge. Overnight a mural gets tagged with graffiti; the shredded remnants of a poster from last month cling to cold concrete as this month’s offerings get placed on top. A alley wall becomes a landing strip for multiple creators, in harmony or in conflict, each person adding his or her own signature of sorts — an image, a word, a phrase, a sticker.
I won’t pretend to be an authority on street art. Below I’m simply going to share my picture journal of some of the art I’ve collected these past few months. Whenever possible, I’ve included a link to a source for the artist and/or the original piece as most of what I saw is showing obvious signs of decay.
I’ll begin by sharing with you some of the pieces I’ve gathered in the past few weeks in my own neighborhood, le Marais. (The first image at the start of this post is one of my favorites — from Place des Vosges.)
Of course, every neighborhood in Paris has a plethora of street art, so I decided to venture away from the center to see what I could find. For this next bunch of photos I took a walk starting in the 20th Arrondissement through the 11th and back to le Marais. I’m including my basic route if you want to pull up a map. I started on Rue de Cascades, a charming and otherwise quiet street, and slowly made my way over to tiny Rue Laurence Savart and then Rue du Retrait. Next, I headed up Rue de Ménilmontant to the intersection of Rue Oberkampf/Rue Saint-Maur, making a detour on Rue Julien Lacroix to see the large-scale murals on Rue de l’Eysée Ménilmontant and Rue des Maronites.
My next day’s wanderings took me over to the 18th and 19th arrondissements for a straight-line walk along Rue Ordener to Rue Riquet. The enormous wall on Rue Ordener is a bit chaotic but in a good way — with a mix of tagging and more representational art. I was that crazy lady stepping into the street, bypassing busses, to literally photograph the entire wall (I would predict that it changes almost daily). Rue Ordener becomes Rue Riquet, which crosses over the railroad tracks coming in and out of Gare du Nord. The wall here is a designated space for artists. After I crossed the bridge I turned on to Rue d’Aubervilliers, and was struck by the enormity of the mural — at almost 500 meters it’s the largest dedicated space in Paris. The original installment was made in 2015 in honor of Rosa Parks and featured multiple international artists (most women). It looks like some of the original mural is still intact (though I’ve been struggling to find many of the artists’ names).
I’ll gather more street art in the upcoming months to share with you. Do you have a favorite? Let me know your thoughts below!