At Place de la République, after an accidental fire ruins the newly built Cafe Monde et Média, a three-metre high hoarding is erected which a select group of established Parisian graffiti artists are invited to decorate. The order from the Mairie de Paris is that the decorations should be apolitical.
We’ve juxtaposed photos of these sanctioned artworks, and an interview with one of the participating artists – and veteran graffiti journalist – Nicolas Gzeley, editor of Spraymium Magazine, with images of the politicised messages graffitied onto the Statue de la République, itself.
The Place de la République acts a focal point for the local and city-wide community, and visiting tourists, and is a popular place for skateboarders, musicians, and the homeless.
(Top) Work by Alëxone, Hobz, Sowat, Nebay on hoardings placed around the Cafe Monde et Médias, Place de la République.
What is the difference between graffiti and street art?
Graffiti and street art are two different worlds with strong connections. Many graffiti artists of my generation, including me, feel like they’re between these two worlds. To me, the main difference is that graffiti imposes itself, no matter what. It’s about freedom, about painting or writing something, and the, “I don’t care what you think if you’re not a writer, you can like it or not”. Street Art is more about proposing, questioning or seducing people. Graffiti writers paint with a competitive mindset. Street artists paint for people, the only competition for street artists is how many Likes they get on Facebook or Instagram. Although, certainly, this can be true for graffiti writers, too. I’m not trying to oppose graffiti and street art, I like both, and I hate both. The artists who have painted these walls are all from the ‘graffiti culture’.
Why do graffiti artists often feel the need to paint public and private property illegally?
Many artists on this wall at République still paint illegally, some of them still paint in a hardcore way [street bombing] others paint illegally, but nicely. Painting illegally guarantees the freedom to paint what you want, as opposed to commissioned walls where you have to paint what’s asked of you. Many of us have been painting for more than 20 years, and it’s about passion, so we don’t want to be told what to paint. In this case, the illegal way is still the best way, until someone asks you to paint a wall legally and guarantees you total freedom, but this rarely happens. Usually, when someone asks you to paint a wall, they have something to say to you about the piece you should paint.
Posters in support of Charlie Hebdo, and the cartoonists who were killed in the attacks, pasted onto the Statue de la République.
Work by Katre, Lek, Nebay, Swiz, Sowat, Astro.
Graffiti in Paris has traditionally been painted in the metro tunnels and wastelands, especially at Stalingrad (near République), but now it’s also being done with the support of institutions such as the Paris townhall, and private art galleries. Can you tell us a bit about this evolution.
Some Graffiti shows have been supported by institutions or private galleries since the beginning. Over the last decade the affiliation has gained strength, but for most graffiti writers it doesn’t change anything. For many writers, they just don’t care. Artists who are trying to do it as a career have to adapt themselves to a new world, the art world, with its own rules. Showing graffiti in a gallery setting has to be done in an intelligent way, not as something spectacular, nor just as a product. Writers who want to play this game have to think more about what they are doing, about the act of painting in the city, and finding new ways to show and explain that. If you’re only focused on your style, you’re not about the art ; you’re better off finding a cheap gallery which is only trying to sell colourful canvases to stupid people without any knowledge of graffiti culture or art culture.
Graffiti on the Statue de la République.
Work by Seth, Nebay, Kanos, Astro.
Can you explain the link between the artists who have been invited to work on this project, and the system used for interlacing all the disparate works.
Katre and the Wallworks gallery are at the root of this project. They asked the FrenchKiss team (including Lek, Hobz, Liard, Swiz, Alëxone, Sowat and me) to paint the wall, bringing together different writers from different generations. The FrenchKiss collective is used to painting in the streets, illegally, mostly in an abstract way, freestyling, improvising; everyone mixes their work with the others. For this wall, we drew some shapes to give each writer their own space. Everyone did their own thing and then we all tried to mix our styles by interlacing our work. Finally, the result is not very “FrenchKiss”, rather a blend between different styles and a classic graffiti jam.
Since the Charlie Hebdo attack in January the statue has been used to display a spectrum of graffiti mainly relating to freedom of expression.
Work by Legz The Spaghettist, Sowat, Swiz, Lek.
Why are you known as Legz The Spaghettist ? And can you tell us a little about your relationship to painting in the outdoors as opposed to on canvas ?
My work is focused on painting in abandoned places, so I don’t have much time to paint many canvases. My work is about connecting with architecture, being a part of the history of a place, a building or a factory just before its destruction, being a part of the life of the city, revealing the past through painting. So when I paint on a canvas, something is missing, it becomes focused just on style, like I said earlier in the interview.
Work by Arnaud Liard, Popay, Hoctez.
“Je Suis Charlie stencil” on the Statue de la République.
Work by Lek, Arnaud Liard, Sowat, Swiz, Nebay.
List of participating artists with work on the four walls surrounding the Café Monde et Médias.
Demonstrations at Place de le République, following the Charlie Hebdo murders in January of this year.
To discover more on French graffiti and street art culture, we recommend reading Spraymium Magazine, edited by Nicolas Gzeley.