For the past six and a half years, I’ve lived on the border of the 11th and the 20th arrondissements. I’ve long known that these 2 districts have the highest concentration of street art in Paris.
But my specific neighborhood isn’t the hot center for seeking out these ephemeral works. For that, I need only hop on the metro a few stops. Yesterday, I did just that to join a street art tour.
Led by photographer and poet Richard Beban (and husband of my new writer friend Kaaren Kitchell; the pair produce the blog Paris Play), the tour began on rue Oberkampf.
A cold December day, we spent a little too long at the outset standing in one place. It was easy to understand why, though. Richard is a font of knowledge and provided an excellent historical overview of why this particular area birthed the street art movement, backed by rich Paris history.
Once we got moving, we covered a lot of ground. Some works I’d seen before, but a great many were new to me. Of course, the very nature of street art means the landscape constantly changes. Weather, the elements, other people or the city itself covering up the works are just a few reasons works disappear from view. (A landlord can ask the city to paint over anything from ground level up to 3 meters high. Anything higher is at the landlord’s expense to cover. A reason many artists aim above the 3 meter mark).
What a great boon to have an expert guide for mapping a lively itinerary and offering valuable background information. I learned so much about the different artists and the context, including political roots. And we were led to some incredible surprises!
We wound our way through much of Belleville, a neighborhood that Richard had a habit of pronouncing Bellevie. A lovely slip, non? Beautiful life.
Through the lens of street art, the city comes alive in new ways. The canvas literally changes every day. You look up and around more, you search out the secrets, you’re rewarded with unexpected treats.
These are good reminders, I think. That sometimes we need to look harder; there is beauty amidst grit. It feels of the moment, too, as it feels so many are experiencing strife and pain.
In this holiday season, let us remember love. Let’s gift each other peace and patience and empathy. Let’s recognize each other’s light.
If you’d like to go on Richard’s tour (recommended!), you can join the Paris Photography Meetup and sign up for the street art tour. It’s 4 hours of walking (or more if you insist on a hot chocolate stop as we did). You’ll see and learn a ton.
Happy holidays, friends.