Street Art Soliloquy: How Rats, Tupac and TinTin tell the Story of the City of Love.

Street art is like the poor man’s Louvre, but with more emotion and less lines, less waiting.

It requires no admission fee. Anyone can appreciate its beauty, it’s poignancy, and no one is safe from the grips of its in-your-face snark.

Street art gives voice to the mute—the invisible scoundrels that society and capitalism have swept between the cracks. It says to them: you have something to say that the world needs to see so here’ are a few cans of color; let society have it. So with a spray, a can sway and something to say society is given a forced glimpse into the reality of The Others.

Les Halles, Paris , Île-de-France, circa janvier 2019.  In some ways, this contemporary urban graffiti movement has been a grassroots response to the complete and utter attempt to systematically remove art in our schools and off of our governmental budgetary agendas. With less funding for art programs and institutions, citizens have mobilized; the streets have become the canvas and the city their outlet.  This article is an ode to that unsolicited and almost always illegal voice, and what each piece has to say about life, love and the pursuit of happiness in the City of Love. What is the view from the perspective of each piece? What does the art have to say about our current devolution, our contemporary hyper drive to support The Man at the expense and the sanity of The Self.  Urban graffiti is almost always political... even when it’s not ostentatiously political, and here’s why: the mere act of ducking and dodging authority to trespass property and deface public and private structures is unquestionably illegal. I would argue that it’s that very sinful nature of it that contributes to its appeal and the power of its message... even if the message in and of itself isn’t political at all.     Manyoly , Paris, Île-de-France.

Les Halles, Paris , Île-de-France, circa janvier 2019.

In some ways, this contemporary urban graffiti movement has been a grassroots response to the complete and utter attempt to systematically remove art in our schools and off of our governmental budgetary agendas. With less funding for art programs and institutions, citizens have mobilized; the streets have become the canvas and the city their outlet.

This article is an ode to that unsolicited and almost always illegal voice, and what each piece has to say about life, love and the pursuit of happiness in the City of Love. What is the view from the perspective of each piece? What does the art have to say about our current devolution, our contemporary hyper drive to support The Man at the expense and the sanity of The Self.

Urban graffiti is almost always political... even when it’s not ostentatiously political, and here’s why: the mere act of ducking and dodging authority to trespass property and deface public and private structures is unquestionably illegal. I would argue that it’s that very sinful nature of it that contributes to its appeal and the power of its message... even if the message in and of itself isn’t political at all.

Manyoly, Paris, Île-de-France.

Manyoly piece, 10th Arrondissement, Paris.

Manyoly piece, 10th Arrondissement, Paris.

 Walking across the Amélie bridge at the Canal, I turn around to see the infamous work of the Instagram artist gaining traction in popularity with the Western World: Manyoly. The brilliance of this piece really pops against the drab and grayscale background. Perched on the side of a canal mechanical closet, this maiden of the canal sunrise sees everything with her big, beady brown eyes. One can almost see the hues of the flames and bloodshed for this city sizzle and singe in her irises. Her cocked half-smile must surely signal the amusements of the passers by.

Lost tourists struggling to bridge their confusion with the faint francais they muster, hoping to find their way. Sneaky love-struck teenagers crouching below her concrete perch for a quick kiss by the canal. Octogenarians out for their coffee, croissant and morning stroll along the waters edge, breaking off portions of their pastry for the gulls. Of course, the gilet jaune and their struggles for the right to afford to exist. Yes, I’m sure she’s seen it all.

If she could speak, what would she say? Would she report the pickpocket who snagged the unassuming American man’s wallet from his back pocket? Would her message be political, or would it consist of inspiring pleasantries for the working class as they pass en route to their offices, clinics and factories?

Only Manyoly knows.

The brilliance and grace of this Radiant Girl of the Sunrise with the Fire Eyes stands in striking contrast to the VR girl starting through the goggles of an altered virtual reality. What does she see? Perhaps she stares at the images of a Perfect World… where the inequalities of the polarized Black and White blend seamlessly; a beautiful dichotomy, not unlike the portrait of the girl herself. I almost wonder if the artist painted the black and white to symbolize the divides of humans as we attempt to view the world through our own rosy Booze Goggles.

Paris, circa janvier 2019.

Paris, circa janvier 2019.

Banksy.

We are all familiar with Banksy.

If you’re not, you’re probably living under a rock…one that he tagged with his overtly political public pieces.

While on a Croissant Tour through the streets of Paris, we came across this piece. I instantly recognized it to be an authentic Banksy. The piece, however, had been defaced; the rat scurrying away with the cork has been removed. This work is on the side of a cafe + bar with outdoor seating. What is the piece trying to convey, and is it now meaningless without the rat and his cork? Perhaps it’s purpose is to call into question the frivolous excess and indulgence at the backs of the hardworking class.

Rats are a prominent feature in many of Banksy’s pieces, and there several theories behind their meaning. Sans the rat, the only thing thrilling about this piece now is the fact that it’s a Banksy original; other than that, there are far more interesting, thought-provoking and…well, beautiful street art installments throughout the city.

Banksy en Paris, circa janvier 2019.

Banksy en Paris, circa janvier 2019.


Zombeanie: The Flower Sower.

I’m leery to call this artist a Banksy imitator, but it’s hard not to do just that…the same stenciled style, the tricolor theme and the political flamboyance all scream…well, Banksy. Yet I’ve been told by my tour guide that the piece is not by the infamous street tagger.

No, Zombeanie is an artist in his (or her) own right, making a namesake quickly around metropolitan Paris. With over fifteen pieces throughout the city streets, Zombeanie’s work has a recurring theme of homosexuality and flowers: love and flowers, in an ironic clash with the black and red, eerie croon of the stencil style.

The love theme is strong in Parisian Street Art.

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This piece was a real shocker; I wasn’t expecting to see a “What if…Biggie & Tupac Armistice Edition” on my way to grab espresso at the patisserie. Yet, is somehow, I find this piece profound. It stands in the face of one of the biggest beefs in history, and offers an alternative conclusion.

What is this piece saying? It’s very clearly saying that—not fortune, fame or the flow of time, but love—can overcome even the deepest of bitter divides.

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Even though I’m not big on the lovey-dovey, I did find this piece quite beautiful and refreshing. I will say, it was a pleasant uplift to a cloudy, drab and cold day. It’s subtle, simple and minimalist. The font reminds me of the children’s classic Madeleine and I am instantly returned to the seven-year old Leslie state, all tucked in and waiting for Nana to come in to read me a goodnight story. A different love, rooted in nostalgia and familiarity.

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Paris may be the ‘City of Love’, but the phrase more aptly describes it’s street art and less its citizenry. The underlying theme behind most pieces appears to be hidden cries from an agnostic, slightly homoerotic and definitely progressive lot teeming from the concrete and brick facades, beseeching us to wake up, pay attention, and shift our focus to what matters.

“Hey, you, yes you on your way to your ritzy office job or your daily rat race…stop the vicious cycle of Live-Buy-Consume-Die and start living your life by design. With love, liberty and the pursuit of your own happiness. Viva La Resistance.”

Leslie is a Content Development Strategist with The Blurban Planner Co., LLC.  She is an Urban Planner by trade with experience working in the design realm.  When she’s not jet-setting to Paris, or travel blogging in Reykjavik during layovers, she’s paying homage to the espresso gods at her local, independently-owned coffee shop at the beach.