It took me some years to clear my head of what Paris wanted me to admire about it, and to notice what I preferred instead. Not power-ridden monuments, but individual buildings which tell a quieter story: the artist’s studio, or the Belle Epoque house built by a forgotten financier for a just-remembered courtesan.Julian Barnes
Everyone knows about the iconic sights of Paris. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Sacré Coeur, the Seine … And they are not to be missed, for sure. But if you have the luxury of a second visit (or a third or a fourth or even more), why not get off the beaten track to explore some of the city’s neighbourhoods?
Paris is divided into twenty arrondissements, the city’s administrative districts. They are numbered from the centre, with the first being situated on the Right Bank of the Seine. From here they spiral out like a snail’s shell; the larger the number, the further from the centre you will be. Most tourists venture out to the 18th arrondisement, home to the Sacré Coeur, and may also find themselves using the train stations of the 19th, but otherwise the outer districts are much less often visited than the central group. But for a regular visitor to the city they offer glimpses into a different Paris; a Paris that is lived-in, a Paris that looks lived-in.
Not long before our most recent visit to the city, my Virtual Tourist friend Don had posted in his blog a description of the street art to be found in La Butte-aux-Cailles in the 13th arrondisement. We both enjoy street art, so it seemed an obvious place to visit as a change from our more usual Parisian haunts. We spent a very pleasant morning exploring several of the picturesque streets here: Rue des Cinqs Diamants, Rue de la Butte aux Cailles, Rue de l’Esperance.
Street art in La Butte-aux-Cailles
There was a lot of colourful and/or interesting street art, much of it by the same artist, Miss.Tic. If you look at the photos in Don’s blog, taken in 2013, you will see that many are different from mine, taken in 2017. This is reflective of the ephemeral nature of street art, but Miss.Tic seems to be a constant here. She is a local artist, born in Montmartre; her work has even been used in a set of postage stamps, issued in 2011 to mark International Women’s Day. You can see more of her work, all very much in the same stencilled style, on her website: Miss.Tic in Paris. Most have a political or feminist or other slogan, in French naturally. Some (but not all) I was able to understand.
‘J’ai du vague à l’homme’ is a pun on the French phrase ‘J’ai du vague à l’âme’. Literally it means ‘I have some vagueness or emptiness in my soul’ but it is used to denote sadness; ‘I have the blues’, we would say. Presumably the girl in the image is feeling down because of a man.
‘L’abus de plaisir est excellent pour la santé’ I believe would translate as ‘An excess of pleasure is good for the health’.
‘Avec l’amour le temps passe vite … avec le temps il passe moins souvent’ – ‘With love, time passes quickly … with time, it [presumably love] happens less often’ (the French verb ‘passer’ can mean ‘to pass’ or ‘to happen’, as well as a number of other things!)
The accordion player, whose face has unfortunately been defaced, is the work of another well-known French graffiti artist, Jef Aerosol (real name Jean-François Perroy). I am not sure if the intact one is also by him, but it seems possible, although the style is a little different. The slogan la musique adoucit les murs’ means ‘music softens the walls’.
Zaira is a Swiss graffiti artist who uses bright colours in her paintings and stencils, often featuring flowers, birds or butterflies.
Zabou is another female street artist and is French but based in London.
Mosko et associés (real names Gérard Laux and Michel Allemand) specialise in animals and the giraffe is a recurring theme in their work. This was one of my favourite shots of the morning; I like to include passers-by in my photos of street art, to give them context.
Speedy Graphito, real name Olivier Rizzo, has been creating street art in Paris since the early 1980s and is one of the best known French graffiti artists, influenced by pop culture and Disney.
There’s another of Miss.Tic’s works below. The slogan reads: ‘Mieux que rien c’est pas assez‘ – ‘Better than nothing is not enough’. This is another of my favourite shots; I like the way the girl is looking at the art as she passes.
ALO (Aristide Loria) is an Italian artist based in Paris and London with a very distinctive style, using bright colours and geometric shapes. On his website it says:
‘ALO tailors striped clothes around his elegant female figures which have the same void eyes à la Demoiselles d’Avignon, but they are also full of life and emotions: sweetness, love, desperation, anger, madness, elegance and dignity. Beautiful stylised women; lost characters in the city corners, looking for life. ALO spots his subjects in the streets, he metamorphoses them and eventually brings them back to the streets in the form of works of art.’
I have not been able to track down any information about the other artists whose work we saw, but here are some of my favourites.
Around the area
From Don I learned that the quarter is named for a Pierre Caille, who bought the hill in 1543 to grow grapes for wine-making. The vines are long since gone but this remains a peaceful and in places picturesque corner of the city in which to wander; one with attractive architectural features on some of its buildings and side streets that suggest an earlier époque.
La Butte-aux-Cailles is a wonderful place for street art; and it’s proof that a tourist city can offer much more than its famous sights if you’re prepared to get off the beaten path. So why not do the same next time you visit Paris or indeed any city – even your own!
I last visited Paris in 2017