Mosaic on a wall with face of Van Gogh
Paris,  Street art,  Travel galleries

Gallery: off the beaten track in Paris

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.

Painting of a girl on a wall

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’.

Painting of girl's head surrounded by blue flowers

Zaira is a Swiss graffiti artist who uses bright colours in her paintings and stencils, often featuring flowers, birds or butterflies.

Painting of a boy on a garage door

Zabou is another female street artist and is French but based in London.

Painting of giraffes on a wall with man passing

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.

Colourful graffiti and girl passing on scooter

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

31 Comments

  • rkrontheroad

    We have evolved from graffiti to street art by recognizable artists! I appreciated the translations; I can often understand the words but not the subtlety of meaning. This was an enjoyable gallery of images and an interesting place to wander outside the usual.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Glad you enjoyed this 🙂 Yes, graffiti has evolved a lot – and these days street artists even have gallery exhibitions (although that always seems a slight contradiction in terms to me!)

  • Manja Mexi Mexcessive

    Brilliant! I’d love to visit this neighbourhood. Such a fine selection of street art you’ve gathered! “Better than nothing is not enough.” could be the slogan of my new blog. 😀 (Instead of the present one Less is not enough.) My French is really not there at all, so I appreciate the translation (and would need a guide there!).

  • I. J. Khanewala

    Street art is such a lovely new thing about Paris. You have a nice set here. It wasn’t there at all in the years when I went through regularly. Now it draws me outside my usual circuits.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 🙂 You’re right, this is a relatively new addition to the Parisian street scene and it gave us a reason to go and explore this rather lovely neighbourhood!

      • I. J. Khanewala

        The Butte aux caille was my preferred route for the daily drive to Paris from Palaiseau. It was always a charming place to pass through, and I had sometimes stopped to have a coffee and pick up a baguette. I can imagine that street art makes it even more worth coming to.

  • giacomoasinello

    Lovely. I haven’t been to Paris for far too long. And what a lovely language French is! Such a shame I never got the hang of it. On a school exchange I wanted to tell my host family I was very hungry and ended up telling them I had a fat wife.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Haha 🤣🤣 I can see exactly how that could happen (‘grande femme’?) French IS a lovely language, and it’s the one I speak least badly than any other – after English, naturally! But you speak Italian which is arguably even more lovely 🙂

  • Rose

    Oh the accordion player is my favorite! “la musique adoucit les murs” ~ beautiful summation. This past weekend, I found some Romantic French Accordion Music to accompany the sunny Sunday drive with M’Love.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Rose – I love that phrase too, although some of the other paintings appeal to me more than that one. I think my favourite is the bird one (#9 in my slide show) 🙂

  • Marie

    There’s such a joy in revisiting a major city when you’ve already ‘done’ the main sites and can move on to discover the less familiar neighbourhoods.. I love street art – this looks like a great place….

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Absolutely Marie – that’s why I like to come back again and again to Paris, even though normally we don’t tend to return to places we’ve visited. It’s so close and easy to get to that we make an exception – and besides, it’s my favourite city 😀

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Suzanne – I’m very happy to have inspired you 🙂 You might like to check the link to Don’s blog too as he has many more ideas for off the beaten path explorations in Paris!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Margaret, I’ll definitely have a look at Judith’s posts. We hope to go back to Paris as soon as it’s possible again, and I’d welcome ideas about parts of the city we haven’t yet discovered for ourselves 🙂

  • maristravels

    Nice to see the lesser-known Paris having an airing. Back in the 70’s a friend of mine did an exchange teaching post at a school in Paris and I used to visit her regularly. She knew all the good places to go and I learned all I know about the city from my visits to her. It was such fun because the house of the French teacher she took over was in dispute with her husband who refused to move out, so she shared it. He was charming, handsome and very amusing, but my friend didn’t fall for his charms over the two years they shared the house. He was also a marvellous cook and I still remember the coddled eggs he cooked one evening with sorrel from the garden. Coming from England at that time, such food was totally alien to me, but I hope I learned something.

  • Nemorino

    What a great collection of Paris street art — and explanations!
    And thanks for the link to my blog post about the Butte-aux-Cailles.

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