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Open-air Art: A Stroll Through the Can’t-miss Parisian Street Art Spots

Often provocative, sometimes funny or with strong political connotations, street art first started by invading public spaces illegally before gaining recognition as a discipline in its own right, carried by major artists and recognized by renowned institutions and critics. In France, particularly in Paris and its suburbs, graffiti and tags have multiplied on walls and façades, some of which have become permanent, to create authentic urban murals offering a veritable open-air museum for people that happen to walk by. 

Designed to be ephemeral, street art was born in the United States in the 1970s, even if the appearance of “graffiti” dates back to much earlier. Under the influence of pioneering artists such as Richard Art Hambleton, Keith Allen Haring and René Moncada, who transformed simple graffiti into works of art, often linked to the socio-political climate of the time, this urban art became popular and spread to the walls of New York and abroad.

In France, urban art, as an individual initiative, developed alongside social movements such as May 68. Precursor artists, such as Ernest Pignon-Ernest and Gérard Zlotykamien, contributed to its popularization, executing works on urban spots in a spontaneous and illegal manner.

Marked by the work of American graffiti artists Seen and Dondi White, the Franco-American artist Philippe Lehman, known as “Bando”, who lived between New York and Paris at the time, was one of the first to import American street art to France. With friends, he moved to Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 1980s to start leaving his mark on the walls of the neighborhood. At the same time, other pioneering artists of urban art in France, such as Blek le rat in 1981 and Jérôme Mesnager, contributed to the democratization of a movement that even aroused the interest of the then Minister of Culture, Jack Lang. Street art became institutionalized, supported by associations and sponsors, and even found its way into some contemporary art museum collections. Today, the streets of Paris offer a diversity of works by recognized street art artists of the last two decades, including Jef Aerosol, Miss Tic, C215, Invader and Zevs.

Colorful or dark, large or small, wise or rebellious, the works of street artists adorn many Parisian walls. Brightening up the façades, these murals call out to people walking the streets of the French capital, some of which have become emblematic.

A stroll through the most representative places of street art in Paris.

Street Art

The Open-air Museum

13th Arrondissement

This Parisian neighborhood probably houses the greatest number of urban artworks in all of the city. Some of the greatest artists, such as C215, D*Face, Zag & Sia, STRØK, Cryptik or Shepard Fairey, aka, Obey, have left their mark on these walls. Over the decades, the neighborhood has been transformed into a real street museum. Boulevard Vincent-Auriol is almost entirely covered with works of street art, as well as Place Pinel, Rue Jeanne-d’Arc, Rue Chevaleret, Rue Nationale and dozens of other places. The support of the 13th arrondissement town hall and many local art galleries has helped to make the neighborhood an open-air museum that now has an international reputation.

Street Art

By the Canal

19th Arrondissement

Towards the east of Paris, near La Villette, you can see large murals signed by artists such as Marko93, dAcRuZ, Wuh Chn, Vinie or Shaka. Along the rue de l’Ourcq or the streets Germaine-Tailleferre and Henri-Noguères as well as the quai de la Marne, it is an explosion of colors and magnificent drawings that awaits the people that walk by. Some of the works have been created by artists who grew up in the neighborhood and who continue to execute their creations there. Many other artists come from elsewhere and go around Paris with their spray can to leave their mark in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. Embedded in street art, this neighborhood has now become a venue for festivals such as Ourcq Living Colors and FestiWall, which are organized by the street artists themselves.

Street Art

The Emblematic Stroll

20th Arrondissement

Historically present in the 20th arrondissement, street art is positioned around several key locations loved by artists, including rue Dénoyez in Belleville. In order to make the practice of art accessible to as many people as possible, the 20th arrondissement’s city hall plans to deploy discovery trails dedicated to urban art, which will be developed by the Ken-Saro-Wiwa animation center. The painted walls of the center, the Carré de Baudoin pavilion and Square Henri-Karcher are the three iconic sites of the neighborhood. You can also contemplate other murals in the Belleville park, the Python-Duvernois district and the Rue du Retrait. Among the renowned signatures of street artists in the neighborhood, you can find Jérôme Mesnager, Mosko and Fred le Chevalier.

Street Art

For an Interactive Experience

The Oberkampf Wall

At the corner of rue Saint-Maur and rue Oberkampf, situated exactly at 107, rue Oberkampf, is the façade named “the Oberkampf Wall” by the association M.U.R. (Modular, Urban, Reactive). Founded almost 20 years ago, this association has created this emblematic wall of the 10th arrondissement which is inspired by the notion of ephemeral art. Thus, every year, 24 artists succeed one another to create works on the wall, and each work remains visible for two weeks. The realization of the murals takes place every first and third Saturday of the month in front of anyone who wishes to attend.