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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.

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