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Happy Bastille Day, Serge!

Artwork (c) 2013 Anthony Lemer

As French fighter jets buzzing the Bastille Day parade on the Champs Elysses thundered over Paris, Paris Play chose instead to cover a labor of love, the redo of the Serge Gainsbourg "permission wall" in the otherwise street-art-averse Saint-Germain-dés-Prés quartier.

The famous wall, at the front of the influential French pop musician's former residence (he died in 1991) was a pilgrimage site for fans from all over the world to leave painted and written tributes, but also had become, in recent years, a mess of unrelated tags and random graffiti.


Street artist/photographer Roswitha Guillemin shows Gainsbourg estate representatives photos of the old artwork on the wall. 

So the estate (now controlled by his daughter, actress-singer Charlotte Gainsbourg) wiped the slate clean.


Artwork (c) 2013 Anthony Lemer

After being approached by street artist Anthony Lemer with a tribute concept--Gainsbourg's face in black-and-white surrounded by his song titles and lyrics and other slogans in various colors--the estate agreed to paint over the wall of graffiti and let Lemer have at it. The artist was not paid; he did it as a labor of love, and completed it Bastille Day morning, using a photograph of Gainsbourg as a model for his careful, subtle spray can work.


Artwork (c) 2103 Anthony Lemer

Gainsbourg (Google him if you're unfamiliar) was a fascinating artist, whose work from the fifties through the eighties encompassed a variety of styles, from pop, jazz, disco and reggae to electronic and funk, and he was considered an influence by artists like Arcade Fire, Air, Beck, Belinda Carlisle, and Jarvis Cocker. The son of immigrant Russian Jews who fled to France in 1917, he was profoundly shaped by the Nazi Occupation (he was forced to wear a star of David during WWII), a theme later incorporated into his work. 

He was also a renown "bad boy" whose lyrics were full of wit, puns and sometimes not-even-oblique references to sex. Eleven years before John and Yoko put her orgasms on their album "Double Fantasy," Gainsbourg recorded "Je t'aime... moi non plus" with his lover (later mother of Charlotte), the English actress Jane Birkin. He later recorded a duet, "Lemon Incest," with a fifteen-year-old Charlotte. But, like the seminal writer, Jack Kerouac, Gainsbourg's last years were a descent into public drunkenness and crankiness, too often caught on video.


A fan wearing what he said was an original T-shirt from Gainsbourg's last gig gets a photo with the artist. Artwork (c) 2013 Anthony Lemer.

However, the thousands of fans who trek to his wall each year, most less adept at art than Anthony Lemer, don't care about his last years, only about his profound legacy that seems to keep growing. French President François Mitterrand said, "He was our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire... He elevated the song to the level of art."

The estate hopes this fresh start will bring a wall of elevated art with it, but, as one street artist in attendance said, "Good luck. This is a free wall, and people will do what they will."


Part of the wall before the white coats of paint.  

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Reader Comments (4)

Never a fan of Serge (I'm too much of a Capricorn prude), but a huge fan of this fabulous 'graffiti' wall that continues to speak to me of Paris, and (more importantly) of the two of you and your lives there.

(I must admit, though, that "Je T'Aime..." which I thought was so tacky and recherché at the time, has grown on me over the years. Ah, nostalgia!)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 19:10 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

This wall has been both beautiful and ugly, it's always be the only wall where graffitis are allowed in Paris (it means no cop can prevent you from tagguing whatever you want!). I regularly go there to take pictures. I so regretted that the last messages weren't even talkin'bout Serge. So this brand new wall is a hope for a new beginning !

Monday, July 22, 2013 at 19:03 | Unregistered CommenterGainsbourg For Ever


Perhaps this week's "Je t'aime," the Je t'aime wall, will grow on you even more.


Kaaren and Richard

Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 17:08 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Gainsbourg:

Yes, the estate is looking for a new beginning, too. We'll go by soon and see if they got one, and update the news on our Facebook page <https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paris-Play/438684579550017>. That's where we do follow-ups.

Incidentally, there are other "permission walls" around Paris. The one at rue Denoyez in the 20th is two blocks long.

Thank you for writing.

Kaaren and Richard

Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 17:10 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

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