"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in Fred Le Chevalier (6)


"I Love You Touch My Pieces" (Surrealist Translation)

Artwork © 2014 Madame Moustache. Additional art © 2014 Pole Ka.

After a three-month break for other writing projects, we're back. Here is an interview in French, by writer Sophie Pujas, of the collagist street artist, Madame Moustache. (Thanks, Veronique Mesnager, for the link). 

Although we understand the French, I wanted to translate it (quickly) for those Paris Play readers interested in wonderful street art, especially collage. So I ran the article through Google Translate. There is something surreal and delightful to us in this fractured translation.


Richard's photographs were taken on a recent morning outing with Madame and her paste-up buddy, Fred le Chevalier, that began with a civilized morning espresso in an 11th arrondissement café. Madame requested that we not show her face.

Here you go:


                              *             *          *

Madame Moustache: "I do not pretend to be outlawed" 
Art - Street Art

Madame Moustache, currently exposed to Sète in the K-Live festival, poetizes streets surrealist collages perfume and retro. 

Where are you from?

I come from a family of artists. My grandfather and my father were painters ... I have always refused to do. Although I've always drawn, I did not feel my shoulders to carry the family tradition ... I was an actress before becoming a designer. I made small drawings, collages, travel diaries when I was traveling, where again I stuck stuff ... I started to collage, because technically, with drawing, I could not express what I wanted. At the same time, I was hanging out in Paris with lots of graffiti. I made my first collage to the Canal Saint-Martin there is a little more than three years. It was a big monkey with an elephant's trunk. It is so fine that it has done me good, I found it easy. It was not crooked, I asked where I wanted ... I started small, and bigger and bigger.

Artwork © 2014 Madame Moustache

Artwork © 2014 Madame Moustache. Additional art © 2014 Pole Ka.

Artwork © 2014 Madame Moustache

Designer, was already an appropriation of space. He left something in your street work? 

I realize that yes. Especially since recently, I rotated on many objects - things that I can touch to act on it, slightly changing the meaning. In the same way that I am influenced by the images of Epinal. I always like this is a bit hidden, what does not discover at first glance. Hence the fact of choosing objects can I divert, lit and extinguished lamps, build boxes ... I love being surprised. When I like an artist, I like to be surprised that he changed support, colors ... I hate boredom, and I hate that I think of Lady ... So I try to diversify although I think I'll stick still in the street - I love it too. 


Why this retro universe?

I grew up in the workshop of my grandfather, full of old things, and I had the chance to let me touch it. Brushes, palettes, I tripatouillais ... There was a large buffet in his studio, under a large canopy, and I see myself with a book of gold leaf in hand, I had dug there, and he let me browse the sun ... I've always been in the permissive handling is also why I love you touch my pieces! I've kept this messy side - there is always something behind ... I'm very attached to the nostalgia, the taste of childhood ...

But it is a nostalgia plays with irony, offset ...

Always. I do not like people who take themselves seriously. I can not imagine work without me laugh. So I feel that people are laughing looking at my items. Since I put on the street, I need to create something. I did not want to stick something and people do not understand. Even if there is a double or triple meaning in one of my collages, I feel that the first reaction of passers-by or smile. They feel that there is something funny. I stick express day to see the reactions. I just stuck the night, at first, and it did not fit me at all. I am not a vandal, I do not claim to be outlawed. I claim nothing, if not tolerance or questions. I like to discuss, even with some who do not. I understand - I needed something sticky on the street!


Artwork © 2014 Madame Moustache
Why the question of identity, such as you take to heart?

Since forever, I asked a lot of questions about it. I think it goes back to a childhood trauma. I had very long hair and one of my friends asked me to play at the hairdresser. I thought she would pretend, and she cut my hair flush ... For several months I was treated boy! I hang with a lot of guys, I do not let me piss ... My work is also related to the fact that today I do not understand how anyone can still judge people on their identity or sexual preferences By what right? I think we're both in us, a little masculine, a little feminine. It is not necessarily predestined to love someone of the opposite sex, we have the right to try both, to test ... You brought me in tolerance.

Mustache with which you sign, it is the emblem of this claim?

Of course! I love bias borders. I like from saying stuff man, or vice versa this very girly picture: a very big makeup guy who rips the heart by saying ultra sensitive stuff you. I really like to mix the two, while trying not tired, not systematic or become redundant. In my cultural journey, I was also influenced by the punk that my brother loved or images transgender 80s.

Where are the images that you use for collages?

Magazines of the early twentieth century until the 70 maximum. After, colors and materials change. I like to keep some obsolete thing. I like the idea of ​​craftsmanship, this is a little damaged, we do not know quite where the image has been edited or not. This is still a story of transgression: transgression of the time, the style ...


Artwork © 2014 Madame Moustache. Additional art © 2014 Fred le Chevalier.

Artwork © 2014 Madame Moustache. Additional art © 2014 Fred le Chevalier.
You feel close to a certain tradition of collage - surreal or Dada, for example?

Not at all. Of course, I was in the museum when I was little, and surely I have certain things. But I purposely avoided looking at, I do not want to be influenced. I do not want to dada! When I look at the pastels I did at one time, I think it looks the Chaissac. I did not do it consciously, but I had seen too kid because my parents loved ... And I do not want to spit out something that I was taught there a thousand years! I am afraid of being influenced, but also to compare me. I like to go see something else feed me art that does not look at all like what I do. I love art brut, for example, or photo.

Why decline on objects?

If it runs, is that it touches. I sell very expensive products, not as bags or serigraphs, so that it circulates. I do not pretend to live ...


Artwork © 2014 Fred le Chevalier
You feel in dialogue with other street artists?

Especially with Fred Knight [Fred Le Chevalier]. It much glue to one side of the other. Suddenly our dialogue works, and we're both big on words. He and I, we are very tortured, and is found on many points, such as the genre. But I do not necessarily seek this kind of dialogue. At the moment I tend to go to places where there is nothing. I'm a bit tired of places where garbage, when you arrive, there is already stuff loosely bonded, and finally where you can not see anything, there are more surprise. At first I tried a bit of dialogue with what was there, now it interests me less. And then I make bigger and bigger, so I need walls where there is nothing!


Artwork © 2014 Madame Moustache



The Resurrection and Triumph of Fred Le Chevalier



The artist's life has its ups and downs. 

In what now seems like a past life, I worked out of Santa Fe as a traveling art dealer, having canvases by various artists delivered to me by moving van in various cities across the American West, and setting up temporary galleries to show their work, including in a suite at Los Angeles' Chateau Marmont. 

Some of my artists called me often, anxious to see if anything sold. Some trusted to fate, and waited for me to call them. I was sad when I had no good news, elated when I could report that I would bring them back enough money to constitute their first mortgage.

Now, in this community of Paris street artists, Richard and I watch these same fluctuations of fortune, but without the same financial stake.


Last June, we were able to accompany the shy, prolific, gentle knight of Paris street art, Fred Le Chevalier, one of our favorite artists and people, as he pasted up a whimsical street mural to say thank you to Paris Play for allowing our photographs to be used in his first book, when Quel dommage! the police caught up with Fred and threatened him with a fine and jail time for putting his craft on the streets. Our story, which caught the attention of Huffington Post writer Mary Duncan, leaves Fred in limbo, the Damoclean sword of justice poised over his elfin head.

Would he exile himself into the suburbs, or return, rolled posters and paste pots in hand, to the Paris streets?

Can you guess?


Three weeks after his confrontation with the police, we began to see new Freds appearing in the 11th arrondissement, and then spreading outward from there. Since then, we've been able to follow and photograph him a few times alone, and in the company of his fellow street artist, Madame, as he continues pasting his work up and helping friends do the same.


His attitude? If convicted he's willing to do the time, or pay the fine, because the art is paramount. Besides, his work is paper pasteups, which are easily taken back down, and which decay anyway when exposed to time and weather. If he spray-painted, he says, he could understand the attitude of the police and building owners. It's harder to remove, and often it's just adolescent scrawls.

(It's worth noting that the rise of hip-hop culture, which caused a flood of graffiti to wash over every city in the world, helped to criminalize street art here. Where the attitude in Paris was more laissez faire toward poster and stencil artists (who were an important political voice) in the 1980s, the amount of inferior quality, hard-to-remove graffiti and tags caused authorities by the end of the decade to overreact and condemn all street art as vandalism. Seminal French artists like Blek le Rat (inspiration for the British artist Banksy) and Miss-Tic were driven from the Paris streets with onerous fines and jail threats. Thus a Fred Le Chevalier is now equal in the eyes of the law to a 14-year-old with a spray can hidden up his or her sleeve.)

So, we are pleased to report that Fred is back, and his work has grown even larger. Billboard-sized.


Yesterday, Fred was honored by the street artist association, Le M.U.R., by being asked (and paid a 500-euro honorarium by the same city hall that criminalizes art work elsewhere) to create a billboard-sized mural on the billboard they manage legally at rue St. Maur and rue Oberkampf, a scant five blocks from Fred's apartment.

The Le M.U.R. billboard has been going since 2007, and features, every two weeks, the work of an urban artist from somewhere in the world, from Sao Paolo, to New York City, to Barcelona, to name only a few cities. The billboard aims to promote all kinds of street art, and each work's limited shelf life is an homage to the fact that street art is ephemeral by nature. We covered Le M.U.R.s last artist's gathering in November 2011.



But Fred being Fred, the prime exponent of the French troubadour tradition, his Le M.U.R. appearance was not just a chance to decorate a billboard, but for an event, a happening. He designed and created two hundred and fifty masks, each cut out and drawn and colored by hand, and turned the audience into participants at a masked ball celebrating the dance of love. The space was jam-packed. Everywhere you turned there were photographers capturing the play, and the conversations were warm and frolicsome, too.



I was immediately transported into yet another "past life," Berkeley in the late '60s, where I lived in a commune of artists and we created performance art, in which as many as 100 people would create an Event for one person, the aim of which was to transform that person's life, in some small way. Example: a San Francisco poet whose work was lyrical, imaginative and surreal, but who read his work with all the vividness of a banker counting money, and (unbeknownst to him), needed our help in loosening up his performances.

Michael Haimovitz, the ringleader of these Events, invited a group of men and women to a big, elegant house high up in the Berkeley Hills with views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. As the poet began to read his poems, the room became warm, overheated, and all the men left, seemingly to try to fix the problem. None of them returned. The poet looked crushed, and kept his eyes locked on the page. As he droned on, some twenty-five women in the room (who were all beautifully, even a bit primly dressed), one by one, shed their silky dresses and lingerie. The next time the poet glanced up from the page, every woman in the room, all of us in our early 20s, was naked. The lights dimmed, and each of us began to chant one phrase from one of his poems. 

Several women cleared his manuscript and glass of water from the long pine table at which he was reading, covered it with a thick cloth, and removed the poet's clothes.



Several other women guided him to lie down on the table and began to expertly massage him, while the chorus of women continued to chant phrases from his poems, and to tattoo him all over with stamps on which the images of his poems were inked.

The whole time he laughed so hard we thought he might melt.

And then he was dressed, and the lights turned off and the women returned to their seats. When the lights were lit again, every woman was fully dressed, legs crossed, listening as attentively as if we were at the Berkeley Library.

And what a performance he gave after that! And ever after, too, including at Radcliffe College to a standing ovation. When he returned to his apartment that night in San Francisco, it was long after midnight. But he had to call someone, had to tell a friend about the Event. He knocked on the door of his neighbors, two women who were in love with each other, and told them the tale of all these naked women. His two friends insisted on helping him wash off the tattoos, and got into the shower with him, as he told them every last detail. (Many of these performance pieces are dramatized more fully in the novel I just completed, "The Book of Twelve.") These Events we did were not for money, not for power, only for love, of one other human being at a time.

Fred's Events, Fred's spirit, remind me of that time in Berkeley in the '60s. He is not motivated by ambition or power or fame, rather by the spirit of love.



So thank you Fred, for persevering in your art in the face of government madness, and for putting love at the center of life, where it belongs. You are truly Aphrodite's chevalier.

As for getting Fred his first mortgage? Buy his work and that dream, too, will happen.



(For a supplement to this post--more pictures from Fred's day at Le M.U.R--see and like Paris Play's Facebook page.)




Full Moon Plays




We first see her near midnight a few blocks from our flat, high above l’Hôtel de Sens, down-turned eyes, mouth opened in song, cloud plumes scudding across her radiant face so fast you cannot tell if one of the three stars to the right might be an airplane. 

They’re taking down the Christmas lights on the Île St-Louis. From the Pont des Tournelles we can see the Cyclops of the Tour Eiffel scanning the midnight sky.


It’s been a day of plays. Bien sûr, it’s the Full Moon!

First, a comedy on the rue des Ancienne Comédie. Chrystine and I chat in French as she cuts my hair. Her husband, Marc, has a French client; their French is better than mine, by far.

In comes a woman from Mexico with her German boyfriend, bearing gifts. La Virgen de Guadalupe (in chocolate?). She speaks only Spanish. Her boyfriend speaks only German, with a little Spanish. She wants to convey to Marc the haircut her boyfriend wants, only Marc doesn’t speak Spanish.

Ah, but his client does. The German communicates to his girlfriend in Spanish. She tells Marc’s client what he wants in Spanish. Marc’s client translates it into French for him. Chrystine speaks no Spanish; I understand it, but mix it up too much with French now to try speaking. We listen. The communication is full of laughter, and finally everyone understands. The Mexican woman and I speak and I think she’s said she’s from Los Angeles, but no, Angeles is her last name. More laughter.



Next, a surreal dramaRichard and I are on a crosstown bus, late for a party in the 20th arrondissement given by a street artist we dearly love, to honor his friends. We’re standing—the bus is crowded—when we hear the sounds of love-making, groaning, panting and moaning, over the p.a. system. Everyone glances around at each other—was that the bus driver, or are we picking up signals from some other, full moon, dimension?


A few minutes later, the bus driver announces on the p.a. that he’s annoyed with a young man standing near the back door. Everyone looks puzzled. Annoyed? Really? Et pourquoi ça?

The young man, who is tall and self-contained, shrugs, Qu’est qu’on peut faire?

More moaning sounds. There’s a ripple through the bus: do we have a demon bus driver here? Hmmmm…

The bus stops. I ask a French woman near the door what she thinks is going on.

She responds by calling out to the bus driver, Why are you bugging this man?


Street art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier

The driver calls back in a baritone voice, It’s my bus; I can do whatever I want here.

The woman says, So you are the dictator, huh?

Oui, he says, C’est moi.

You certainly can do whatever you want, she says, but you might do it with a bit more grace.

Now, two North African-looking women at the front of the bus object to this woman’s calling the man’s authority into question, and shout at the French woman. The bus driver, his fans, and the woman at the back are going at it now.

Most of the other passengers laugh, or make that disapproving moue. Two Saharan African men roll their eyes, at either the voice of authority or the voice of rebellion.

And then we arrive at our stop on rue de Ménilmontant. All of us who disembark are laughing, laughing! Richard shakes hands with one of the African men. Good luck, they say in French. The bus to hell goes on.



Finally, a love story. Our friend, Fred, is seated at a long table surrounded by friends. He greets us warmly, makes introductions all around, shows us the buffet where we help ourselves to pasta, salad and tangy, salted feta straight from Greece. He pours us a good red wine. In the room at the back, an exhibit of Fred's artwork, the last day of the show.

Fred, the quintessential romantic, hovers close, protective, around his new girlfriend, whom many of us are meeting for the first time, pouring her wine, bringing one arm around her to do so like a chevalier sommelier.

Two gorgeous women who look like sisters, with bangs and deep red lipstick, turn out to be, not sisters, but band mates for a punk band who write their own feminist lyrics.

A screenwriter and her two friends arrive. Richard and I talk to her about our friend, John Truby’s screenwriting class coming next week to Paris. Oui! She knows his name, would like to take the class, but is about to start a new job.

Next to me, Fred’s oldest friend, Estelle, a lawyer, and I talk about vision quests and love.

A lately arrived artist, Doudou, has an open face, great warmth. He and Richard like each other, stumble through French to a few laughs.


Street Art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier

But it’s now time for our trek across town home. We tell these new friends it will be an hour walk, and to a person, they are amazed. "Walk? An hour?" In a land of motor scooters and incredible public transportation, the thought of a midnight walk across Paris seems alien to the natives.  

The hour walk clears the head of wine, but not the giddiness of this full moon, full of drama day and night in Paris: language drama, attitude drama and the best kind of drama, gathering with friends to celebrate art and love. 


Street art © 2014 Fred Le Chevalier 



If I Were King. Or Queen. An Invitation to the Surrealist Café

Street art (c) 2103 Fred le Chevalier

Okay, time for another gathering at the Surrealist Café. This time we'd like you to invent your own government, with YOU as the leader, and to pick your nickname. E-mail your game entry to us by Friday, October 18, 11:59 p.m., Paris time, and we'll post it on Saturday's Paris Play.  

Here's how this topic evolved: A few weeks ago, my cousin and I were talking about that dashing French king, Henri IV, le Vert-Galant. Hank wondered if there were other names besides his namesake, Henry, that French and English kings had in common. 

I looked up French and English kings and found one other: Charles. And was struck by two things: how many English queens there have been, how few French queens. And that what the French lack in gender equality, they (sort of) make up for in amusing nicknames for kings.


Street art (c) 2103 Fred le Chevalier

Kings of France

The Franks:

  • Clodion- the Hairy (c. 400-447)

 The Merovingians:

  • Childeric III the Fainéant (the Do-nothing) (714-743) 

 The Carolingians:

  • Pepin the Short (715-751)
  • Charles I the Great (or) Charlemagne (742-768)
  • Louis I the Debonaire or Pious (778-814)
  • Charles II the Bald (823-840)
  • Louis II the Stammerer (846-879)
  • Charles the Fat (839-888)
  • Charles III the Simple (879-929)

The Capetians:

  • Robert II the Pious (972-1031)
  • Louis VI the Fat (1084-1137)
  • Louis VIII the Lion (1187-1226)
  • Louis IX or Saint Louis (1214-1270)
  • Philippe III the Bold (1245-1285)
  • Philippe IV the Fair (1268-1314)
  • Louis X the Haughty (1289-1316)
  • Jean I the Posthumous (1316-1316)
  • Philip V the Long (1293-1316)
  • Charles IV the Fair (1294-1322) 

The Valois:

  • John II the Good (1319-1364)
  • Charles V the Wise (1338-1380)
  • Charles VI the Mad or Beloved (1368-1422)
  • Charles VII the Victorious (1403-1461)
  • Charles VIII the Affable (1470-1498)
  • Louis XII the Father of the People (1462-1515)

The Bourbons

  • Henri IV Green-Galant (the gay blade) 1553-1610)
  • Louis XIII the Just (1601-1643)
  • Louis XIV the Great (1638-1715)
  • Louis XV the Loved (1710-1774) 

It started sounding to me like a Surrealist game. Just like the governments of so many countries lately. So many of them seem to be tumbling down, or to be, at best, shaky.


Street art (c) 2103 Fred le Chevalier

Last week, I read Plato’s The Republic again for a fictional classroom scene. Plato discusses four kinds of government, and how they evolve or devolve into one another:

  • timocracy (the government of the best, of honour);
  • oligarchy (a government in which the rulers are elected for their wealth, in which the rich have power and the poor man is deprived of it);
  • democracy (where freedom and frankness prevail);
  • tyranny (slavery). 

And I wondered, if we gathered together next Saturday right here at the Surrealist Café in Paris Play, what would those of you who join us want to include in your ideal State? Which three things—values, or services, or goods—would you deem most important for a humanitarian kingdom?


Street art (c) 2103 Fred le Chevalier

And what would you like your subjects to call you, what nickname that summed up your life as head of state would please you?


Street art (c) 2103 Fred le Chevalier. Ravaillac was the assassin of Henri IV.

And, even more telling, what would your detractors call you? We're sure Nixon would have wanted to go down in history as Richard the Diplomat, but probably history will remember him as Dick the Tricky. Then there's Slick Willy, Gerald the Bumbling, and Bling-Bling Sarko. 

Albert Einstein wrote that "Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought." In other words, creativity arises from putting unexpected things together. Isn't that the essence of Surrealism?

Einstein knew the power of play. So does every child. Which I suppose means that none of us are ever too “important” or “unimportant” to play.

Maybe we can dream up some more effective government on this planet by playing together. Or at least have some Surrealist fun, the way we did as kids for hours and hours a day. Once again, use this link to E-mail your game entry to us by Friday, October 18, 11:59 p.m., Paris time, and we'll post it on next Saturday's Paris Play.


Street art (c) 2103 Fred le Chevalier



Le Dernier Chevalier de Paris?


Although the first morning of summer dawned gray, drizzly and damp, we were nonetheless in a great mood, standing at nine a.m. on a street corner in the 20th arrondissement, the vital, hilly artist’s district called Belleville, waiting for one of our favorite street artists, the gentle knight, Fred Le Chevalier. 

We'd been captivated by Fred's simple but eloquent work since we first arrived in Paris two-and-a-half years ago, and have used it on occasion to illustrate our essays. Small black and white stencils (with red, green or yellow accents) of archetypal males and females, sometimes kings and queens, often pictured with totem animals like owls, cats, foxes, wolves, and hedgehogs, sometimes with a single line of poetic prose to illuminate, but not explain.




The work was clear, detailed and precise, but didn’t look schooled; it had a naïve quality, both in the humans (with their guitar-pick-shaped heads) and animals it depicted and in its style. As we met more and more people in the street art community, we discovered that Fred had detractors, people who felt all street art should primarily be political, who attacked the work’s very simplicity and gentleness, who felt that Fred, although he only began working shortly before we arrived in Paris, was too popular, too soft-edged.

It was an argument we’d heard before in our political lives, like listening to the folks who followed Malcolm dissing the folks who followed Martin, not recognizing that ALL the political activity was part of a continuum, all valid, all necessary, all appealing to its own adherents under a broader umbrella. Street art itself is a radical act, illegal, but a gift to the community.

And Fred’s mythopoetic work, under the nom de rue “Le Chevalier,” was political as well. He was taking a stand for chivalry, for the Arthurian knights, for the troubadours, for the Celtic romantic tradition that was born in France, and still undergirds the best of French relationships. His almond-eyed characters came in all shapes and colors and persuasions—anyone is free to love anyone else in Fred’s universe—reflecting an egalitarian world of large virtues like truth, and love, and marriage equality. “Love,” he captioned one stencil, “is never dirty.”




As we followed his career, his stencils grew larger and larger, occupying more and more Paris wall space; there are well over three thousand paste-ups of hundreds of drawings. His output was prodigious, an unfettered orgy of joy in art.

And we began to see Fred’s people on buttons, handbags and T-shirts. A populist artist was emerging. From various articles in the real-world and virtual press, we learned that Fred is from Angouleme, a small town in southwestern France, that he was self-taught (though his father was also an artist), that one of his primary street art influences was the seminal Ernest Pignon Ernest, and that his ambition was to give up his day job and eventually make a living solely from his art.

Part of what moved him was that street art was egalitarian and free. “Putting my drawings on the walls of the city is the only way to share and to talk with all the people.” As he told the Brazilian journalist Fernanda Hinke-Schweichler, “Punk music has the same spirit of being able to express yourself freely without being a musician.”



Eventually, we met him, at one of his public paste-ups near a small art gallery in the tenth arrondissement, and saw him again at a second opening (at which he sold everything in under an hour), and at a few small fairs he had organized at which he and other artists and artisans could sell their arts and crafts. We found the forty-something but ageless artist to be as gentle and open as his characters, elfin, large-eyed, long-lashed and guileless. He wore on his sleeve, not his heart, but tattoos of his own characters, done by a friend. This was a man committed to his art and his philosophy, wearing the statement permanently on his own body.



Recently, when he was asked by an important French publisher to do a book (coming out this September), he asked Paris Play if he could use some of our photographs, particularly of his early work. He knew we had been chronicling his work in photographs, and had amassed well over two hundred. He said he had some grab shots he had taken over the years, but knew that ours were high-quality efforts to document the street art scene.



And the work, of course, is ephemeral. He uses stencils precisely because they do decay, and disappear over time. “If people don’t like it on the wall,” he told us, “it’s not as if I paint-bombed; it will wash away in time.”

So, two days before the first day of summer, we spent a delightful hour with Fred drinking Badoit in front of our computer, as he flipped through the photos in Adobe Lightroom, choosing which he wanted for possible inclusion in the book, and telling stories in his melodic voice as he went. “This one is two friends of mine who were getting married…. This one has a skull in it to represent death, but I always see that there is life in death…. I don’t know why this one has a key, but I liked it…. Yes, this is an umbrella, but it could be a UFO.”




After he left, leaving us with a small serigraph print of one of his works, we got to work processing the couple of dozen pictures he needed. In the process, we decided to post his drawing of a man on a bench in the rain with a potted mushroom that was also an umbrella and maybe a UFO as our daily photo on Paris Play’s Facebook page. It was particularly pertinent, since Paris had been through three days of thunderstorms, with no end in sight to winter.




When Fred saw our Facebook post, he e-mailed us:  Meet me Friday morning in Belleville and I’ll put up some work for you.


So we went to the appointed street, and at ten minutes after nine, received a text from Fred: Oooops, I mixed up the names of the streets I was going to work on. Can you get to the church of Notre-Dame de la Croix instead?

No problem. A quick ten-minute hike from Belleville to Menilmontant, the other exciting working-class and artists’ district. Taken together, Belleville and Menilmontant are to street art what Montmartre or Montparnasse were to the Paris artists of a hundred years ago. Picasso’s rebel spirit lurks, spray can in hand.     

Finally, we met up in a lull between storms and Fred, his two long extension handles looking like Quixotic lances, led the way to the first wall, at Avenue Jean Aicard, a popular street art spot at the corner of rue Oberkampf. As he pasted up his first work, of two turbaned men, one black, one white, following a candle they carried, much like Diogenes, he was interrupted three times by fans who stopped to ask him questions or praise his work. He graciously took the time to talk to each.




The first stencil finished, he moved to another large empty wall across avenue Acaird, the site of countless stencils, paintings, stickers, etc. that had come and gone since street art prehistory, now-missing work that we had photographed over the last two-and-a-half years.

"This one is a surprise for you," Fred said with a shy smile.

As he began unrolling the first panel against the rough plastered wall, using a bristled brush on a telescoping handle, we recognized it immediately; the man on a bench under an umbrella or mushroom that could be a UFO, protecting himself and a small animal from the rain that fell like tears all around them. A giant version of the photo-of-the-day on Paris Play's Facebook page.

As Fred unrolled and pasted his panels (each about 2.5 meters tall), two more passersby stopped to watch intently. Richard continued snapping pictures. 

After a minute, one man, wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, a brown bomber jacket and dark sneakers approached us, peered up at Fred’s work, and spoke in French. Richard responded with his usual, "Je suis desolée. Je ne parle pas bien Français." (Sorry, I don't speak French very well.)

"Alors," the man responded, "vous êtes un journaliste étranger." (So, you are a foreign journalist.)

"Oui," Richard replied.

The man moved on to Fred, removing a small, thin case from his plaid shirt pocket. He held it open, and Fred gulped.


It is illegal in France to show the face of an undercover officer 

The man then turned to Richard. "Pas de photos pour cinq minutes, sil vous plait." (Stop shooting for five minutes, please.) “Oui.

He removed a small notebook from his pocket, and wrote down Fred's answers to his questions. The basics: name, address, age, phone number.

They spoke quietly for less than five minutes, then the man walked off.

Fred looked poleaxed. "Very bad news," he said, with characteristic calm.

The man, he said, happened to be Paris' chief detective in charge of stopping illegal street art. Fred explained that, while the various (20) neighborhood city halls can allow certain artists to work on approved walls in their arrondissements, and the owners of buildings can allow artists' work on their property, the City of Paris has jurisdiction over stopping unpermitted wall art.

After taking Fred's information, and explaining to him that the fine could be anything from 35 to 3,500 euros, he promised he'd be in touch about the present violation. No matter what the fine, however, Fred was now on notice: He would be arrested and/or fined if he posted another stencil within the city limits, that part of Paris within the Périphérique, the freeway that rings the city. 

We remarked at how civil the process had been. A subdued conversation on a street corner. Fred gave his information, but could easily have lied about any of it, since the detective didn't even ask for ID. Fred shrugged. "Why lie?" His chivalrous characters gathered around him. This is a man with a sense of ethics.



And this is an artist. He continued putting up the final panels of the stencil. Why leave an unfinished work on the wall? We discussed the fine, and taking up an online collection to help him pay it. He smiled, but raising only one corner of his mouth, gave a Gallic shrug, and continued pasting.

His mobile phone rang within the next ten minutes. It was the detective. Yes, this was an illegal wall posting, the local city hall had confirmed that. The fine would be up to five hundred euros. Yessir. He hung up and continued. “He said they knew my work, and my street name, but now they have my true name, and address.”  

“Not work again in Paris? What will you do?” 

“There are the suburbs. Pantin,” he allowed, sadly.



His phone rang again. He ignored the call, and finished the final panel.

He picked up his paste pot, brushes, and rolled-up stencils, and we set off to a nearby café to discuss the calamitous turn the day had taken.

But wait. His phone rang again, and he answered it.

The detective again. The fine was now eight hundred euros, he told Fred, because he had continued pasting after the warning. While the detective was nowhere in sight, Fred was under surveillance. He would not be fined this time, the detective said, if he agreed to take the work back down, but he was still admonished against putting up anything else illegal in Paris. If he did, they would fine him thousands for each piece.

Fred turned back to the wall, which now loomed like the bulwark of a medieval castle. Slowly, he peeled off the last panel, which was still wet, letting it drift to the sidewalk in a crumpled pile. He straightened it out and let it lie.

He continued with the other panels, but since they were drier, he had to rip each one, pulling smaller and smaller pieces from the wall, destroying the man on the bench, the animal he sheltered. He grunted and crumpled the intact panel, shoving it with the other scraps into the nearby city trash bag.

It began to rain.

(Fred let us go on shooting pictures, but later texted, “Please don't publish the pictures where I pulled off my paste-up. I don’t think I could look at them.” His perspective on events is in French on his blog.)



When he was done, we offered again to buy coffee.

“No,” he said. “I think I need to be alone. I will just walk home. I hope you understand.”

He turned, bucket and stencils under his arm, lances held upright, and walked off into the Paris drizzle.


All artwork depicted in this issue is copyright 2013 by Fred Le Chevalier. Text (c) 2013 by Kaaren Kitchell and Paris Play; photographs (c) 2013 by Richard Beban and Paris Play.