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

Entries in Le M.U.R. (3)


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.)




No One In Paris Owns a White Truck


No one in Paris owns a white truck. Oh, they may drive one off the showroom floor white, but after a very short time (overnight in some neighborhoods) they are no longer trucks, or white, but mobile canvases that promote the work of the coming generation of street artists.



For the folks who own the trucks, this is the downside of street art, the point where they would probably say the practice crosses over into vandalism.



Some of these "artists" are simply taggers, in Paris Play's view, low-level wannabes who piss like wolves with magic markers or spray cans simply to mark territory, and leave their scrawls on the fronts of houses, on shop windows, on automobiles and trucks--in short, anywhere, just to say, "I was here." We agree with Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of New York City’s Queens Museum of Art, who says, “I can’t condone vandalism… It’s really upsetting to me that people would need to write their name over and over again in public space. It’s this culture of fame. I really think it’s regrettable that they think that’s the only way to become famous.” 

An article in the latest issue of À Paris, the official magazine the city sends free to local residents, makes a clear distinction between artists and taggers, the latter of whom cost the city €4.5 million ($5.82 million) each year in clean-up fees. À Paris said, "There is no question here of artistic practices on walls or dedicated street art…but those who defile façades and houses." After noting that the city's legal options are limited, the article concludes, "It therefore encourages residents and owners to complain, so that the damage will be treated as a crime and not as a fatality. Le graffiti sauvage is liable to a fine of €3750…up to €7500 for a public building."



A step up from tagging, the lines begin to blur. When enough tags accumulate, the result can be a collective collage that turns into a work of art. One of our favorites is this tiny work above, the locked gate at a long disused railroad tunnel in the 14th arrondissement. 


The graffiti crew "Spank," with their latest work on a "legal" wall on city property


And the next step up from tags as collage are the works of graffiti artists (individuals or "crews") who create larger spraypainted pieces with psychedelic colors and misshapen letters that carry our minds back to the Wes Wilson, Kelly/Mouse, Arab et al Fillmore and Avalon Ballroom posters that burst out of the Haight-Ashbury in that Sixties blaze of cultural and artistic ferment. We'd call those Bay Area-based artists godfathers to the graffiti crew phenomenon of the seventies in Philadelphia, then New York, etc., though the music that inspired those latter rebels was hip-hop, still associated, in many people's minds, with the larger calligraphic pieces that spread around the world, the gradual evolution of tagging into works of graphic art. 



(It's not our intent to delve into the arcana of styles, bubble-lettering versus wild style, or how different styles evolved in different ends of the same town, but anyone who'd like to add to our store of knowledge is free to join in the comments section.)

The final step (so far) are the full-scale works of art, with or without calligraphy, that Paris Play has been covering for the last two years, the urbain art movement that is filling galleries, exhibition spaces, and gradually museums around the world, and fetching prices even heftier than the penalties for tagging.



One of the distinctions that artists we've come to know here make is permanence versus impermanence. The organization Le M.U.R., whose exhibition we covered a few weeks ago, now has three billboard sites around the city, but each of those large pieces of billboard art only stays up for two weeks before it is replaced by the work of another artist. Street art, they believe, is ephemeral, ever-changing, which is why we are out at least three days a week documenting with our cameras what we see in the streets. It could literally be gone in a day. 

While street artists work in various media--painting, mosaic, wood blocking, yarn bombing, stencils, multimedia installations--many of the art pieces we photograph, like the popular work of Fred Le Chevalier, Kashink, Norulescorp, Tristan des Limbes, Madame, and others are "sticker art" done on paper, with wheat paste to adhere it to the walls, precisely because it is impermanent. Some artists like seeing their work decay over time; the process of decay is part of the life cycle of the work, and a comment on city living. The replacement of their work with other peoples', which also decays and is replaced by others, makes some street walls pentimento collages.         





But the spray-painted trucks are permanent, looking like rubber-tired versions of circa-1970s New York City subway cars. In some neighborhoods that have street markets a few times a week, where trucks are parked regularly in order to maintain a position on market day, it's an artistic free-for-all--trucks as chum for a school of art sharks. Walk along Boulevard de la Villette or Boulevard de Belleville in the 11th arrondissement (same street, it just changes its name near the Belleville Metro stop) and you'll see a free plein air gallery.




However, there may be a bright side we're missing. These could all be commissioned works, from crews like FD and 1984, whose work appears frequently. Perhaps the truck owners have simply hired a local crew to create some coherent, themed mural, rather than succumb to taggers with no taste. If you can't beat 'em, hand 'em your own spray can and stand back.






 If you'd like to see more, we posted our overflow pictures here




Street Legal Art (for a few days)

Mural by Bustart

What a fine week it was for street art in Paris. The equivalent of, if not Woodstock, at least 1967's Monterey Pop Festival.

Last week, Paris Play joined the organizations Alternative Paris and My Life on My Bike to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the four-day long urban art exhibition featuring the work of fifty street artists from all over the world, organized by Le M.U.R. de L'Art. The documentary crew of six (including Richard, and our nephew, Jonathan Edwards) shot photographs and conducted thirty-five videotaped artist interviews in ninety-six hours, with the eventual goal of producing a documentary about this effervescent scene.



Le M.U.R. de L'Art was founded in 2007, and serves as a legal, aboveground, as it were, gallery for street artists. To make a long story short (you can read the long version here), street artists began hijacking billboards here in Paris in the early 2000s, replacing advertising with street art. Finally, one billboard company simply gave up the fight for one piece of turf, and donated its ground-level billboard on rue Oberkampf to the community. Hence, Le M.U.R., which presents a different artists' work made on that billboard every two weeks, to celebrate both street art and its ephemeral nature. If you miss that fortnight's work, it's gone.

But here's where relationships get strange. Le M.U.R. gives each artist €500 to create his or her piece, a stipend provided by the City of Paris. And this four-day exhibition was supported by the City, in a city arts center in the Marais. So, while much of the art we are so fond of photographing and showing you here on Paris Play is illegal, and artists can be fined and jailed for putting it up, detente exists, though some artists do not want their photographs published. Nonetheless, it was great fun putting faces to many of the names whose work we've admired for the last few years.


Kashink with her sculpture, "Cash Cow"  

Each of the fifty artists who exhibited last week in this benefit for Le M.U.R. had previously been featured on a billboard. Some, like Jérome Mesnager, Mosko and Associates, Speedy Graphito, and Gérard Zlotykamien are the equivalent of O.G.s (original gangstas) on the street, and have already been the subject of books, museum catalogs, and have their work in contemporary art museums and galleries, selling for thousands of euros apiece. Others, many of them women, have been in the game for a lot less time, but their work is of a high enough quality that it rivals that found in the formal galleries in the Marais and St. Germain des Pres, and is often more interesting. 

And since the work, by artists from as far away as Chile, Argentina, Canada, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia, speaks for itself, we'll be quiet and let you enjoy. If you like a name, Google it for more examples; just about everybody has a Website or Facebook page. And Le M.U.R is a non-profit, which welcomes your support.


Jérome Mesnager




Mosko et Associes

Gérard Laux of Mosko et Associes, surrounded by the staff of Graffiti Art magazine





Speedy Graphito
























Thom Thom

Thom Thom (Thomas Schmitt) is co-founder of Le M.U.R.





Ella & Pitr















Mural by FKDL (left) and Stoul (right)










Le Cyklop







Teaching his son how to mix paint





Jana and JS



















Surfil with Alternative Paris' Demian Smith











H101 and Zosen









Rue Meurt d'Art





Kenor teaching a fan




No Rules Corp












Michael Beerens





If you've scrolled this far, thank you. And here's your surprise: links to the four two-minute or so videos the team produced each day of the event, as teasers for the eventual documentary. Video one, two, three, and four. Enjoy.