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

Entries in street art (14)


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.





Surrealist Café: Sensual Surprise


Painting, Pussy 2, (c) 2013 by Philippe Lardy


Last week we asked friends around the world to "Send us a paragraph or a poem or a photo or a drawing of absolutely anything sensual—food, love, beauty, dance—that you experience, observe, dream or imagine that takes you by surprise."

This week, from France, from Switzerland, from Vietnam, from Norway, from Washington, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Ohio, from around the world, your responses. Thank you for playing with Paris Play. (All texts and images (c) 2013 by the various artists.)


Cassandra Lane: Excerpt from her manuscript, Seed of Strange Fruit

Our obsession with food eventually moved to Jay’s kitchen. A trained chef and winemaker, he sautéed scallops in the finest of butters and wrapped their plump bodies in caramelized onions. Placing his creations strategically on stylish plates, he drizzled a creamy red wine balsamic sauce across the scallops and the saucers—a dazzle of color. “Let there be light,” he joked. We placed each scallop whole into our mouths, where spices awakened my taste buds and my flesh. 

Chilled glasses of white wine—always sweet, despite that Jay preferred red— refreshed our palates.

He drove me to wine country, fingered grapes while waxing poetically about their complexity, and introduced me to his winemaker friends, who offered me sip after sip of reds and whites. At a cottage restaurant, we shared a goat cheese soufflé and port-glazed figs, and I told Jay about my fascination with figs, rooted in the fig trees that grew in my childhood backyard. In its raw state, the purple-black skin is the sweetest part of the ripe fig. When you peel away the outer layer, you’re left with the milder, milk-white surface underneath. Not as sweet, but pliable and swollen, a lactating breast. One gentle nip releases its cool red ovaries, and here is where the fig’s sweetness returns, trailing the tongue.

I was drunk on our love. We were bound, Jay said, by a soul connection most people would go to their graves not knowing. We reeled each other in with our words—whispered words, written words. In emails and letters, Jay poured words into me that seemed as whole and fresh as the juice of a mango. I would read them out loud, holding the syllables in my mouth, believing them with my entire being. Somehow, I had forgotten that everything is skewed in the first stages of romance. Add to that an illicit love affair, and the sparks of distortion turn to flames. Reading astrological charts and Sabian symbols, I tried to confirm that this man was my soul mate, that we had not—could not have—destroyed our lives for naught.

At least, I could not have.


Nancy Zafris

I doubt you'll find a more sensual or appetizing food photo than this -- Ohio State Forest deep in France...


Photo (c) 2013 Nancy Zafris

Scott MacFarlane: Excerpt from novel-in-progress

Maybe my malaise went far deeper than this current contaminated mess.  Hell, I didn’t understand my own chronic alienation, except that now, without a doubt, the old model was badly cracked.  Even the morning wind through the firs sounded weary to my ears, and the late August sun burned dry from above the Cascade Range to the east––a deep red ball shining through a pallor of dark gray inversion.  The remains of Vancouver and Seattle still smoldered.  The murk settled over the Skagit Valley like an omnipresent reminder of collective doom.

“As fine she’s looked all year,” I heard Uncle Harley say in his smoker’s voice when he turned the Sheriff’s attention away from his barn and toward the river.

“Are you talking about Signe or the Skagit?” Bucky asked, with his eyes downhill.

“The river,” said Uncle Harley.

I continued unloading boxes while the two men in their 60s watched my mother on the sand bar step from her violet, silk kimono and into the cold, slow eddy in the small slough where it entered the outermost bend of the Skagit.  All but my mother’s white bun of hair submerged as she followed her daily, ritual meditation.  Hers was a cold water baptism that I had observed for decades whenever the river turned clear––summer, autumn, winter, or spring.  It was August, so she remained in the river for minutes instead of seconds.  I remembered how Derek and I, as naked lads, used to join her in the ritual.

“Do you think she minds us watching?” Bucky asked my uncle, shifting uneasily from foot-to-foot when Signe emerged from the river.  

Droplets glistened on her long naked body like morning dew.  She closed her eyes, slowly stretching and lifting her arms away from her side.  She faced the sun and seemed to bow.  I couldn’t tell if her expression was happy or sad, but she looked centered, almost serene, when a slight smile curled at the corners of her mouth.  

When her eyes opened, I wondered if she only pretended not to notice the men who watched her bend, then slip so smoothly into her kimono.  Thinking of my mom as still flirtatious bothered me more than her lithe and natural nakedness that had always been commonplace during our sporadic sunny days here in Fish Town.


Mary Duncan: Pillow Gifts

Photograph (c) 2013 Mary Duncan

On her wedding night, a virgin bride found a beautifully wrapped small gift on her pillow. She gently took off the gold ribbon and unfolded the soft, silk gold cloth. She laid the box on her lap and let it nestle in the soft folds of her white embroidered gown. 

Her groom, dressed in a luxurious blue robe, sat quietly on the side of the bed.
As he touched her hand, he said, “Please open it.”
Perhaps she expected a piece of jewelry or a small ornament for her hair.
She hesitated and then did as she was told.
A slight gasp, a blush. Inside the box was a small, ivory, two-inch hand-carved figure, showing a man and a woman entwined. The bride and groom had barely touched until this moment.
The gift of the netsuke (net-su-ke) or (net-ski) was the beginning of her sexual education and could have occurred in Japan in the 1600’s, long before The Joy of Sex was written. In China and Japan, gifts of erotic illustrations and netsukes, were how wealthy families educated young brides.
Not all netsukes are erotic. Animals, people and abstract objects are also highly prized. Japanese men used them to tie their sashes and used them as toggles on small sacks to carry their money and tobacco.
Eventually the netsukes fell out of favor because their sexual positions became too tangled, complex or controversial. When animals and multiple partners were introduced into the delicate erotic carvings, they were temporarily banned.   
Today these intricately carved, erotic netsukes are collected and shown in galleries and museums. They are made from ivory, bone, wood, amber and whale's tooth. In modern times, a combination of resin and ivory dust is also used. Be careful that your gift doesn’t encourage the killing of elephants for their ivory tusks.
Prices vary depending on the age, material used, the artist and origin of the netsuke. Before purchasing or investing, talk with an expert and do your homework. Newer ones are on the market and are far less valuable than those from the 1800’s and earlier.

Netsukes can be the perfect gift for a lover, male or female. Surprise the special person in your life with a gift on their pillow. Hopefully, you’ll both be pleased with the results.


Suki Edwards: Yang of Sensuality

Photograph (c) 2013 Suki Edwards


Gayle Brandeis: Flora

I've always liked the term
"lily-livered."  I know it means
cowardly, but this is how 
I see it:  the liver, sleek
and wine-colored, bursts forth
with lilies; petals drift
and ride the streams of blood.
Think of it:  the body
opens into flower, turns orchid-
spleened, jasmine-lunged, breath
tropical, humid with scent.
Poppies bloom between the legs,
wisteria vines wind
up the spine, each bone filled
with pollen and sweet nectar.  The heart
is a rose, of course, plushly
blossomed, and inside the skull,
with each new thought,
a tulip unfurls
in the brain.


Jane Kitchell: Red Bird Woman 

Sculpture and Photograph (c) 2013 Jane Kitchell


Eric Schafer: Excerpt from his short story "Married," from his collection The Wind Took It Away: Stories of Viet Nam

I have always loved Miền Tây, the Mekong Delta, one of the loveliest places on Earth. Blue rivers, sometimes mocha with rich silt brought all the way from Tibet; gold-green rice fields; high, clear skies that are almost green with the intense reflection of the rice fields at the start of the day and turn reddish cream at sunset; golden brown rice drying on the roads and green-pink thanh long fruit growing everywhere; hundreds of thousands of coconut trees; red-dusty roads, women wearing nón lá and plaid shirts, gracefully pedaling bicycles; schoolgirls in white áo dài with black trousers, little children running, laughing, shouting back and forth along the side of the road; the scent of fresh air and sweet fruit; the red clay earth running into the rough green grass...


Bayu Laprade

Image (c) 2013 Bayu Laprade

Ren Powell: Sensual Surprise (Dissonant Seduction)

We are taxiing on the runway now. I’m flying to Oslo to swear that I no longer want to be an American citizen.

For it to be real, I have to say it out loud. And someone has to hear.

There is nothing supernatural about oaths and prayers and curses. They are waves in the physical world. They move us, just as the sea moves the shore: imperceptibly and absolutely. Events as solid, as physical, as the moment of held breath before a kiss.

I swear.


There is a beauty in physical ease: dance, the smooth gesture of a master carpenter’s hand, the whispered words of a lover that ride the breath - measured carefully and given over. With ease.


Language is the core of identity. The physical world clings to itself. 

The juxtaposition of diphthongs and fricatives reveal everything. It is an unavoidable intimacy of push, of pulse.  

And I will never pass as Norwegian, regardless of my appearance or papers. The second generation Somalian, whose broad vowel æ resonates without an edge, proves that the visual is trumped by the sensual. Appearances deceive, but the breath can not.


There are so many vowels I cannot sing. Cannot measure.

And though these sounds I make are not beautiful in themselves, they gesture toward something - toward the kind of beauty that is evident in a dissonant chord: the charm of an accent.  A necessary contrast, a drama –


May the waves of my breath, and the surrounding silence, penetrate your chest cavity and finger the hollowness there. May I make you aware of the disruption of molecules – which is heat, after all.


Rachel Brown

Image (c) 2013 Rachel Brown


Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore: Cobalt Blue



Cobalt blue! Whose
very name alone would
make me a believer, but whose
color in transparent glass
against light from a window

lifts the mind to a fantasy of
deep darkness, of
sea-depths, undersides of
sunken hulls, treasure,
deepsea tropical caverns,
night. But

night with a holy radiance,
cloisters, Mediterranean
monasteries, Greek
bottles on high walls overlooking
the brighter blue sea -- 

cobalt blue glass!

Shadowy translucence!

Sexual celestial!

During the day:



Nice Art One

Image (c) 2013 Nice Art



Diane Sherry Case

The first spot of sunlight after my sister's death fell on the peach tree outside my front door. I had not perceived life in color for months. And suddenly there was my favorite fruit, abundant, as many peaches as I could eat. My favorite hues of sunset and the texture of velvet. I sat on my porch and let the sticky juice run down my chin and mingle with tears of grief. I made primal sounds like a famished baby and devoured one luscious peach after another, amazed, simply amazed that life goes on, life goes on.



Nice Art Two

Image (c) 2013 Nice Art


Bruce Moody: With Elephants

With elephants everything

A cascade of cliff,
on four limber pillars.

A fog of stone
always slowly
moving west.

A strolling Niagara.

Wearing a wardrobe
of loose-fitting determination,
she looms 
her great sweet 

You have felt their stone-tough, 

It snouts around like the foot of a snail. 
until it clamps the morsel of crackerjack,
which it, 
like an undersea thing, 
and confidently
and insouciantly
and speedily
into its heart-shaped maw.

Bad for the tusks?

Well, elephant dentists and nutritionists say
Elephants must eat 
for their health and satisfaction,
every day,
of popcorn,
a silo. 

So who am I to lecture an elephant – 
vegan as she is – 
about weight-loss?

Elephants remember
to diet on whole savannahs. 
And toss their mighty heads about,
making gales with their ears

and, with their Cyrano noses,
announce ––



Nice Art Three

Image (c) 2013 Nice Art

Rachel Dacus

Nissa speaks in kisses.
A dog’s mouth isn’t made for English, 
so she sounds her vowels with swipes 
of tongue – that best pink instrument. 
She covers the face, the lips 
from which my voice emerges
and patiently investigates
the curves, tasting the salt 
of meaning behind my ear, 
pressing on the place
that looses my giggles,
which I am sure she knows
as her real name.


Nice Art Four

Image (c) 2013 Nice Art



Corps Blanc Dans La Rue: A Night with Mesnager and Mescal


Date night! The plan: we’ll walk a half-hour to the Art Jingle gallery in the Marais where Jérôme Mesnager’s show is opening. Richard suggests a dinner afterwards at a favorite Mexican restaurant just half a block away, “even though it’s not Sunday night.”

It happens so often now that it no longer surprises me. I’ll be thinking of something and without a word exchanged, he’s on the same wavelength.

I’d been musing on the odd resonance between France and Arizona. So many friends and acquaintances who grew up in Arizona have ended up living in Paris or southern France, or visit as often as twice a year. Mort, Edith and Don, Amy, Audrey and I and others. Yet Arizona and France seem to have so little in common.

Growing up in Arizona, my family went out for Mexican food every Sunday night. It was a sacrament. Mexican food is childhood in the Sonoran desert to me.

We squeeze into the elevator, Richard sideways with all his camera equipment in a pack on his back.

“You look like a camel,” I say.

He makes a noise exactly like a camel, a talent I wasn’t aware he had. All the way down to the ground floor, he groan-bleats like a camel. I’m laughing imagining our gardien rushing to the elevator door in alarm.



We set out at 5 in a steady rain, laughing at the unlikelihood that we’d be walking half an hour anywhere in the rain if we still lived in L.A. Our only concession to the weather is the choice of a less scenic route across the Pont de Sully and up Blvd. Henri IV to rue de Turenne—it’s faster. 

We are the first to arrive, Richard’s preference so that he can photograph the artwork “without a bunch of people standing in the way.”



A young woman in blonde braids shows me around the gallery, describing each painting, including its colors. As a former art dealer, I’m tickled by this approach. A blue background, you say?

In comes a Frenchman who circles the gallery, then asks me which painting is my favorite.



Coup de foudre,” I say. We examine a brown canvas on which Mesnager has painted one of his corps blanc, reacting in awe to a small yellow plaque that bears the image of a man struck by lightning--a sign warning of high voltage, which we see often on Paris electrical switching boxes. 

Richard had chosen that image in 1999 as the cover of his second chapbook, a book of love poems, written after we’d both been hit by the coup de foudre of love.



“Buy it!” says the Frenchman.

I’d already checked the price. “We only buy paintings before the artist is famous,” I say.

He corrects my French: “Célèbre,” he says.

Ah, oui, merci.”

Other people float into the gallery. Everyone seems to be in the lightest of spirits, as if they’ve inhaled the joy of Mesnager’s buoyant dancing figures.

The artist blows in, an ebullient elfin face, faded red jeans, champagne spirit.



Seated at a round table in the corner, on which are a few books of the fifty-two-year-old artist’s work, including his autobiography, I survey the paintings and the people. He takes a seat, and one by one, I watch the gallery-goers come up to him to pay their respects.

Jérôme Mesnager (the "s" is silent) is one of the original modern Paris street artists. He began in 1980, and created his first painted white figure in January 1983 as “a symbol of light, power, and peace.” They have since leapt continents, his work can now be seen on walls around the world. There is even an image of his Corps Blanc climbing up the Great Wall of China. Stories tumble from him, he is entertaining his fans. Men unfurl works of his on paper they’ve had for years, and ask him to sign.



Richard, wearing black, is dancing around the room, a corps noir, capturing every image and face.

An odd sort of date, huh? For us, though, these luminous figures perfectly capture our own joy at arriving in Paris two years and two months ago. We found this image on a wall on rue Mouffetard, long before we knew Mesnager or his seminal role in Paris street art, which Richard photographed for our second Paris Play post, “The Bell of Light."

And we’ve used his work in other posts, here, here and here, for example.

The champagne is flowing, the gallery buzzing. Jérôme selects a brush from a can, dips it into a pot of white paint, and approaches the inside gallery window. He lifts his arm and with sure strokes—les bras, les mains, les fesses, les cuisses, pieds, tête, oiseau—transforms ebullient spirits into ecstatic image. People crowd the sidewalk, snapping photos from the outside. I stand behind the easels and watch.



Richard brings me a glass of champagne, and introduces me to Véronique. She is Jérôme’s older sister, and a more protective, loving sister you cannot imagine. In his autobiography, he writes that she was the first appreciator of his art, and that he gave her his very first creation. It’s impossible to go to an important opening by any Paris street artist now, not just her brother’s, and not run into Véronique Mesnager, blessing other artists and supporting the growing community.


Véronique and her brother Jérôme 

Richard has his photographs. We glance at each other: we’re starving! The restaurant is open, and it’s authentic Mexican food, the way it’s made in Mexico City.

We communicate with the waiter in a ridiculous mix of French and English and un poco de español

The guacamole is one of the only two we’ve found in Paris that tastes like real guacamole, the chips so fresh they’re fragrant. We sit on a banquette next to the bar, and talk about the dark and the light in our lives and the joy that runs through all of it. The waiter, hair in a pigtail, brings chicken flautas for me, chorizo and potato tacos for Richard, and black beans.



At the same event, Richard has seen the faces, and I’ve heard the stories. We swap impressions. Richard is struck by the fact that Jérôme has such a charming, joyous, elfin face, yet that he is most famous for characters that have no face at all.

And, the waiter interrupts, would we like dessert?

No, but how about a shot of that Scorpion Mescal above the bar?

The waiter, grinning, takes the bottle down, and places it on our table.

“What happens if you eat the scorpion?” I ask. “Isn’t it poisonous?”

“It won’t kill you,” he says. “It’s strange. France won’t allow in tequila with worms in it, but scorpions? No problem.”

“Who orders it, mostly Americans and Mexicans?”

“No, it’s the French who keep coming back and ordering shots, hoping to get the scorpion.”

The level of liquid is low, within inches of the scorpion. Shall we have a shot or two in honor of the Sonoran desert, right here in Paris?

Later at home, wondering if mescal is another name for tequila, I look it up and find: Mezcal is made from the maguey plant, a form of agave plant native to Mexico, whereas tequila is made from the blue agave. The saying in Oaxaca is: “para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también” (“for everything bad, mescal, and for everything good, as well”).  

But this is what slays me: “The maguey was one of the most sacred plants in pre-Hispanic Mexico, and had a privileged position in religious rituals, mythology and the economy. Cooking of the “piña” or heart of the maguey and fermenting its juice was practiced. The origin of this drink has a myth. It is said that a lightning bolt struck an agave plant, cooking and opening it, releasing its juice. For this reason, the liquid is called the “elixir of the gods.”"

coup de foudre kind of night, everywhere we turn.






The Youngest Established Permanent Floating Art Museum in Paris


All art in this post is at Le Bloc. Artwork (c) 2013 by the artists.

The clock is ticking on one of Paris' newest contemporary art museums.

No, not the big clock on the face of Musée D'Orsay, the former train station turned high art Mecca in Paris' trés chic, Seine-hugging seventh arrondissement.



The museum to which we're referring is Le Bloc, waaaay out in the non-trendy nineteenth, accessible by a tiny Metro spur line, and the clock is the administrative clock that began ticking Wednesday, when the museum's founders received a summons asking them to leave the seven-story, 7,000 square meter former office building they've occupied since early November.



Okay, Le Bloc is not technically a museum, it's a squat, and the artists/organizers are following a grand tradition of artists that goes back at least as far as Pablo Picasso's Montmartre Bateau-Lavoirs--find a rent-free accommodation for your studio/living space, and use your money for your art and food.



Squatting is simple. Find an empty building (the Le Bloc folks Googled to find theirs), move in, invite friends, and stay for 48 hours, after which, according to French law, you cannot be forcibly evicted. The owner must then take you to Paris Administrative Court and get a ruling against you, an administrative process that could take months, stretching into years. In France, it's illegal to evict anyone in the winter.



Before the legal hammer falls, start working to prove that you're an improvement over having an empty building in the neighborhood. This means providing public spaces for social services, community events, artists' studios, or affordable housing to satisfy an overwhelming demand in an expensive city of 2.5 million people where up to eight percent of residences are nonetheless vacant at any one time.



It's a long shot (and people squat for different reasons, not just because they're artists), but some of the more famous artists' buildings in Paris, like the 200-occupant Les Frigos, and 59 rue du Rivoli, which houses thirty artists amid the posh neighborhood clothing stores, are examples of successful conversions from squats to legal spots. The City of Paris paid $12.5 million dollars in 2006 to buy and refurbish 59 Rivoli, for example, and reopened it in 2009. Artists can pay as little as one euro a day rent.



More squats disappear than get embraced by the city, but artists are born to play the odds; it's hard to imagine a more insecure profession. Pile on squatting, which often means living with no hot water, heat, light, and other amenities, and this life looks like a game for the young, with supple bones and thick pelts. Most of the squatters we know are young, or at least under forty.



Le Bloc is seven stories tall, with four additional floors underground, and incorporates an old parking garage. On February 9, we were given a guided tour of all eleven floors, save for the roof, because the person entrusted with that key was elsewhere. Each of the aboveground floors has at least a dozen small offices/studios that are now all occupied by about 180 working artists, and common rooms that are decorated spaces.



Our guide, who is one of the squat organizers, told us he prefers working artists who will be in their offices daily, rather than offering space to more established artists who might only show up once a week or so. While art is often a solitary undertaking, artists are also asked to participate in community, and help run the place.





The four underground floors, and the circular ramps and old parking spaces, are a new contemporary art museum, a venue close in spirit to Nathan Detroit's underground craps parlor ("Guys and Dolls," of course). Amid dozens of old tipped-over metal bookcases, with the contents of cardboard boxes--paper forms from the health office that was the former tenant--strewn about, and in rooms with standing water a few inches deep, art is flourishing on the walls. Various artists and crews are creating murals and tags that may never survive past this present temporary occupation, but the symphony of color and spray art technique is worth the visit while it's there.







How to get in? Luckily, Le Bloc is having its first-ever open house today (Saturday, 16 February) from 2 'til 11 p.m.






We shot many more pictures than can adorn a Paris Play post, so if you'd like to see the rest, eighty-two in total, pop over here to Facebook.





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