An Urban Canvas
So this is my first post since I began a once in a lifetime francophone journey this summer that will ultimately take the better part of a year to complete. I have been in Paris for 5 weeks now and have been acclimating myself to a familiar but ultimately unique understanding of the role and function of the city and the interactions of its inhabitants. My first thoughts: art on the urban canvas.
One small note: in an effort to convey the omnipresence of the street art, graffiti, and tags within Paris all the following pictures within the body of the text (with the exception of the above cover image by Nick Walker) were taken during a single 1.5 hour walk from Plaçe Bastille to the Belleville metro and represent a small portion of the works that I found interesting during my walk (and seem to include old friends such as Invader, Nick Walker and Shepard Fairey).
Street art (or graffiti or tags) is ever-present in Paris. Every corner, every street, every building even every sidewalk carries with it a mark from an anonymous (or sometimes even famous) artist/hooligan. Is this vandalism and defacement of private property or public art within the framework of an anonymous stone and glass maze?
Anyone who has taken a class from Professor Allen has walked away with a very different understanding of the role of the street in the public realm- the street begins to take on an almost sacred role as the one true public space in a city.
The street then is the basis of participatory democracy – protest and marches – celebrations and gatherings, and the theatre of the populace. If the street is the civic thread of the city, then where can the true lines be drawn between the private and purchased spaces of the businesses and residences and the public street?
In this case I don’t personally think the legal definitions are appropriate. The street, the sidewalk, the facades, the urban canyon of facades all create the corridor of civic life.
Where then is the fault in its decoration? Street art seems to be one of the few bold moves that an individual can make to impact or improve the public space- even if it is only done in ephemeral means. Street art is an opportunity to bring to the public ideas and thoughts seemingly too radical or unrefined for the museums and galleries to light as well as a step to further the aesthetic identity of a city in a way that for (probably) too long has been taken from the average person and given to the urbanist or architect.
True street art can be a reading of the popular spirit or of a community, or it can be simply a gesture of good will towards the anonymous corners of the city. It can be bold in a way few arts are still willing to be or it can be as simple and plebian as aesthetics and cultural references can be.
But with any praise of street art comes the knowledge that all is not art, all may not be for the common pleasure. How then can the line be drawn between the good, the bad, and the ugly? Can the tags of the city be dismissed as vandalous scribbles when they carry with them the same conceptual framework of the urban billboard- the citywide roll call of identities not able to be represented concretely but merely on the raw concrete itself?
The truth is, I don’t know. I know my preferences, but I do not know how to begin to parse the urban marks and urban art of Paris and the world. I do know however, that at the end of the day, I do appreciate the dismissal of the city as some dead collection of plans and legal papers of the high and the new understanding of the city as a permanent framework of the ephemeral marks of the populace and its desires.
[ graffiti, Paris, street art, urban design ]