A country of gastronomy, fashion, and culture, France has always been the art aficionado’s paradise. One of the world’s foremost art capitals and a hotbed for the creative avant-garde, Paris continues to be a center for the global contemporary scene. Working in a variety of mediums and styles, French artists have always been on the forefront of cutting-edge practices, constantly contributing to the rich French art history. With over 10,000 museums, the country offers an immersive art experience for any art enthusiast out there. You surely know the Musée du Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée d’Art Moderne, or the Musée d’Orsay, but Paris’s neighborhoods are also humming with independent new and established galleries and nonprofit art centers on a scale not seen since the city was the global capital of culture pre-World War II. We might just mention a few, such as the Modus Art Gallery, Galerie Openspace, La Maréchalerie, Galerie Xippas, La Maison Rouge, Galerie Mathgoth, among many others.
Regardless of the fact that French laws against the “degradation” of public property have been so strict that it was illegal to even wield a can of spray paint without obtaining prior permission from city officials, this country’s urban art scene is incredibly rich since French graffiti and street artists have been bravely creating their art since the 1960’s. There is a whole army of urban artists working in France today, all of whom have built their expression either on their artistic preferences, or on the national street art heritage. As official policies towards street art are changing for the better, Paris has re-emerged as the mecca for this art style in recent years.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most talked about and highly influential contemporary French artists.
Remed - Ancient Hieroglyphics with a Modern Twist
Multifaceted fine artist and muralist Remed (Alby Guillame) is recognized for his poetic, brightly colored canvases and large-scale murals of strong shapes, as well as his own developed typography of letters which resemble ancient hieroglyphics with a modern twist to them. Remed discovered the art of painting in atelier of his hometown Lille, and after years of working inside, he felt the need to overcome the limits of canvas and the desire to show his work. This is when he took his art to the streets, and it was not long until he first gained fame with his abstract and heavily patterned paintings of bearded men.
Jules de Balincourt - Multi-layered Artwork that Questions Structures of Influence and Power
Jules de Balincourt is a Paris-born, and New York-based, painter who is focused on creating the satirical analysis of the social, religious, economic and political landscape of the United States. After emerging in the early 2000’s, Jules de Balincourt has established himself as one of the most intuitive and exciting painters of his generation. Working from the position of an outsider, and interested in both physical and metaphysical images that surround us, de Balincourt employs a post-pop painterly language in paintings which, from a distance appear seamless, but up close reveal highly intelligent and multi-layered artwork that questions structures of influence and power.
Featured images: Jules de Balincourt; Jules de Balincourt – People Who Play and The People Who Pay, via saatchigallery.com
Seth Globepainter - Playful Artwork with Cultural Heritage from around the World
Seth Globepainter (Julien Malland) is an exceptionally talented Parisian street artist who uses a wide variety of mediums, including paintings, sculpture and tapestry, internationally recognized for his eye-catching and dreamy murals of child-like characters painted in many countries across the world. Drawing inspiration while trotting the globe (hence the name Globepainter), and often collaborating with local street artists on large-scale murals, this graduate of the National School of Decorative Arts from Paris is constantly exploring traditional craft and exchanging ideas, resulting in every new whimsical piece of his being innovative and fresh. Found from China to Colombia, playful artwork of Set Globepainter incorporates cultural heritage of the places he visits, paying tribute to local peoples and their cultural traditions.
Bettina Rheims - The Artist Focused On The Female Body
A photographer coming from an art family, Bettina Rheims started her career through a female strip-tease artists and acrobats series that led to her first exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou and the Galerie Texbraun in Paris. With the female body as her main subject, she created various portraits through the 1980s that resulted in the publication Female Trouble. Often described as glamour photography with a personal touch, her work has kept the strong realist aspect. Allowing women to express themselves, her photographs are direct without any place for shame or discomfort. Recently, a powerful Russian oligarch Sergey Rodionova commissioned her to photograph his wife Olga, a collaboration that led to the photo book of her explicit images.
Featured images: Bettina Rheims, via unitednationsofphotography. com; Photograph by Bettina Rheims
Jef Aerosol - Master of both Stencil and Portraiture
Known for his ability to capture truth in his portraits, a self-taught stencil graffiti artist Jef Aérosol (Jean-François Perroy) has been a French urban art proponent since the early 1980s, when he spraypainted his first stencils. Growing up in France in the 60’s and 70’s, the art, music and politics of those years contributed significantly to the development of his artistic style. Jef Aérosol’s work is character based, his first stencil was a self-portrait, and it is no surprise that, after all, these years of his continuous fascination with the human face, today he is considered to be the master of both stencil and portraiture.
Anais Martane - Exploring Chinese Culture
Anais Martane is a French-born photographer highly interested in Chinese culture and language. Having moved to Beijing from France, she combined her love for Chinese culture with photography. Ever since 2004, portraiture photography is her main focus. She has worked as a scout photographer for Traffic d’Images agency from 2002, and her press works have been published in various publications such as Time magazine, Elle, Telegrama, Le Monde, and Libération, among others. Participating in creating the book titled Chinese Portraits, Martane portrays the Chinese people and the life in China viewed through the eyes of a European.
Featured images: Anais Martane; Anais Martane – Chinese Portraits, Li-Shuang, infirmière malgré elle, via chine.blog.lemonde.fr
Tilt at Au Vieux Panier - Vibrant Graffiti of Intense Patterns
Tilt began his art in the late 1980’s, by tagging trains and streets of his hometown Toulouse. Today, he is an internationally renowned traditional graffiti artist, mostly recognized for his bubble letter forms and pop art iconography painted on buildings and canvases, and famed for his eye-popping interior design work on Panic Room, commissioned by the unique Au Vieux Panier hotel in Marseille, in which Tilt painted one of the rooms with his trademark vibrant graffiti of intense patterns. Over the last two decades, Tilt has left his throw-up markings in over thirty countries around the world and still stands strong, continuing to be very productive urban artist.
Ernest Pignon-Ernest - The Street As a Subject and Setting
Ernest Pignon-Ernest has been wandering the streets of Paris and wheat pasting his monochromatic works since the 1960s. Carrying a strong political and social commentary, his pieces mix Street Art and Classicism. Tightly tied to concepts of French Fluxus and Situationism, his urban interventions have a deep and strong inner meaning. He has made the street both the setting and subject for his ephemeral works of art which echo the historical and current events occurring there. For him, places are his essential materials, and he tries to understand them and grasp everything from light to colors. He has founded Artists of the World Against Apartheid with Antonio Saura and Jacques Derrida.
Featured images: Ernest Pignon-Ernest; Ernest Pignon-Ernest – Prison
Blek Le Rat - The Pioneering Graffiti Artist
A pioneering French graffiti artist, Blek Le Rat got him name from stenciling a giant graphic image of a rat all over Paris. This motif symbolized both freedom and the dissemination of art through the city. In recent years, his work has become political and he focuses on many social issues such as the homeless and environment. He has kept low profile most of his career to avoid fines and public harassment. As one of the godfathers of the European street art movement, he inspired hundreds of artists around the world with his unique stenciled style. Artists such as Banksy or Space Invader frequently cite him as a major influence on their work.
Featured image: Blek Le Rat, via artfieldgalleries.com; Blek Le Rat Art
JR - The Photograffeur
A French photographer and street artist, JR describes himself as photograffeur. Flyposting large black-and-white photographs in public locations, his practice is similar to the appropriation of the built environment by the graffiti artist. For him, the street is the largest art gallery in the world. Exhibiting freely in the streets, he prefers to catch the attention of people who are not a part of the typical museum crowd. His work often challenges established preconceptions and advertising imagery. His portraits are funny, soulful, real and capture the very essence of his subjects. Combining art and action, his work is characterized by commitment and freedom.
Featured images: JR poses with his public art installation, via businessinsider.com.au; JR mural, via thenextweb.com
Jaybo Monk - Aesthetics of Small Accidents and Unwanted Mistakes
Jaybo Monk (Jeremy Baudouin) ran away from home as a teenager, and eventually landed in Berlin in the early 1980′s, where he spent time as a graffiti writer, street actor, fashion designer and hip-hop musician. Jaybo builds his aesthetics on small accidents and unwanted mistakes, exploring the relationship between first impressions and half hidden emotional memories. Executed in acrylic, spray paint and bitumen, Jaybo’s eclectic, collage-like paintings of different styles and subject matters are chaotic and erratic, many of them feature a fragmenting and shattering of reality like rearranged female and animal bodies, which very often directly quote various elements of urban subculture.
C215 - One of the Top Stencil Artists
C125, aka Christian Guémy, is regarded as one of the top stencil artists in the world. Being a veteran who has been creating street art for about 20 years, his moniker is derived from a prison cell in which he was once locked away. He prefers working with stencils as it allows him to make beautiful street art portraits in unauthorized locations. With subjects like elders, beggar children or refugees, he aims to draw attention to those the society tends to forget. Aiming to interact with the context, his art is carefully placed in specific locations. He once stated: “In the end, behind the portraits, the question is always freedom and dignity in the face of a capitalist daily life system.”
Featured images: C215 mural, via unurth.com
Pascal Vilcollet - Vague Borderlines between Reality and Abstraction
Stunning painterly quality of large scale, expressive paintings depicting dogs, sensual figurative nudes and portraits of celebrities and renowned artists, created by Parisian artist Pascal Vilcollet, are dominated by contrasting colors and extraordinary technique of paint application by using thick and intense brush strokes. This artist tries to use paintbrush as an extension of his body, allowing it to spontaneously breathe life into his artwork. Coming from a dreamy world, situated on the vague borderlines between reality and abstraction, visually strong and contrasted images of Vilcollet’s fragmented and reconstructed psychological portraits are filled with overwhelming passion, delicate emotions and captivating magnetism.
Sowat - Seeking Abandoned Places for Artistic Interventions
One of the graffiti calligraphers and a Parisian film artist Sowat, a member of graffiti crew Da Mental Vaporz (The Vapors of the Psyche), grew up between his hometown of Marseille and Los Angeles, where he was influenced by the calligraphy work of Chaz Bojorquez. Occasionally working on small scale pieces, exhibited in galleries worldwide, Sowat is primarily an outdoor-orientated artist who seeks to find abandoned spaces in which to create his artistic interventions. In 2010, Sowat discovered an abandoned four-story high supermarket in the outskirts of Paris, where he and his friend Lek, fellow artist and regular collaborator, organized an illegal artistic residency they called Mauseolee, in which they painted murals in collaboration with over forty French graffiti artists.
Lek - Detachment from Traditional Boundaries of Graffiti
Lek is an elusive street artist and graffiti writer from Paris, and also a member of LCA and Frenchkiss artist collectives. His paintings adorn abandoned areas, basements and public walls all around his hometown and beyond. Through his minimalist graphic identity, Lek shows extraordinary ability to detach his work from traditional boundaries of graffiti, and manages to constantly push the medium of spray paint forward. Co-founders of previously mentioned Mausolee Paris-based project, Lek and Sowat have been collaborating in the recent years, under the joint name of Urbex, leaving an impressive array of amazing street artworks worldwide, often collaboration with many other, known and less known urban artists.
Levalet - Elaborate Planning to Fit the Surroundings Perfectly
Charles Leval, better known as Levalet, creates monochromatic wheat paste-up images of people, which interact with their environments in interesting and wonderful ways. This Paris-based street artist gives great importance to the surroundings of each piece, as he wanders the streets of his town and takes measurements in order to find the perfect spots in which to place his art. After this elaborate planning, he first draws his figures in black ink, and then inserts them on their designated places around the city. Also, Levalet sometimes cleverly incorporates everyday objects like umbrellas and books into his paintings, in order to further bring his work to life.
Jean-Baptiste Bernadet - A Burst of Evanescent Colors
Paintings by Jean-Baptiste Bernadet are characterized by a burst of evanescent colors onto the field of the canvas and black and white paint brushed and quickly effaced. He appropriates the codes that make up the history of art and painting, both in its relation to the image and to the act of painting. by taking a thin brush and progressively and systematically, if always intuitively, laying down a flurry of quick marks in his bright, almost pastel palette of oils mixed with wax and alkyd. In this way, the eye of the viewer is prevented from being able to definitively locate any points of focus. Jean-Baptiste Bernadet once indicated: ‘All my painting is addressed to someone’.
Featured images: Jean-Baptiste Bernadet; Jean-Baptiste Bernadet Art, via keyword-suggestions com
Romain Langlois - An Intriguing Sculptor
A self-taught artist who has been previously working as an architect, Romain Langlois creates intriguing sculpture that questions the viewer’s perception. Finding his inspiration in the world around us, he mostly works with the bronze starting with expressive and anatomical modeling of the subject. He chooses the bronze for its perenniality and the vibrational quality, as well as its ability to lock and reveal placed emotions. As his stretched sculptures visually pull apart the natural objects that surround us, he aims to dissect these natural elements with the bronze that represents the inner energy harnesses by his chosen materials.
Featured images: Romain Langlois, via boredpanda.com; Romain Langlois Bronze Sculpture, via hypebae.com
Delphine Brabant - Juxtaposing the Horizontal and Vertical Position
Delphine Brabant is a French artist known for her sculptures that juxtapose the horizontal and vertical position. Involved in the process of direct shaping she explores the dance between shadow and light, balance and imbalance, and strength and fragility. She simplifies her figures as much as she can to unleash the true nature of the material used. She works with a variety of materials such as bronze, steel, concrete, plaster, clay, stone or wood. Embracing the benefits and limitations of any material, she creates figures imbued with powerful spiritual and elemental characteristics.
Featured images: Delphine Brabant; Delphine Brabant – Variations, 2014-2015
Eric Baudart - Repurposing Displaced Materials
The work of Eric Baudart encompasses a wide range of media including installations, sculptures, photography and readymades. Delicately transposing displaced materials such as the honeycombed plastic, millimeter paper, adhesive tape – everyday or commonplace utensils, he flushes them of everyday contextualization and repurposes them to create oeuvres that titter on the edge of artifice. Inspired by Duchamp’s readymade, these objects are not only found, but also reconfigured and repurposed. Carefully assembled, they create the dance of shapes, colors, and form. He is also interested in the process itself and the way the properties and original significance and use of the material can be reconfigured.
Featured images: Eric Baudart, via prixmeuricepourlartcontemporain.com; Eric Baudart – Concave, 2008, via galeriechezvalentin.com
Edited by Elena Martinique.