Beggars, homeless people, refugees, the elderly, street kids, but also famous faces and animals - they’re all favourite portrait subjects of Christian Guémy, who is much better known for his moniker C215. They observe us from the walls, mailboxes, panels, power boxes in cities around the world, their haunting personalities reminding us of the diversity and equality among people. His unique stencilling technique exalts a kind of poetry, reminiscent of the times we never lived, but that feel familiar to us nevertheless, because the French artist is more than often inspired by painting masters, the Renaissance, art as a storytelling and a tool of an aesthetic expression. Often tackling topics of popular culture as well, C215 paints a picture of humanity and its many facets.
One of his many supports are the mailboxes, the almost obsolete objects of urban architecture. On them, the artist paints his trademark faces, that way reaching out to the many people passing by. By uniting these two ideas, he brings them both back to life, reminding people of their existence while transmitting a message of unity and depicting the magnificent spectrum of human emotions. While the French Post appreciates the gesture, other services do not, such as the one of Malta - an act for which they were criticised for by the Maltese citizens and Valletta mayor too. Many of those mailboxes also ended up becoming C215’s sculptural work sold at auctions, and here, we review the most expensive ones to date.
One of C215’s favourite subjects are cats - he loves them so much that he created over 90 pieces featuring the feline creatures in various forms, from wall pieces to those painted on doors, metal panels, old windows and abandoned buildings. The 2012 Lovecats work was created on a bright yellow antique French mailbox and in total, it features four kittens, one on each side. You’ll have to admit that a mailbox like that would look very boring without C215’s cats on it.
Lovecats went for $7,660 at Bohnams London in 2013.
It often happens that the entire chunks of wall get pulled out of their habitat because they contain important works of urban art (just ask Banksy, if you figure out who he is). While, in mine and many other opinions, this is completely wrong, it doesn’t stop it from happening. I’m guessing people from the postal service around the world aren’t too happy when C215 paints on their mailboxes, because then they get taken away and sold as sculptural works…
Sans Titre sold at $7,720 at Piasa Paris in 2012.
Translating to “charity”, one of C215’s latest mailbox pieces is entitled Charite and it features faces of homeless people on each side, based on pictures by Rudolph Simeon. Other mailbox pieces with this imagery are now part of the public collection of the French Post, permanently exhibited at the French Post museum in Paris, as of 2012. Here, an example of how postal service can also be happy about their mailboxes becoming proper works of art.
Lecture Maison de Ventes Marseille sold Charite for $8,560 in 2015.
Apparently, it’s not only about cats for C215, but also about the dedicated superheroes, like the Catwoman. The iconic movie staring Michelle Pfeiffer seems to have inspired the artist to paint her on one of his mailboxes, alongside an actual cat, whom you can find inside the piece. On the door, there are also the batman logo, flying bats and a print of a cat’s paw, accompanied by C215’s signature and his trademark box stamp. If you’re a fan of cats and catwomen, this piece is just perfect for you!
Untitled went for $9,030 at Tajan Paris in 2015.
The 2012 Boitte aux Lettres was first exhibited at the Musée de La Poste, and was subsequently sold to benefit the restoration of a Keith Haring mural from 1987 at Necker Hospital in Paris. The work also provided access to the art of children with disabilities and disadvantaged families at Musée en Herbe. On the inside, we see a beautiful landscape of Karol Bagh, a residential-commercial neighbourhood of Delhi, India. The whole piece is accompanied with writings in Hindu and is splashed with bright blue, as a true piece of street art.
Boitte aux Lettres achieved $10,300 at Artcurial Paris in 2012.
As part of Moniker Art Fair in London in 2012, C215 provided a series of yellow mailbox pieces, which featured different portraits marvellously executed in black. One of them featured a man smoking a cigarette on the front side of the post box, which was also randomly painted in green and blue. The work was sold a little less under its high estimate, and it belongs to the series of C215 works which achieved over $10,000 at auctions.
Sans Titre reached $11,600 at Digard Paris in 2013.
Among a series of mailbox pieces dedicated to the French cinema, there’s Casque d’Or, which represents an homage to director Jacques Becker. On one side, we see the portrait of actress Simone Signoret, who starred in Becker’s 1952 film Casque d’Or, or “golden helmet”. Other similar tributes involve Alain Delon, Audrey Tautou, Jean Yanne, Joy & Joan, Star Wars, The the French production of The Beauty and the Beast and many others.
Casque d’Or sold for $16,300 at Digard Paris in 2014.
Another untitled mailbox, as part of the previously mentioned Moniker series, Sans Titre again sees a round of four portraits painted to build up the Post Production installation for the London fair. The portrait that stroke me the most was the one on the front, which tends to be the most powerful one for every piece I think, and it sees a close-up of a man winking. Not that the other three are any less intriguing. Owing a C215 mailbox often means to own a piece of the streets, and a memory of those living on them.
Sans Titre represents C215’s most expensive mailbox piece at auctions, having been sold at Artcurial Paris in 2013 for three times its high estimate - $24,000.