It’s hard to pinpoint why exploring a city through its street art is such an immersive experience. A prime example of this dilemma can be found in Belleville, an open air museum of street art in Paris…
In some ways, the mere act of walking through streets exploding with colour is an experience in itself. And then there is the desire to understand the thought processes of the artist behind each piece. Why these colours? Why these characters? What is the message?
Here’s my friend Maxi who wandered the streets of Belleville with me last month trying to figure out some of the answers…
We initially began our day out in Belleville because I had suggested to Maxi that we meet in the bar of a new hostel, Les Piaules. The bar was great fun – especially because the bartender thought I was French when I first walked in, and as someone who loves France I kind of liked that!
It also worked out perfectly as Maxi was living right around the corner. You may recognise him from previous posts as we first met two years ago when he was managing On The Road pub in Montmartre – click here to see old photos!
Street Art in Belleville
But it wasn’t just the bar of Les Piaules that drew me to Belleville.
I had previously spent a while walking around the district with my friend Joey (remember the vlog we made of our three days in Paris?), but we missed some of the best street art in Paris! And this time I was determined to find it.
But why does Belleville have such a reputation for its street art?
Every capital city in the world has different districts associated with different cultures. The bohemian/artistic centre of Paris once would have been named Le Marais.
You can read more about my experience there by clicking here, and you’ll find that many other bloggers will suggest that the walls of Le Marais lay the foundations for some of the best street art in Paris.
Mural by Thisone – check out his instagram here!
But, as has slowly happened in London’s hipster district of Shoreditch, the art galleries and boutique clothing stores of Le Marais began to attract a more affluent crowd. So while it remained ‘the place to be’ for the more affluent bohemians it soon became far less affordable for the working class.
And this is where Belleville took over. Far less of an attraction, the winding streets of Belleville are still home to a greater proportion of working class Parisians than tourists.
And what makes the district so animated and stimulating (in my opinion) is that the residents are hugely multicultural, combining aspects of so many different cultures into an atmosphere that appears to explode from the nozzles of multicoloured spray-paint cans.
How to Find Street Art in Paris
Unlike my recent post on street art in Rotterdam, I have less instructions on how to find these specific pieces in Belleville. That’s because Maxi and I just wandered the streets looking for it.
That’s not to say that this is the best way. The reason I loved the ReWriters App and organisation in Rotterdam is because it gave you more insight into the meaning behind pieces, and where the artists took their inspiration from.
So if you’re a fan of taking guided tours, there are plenty of street art tours in Paris. Here are a few that I have never taken but that I have heard good things about:
- Underground Paris run their own Street Art Tours in Belleville from €15 (online price) and from my research they’re really popular
- I had an incredible tour of Le Marais with RobertPINK who also run tours of street art in Paris
- This is a free self-guided walking tour of street art in Paris that you can download and print off before your trip! My only concern is that it seems to have been published in 2012 and one of the beautiful aspects of street art is that is is constantly changing and new artwork is constantly being painted
Street Art on Rue Dénoyez
One street that I can definitely point out to you to visit is Rue Dénoyez. Graffiti is legal along this 165 metre stretch and local artists are sure to let you know it.
Rue Dénoyez is a life size collage of Parisian emotions, graffiti practice, culture, musical interest, history, poetry, and even a sculpture of Intra Larue’s breast.
Unfortunately, despite having a mission to spot one of her 450 breasts located across Paris I didn’t find one. But I did find an odd corner of Rue Dénoyez decorated almost like a shrine…
I did say earlier in the post that Belleville is far less of a tourist attraction than other areas in Paris, but it can’t be denied that you may have to share Rue Dénoyez with a few other photographers, bloggers, and street art enthusiasts.
However, it only takes five minutes walk from either end to stumble upon countless other examples of street art in Paris. You’ll see many of those I’ve included in this post, unless of course they’ve been painted over. And you’ll definitely see pieces I’ve never seen before.
And that is what makes exploring a city through its art such a unique experience. You’ll also find that the queues for getting to the front of this iconic mural are a lot shorter (read: non-existent) than at the Louvre…
Big shout to my favourite cocktail mixologist and enthusiastic Argentinian, Maxi, for letting me store my stuff at his apartment and endlessly roaming the streets of Belleville on the hunt for the artwork you see above…
Lots of love,