Do a deep dive into Paris street art and you’ll find a messy collage of color, culture and cheek. This tour of street art in Paris will show you four neighborhoods (and a few extra spots) for finding the best concentration of murals and graffiti in the city.
Why Paris Street Art is So Unique
According to Wide Walls, street art in Paris is very specific to the city’s history. In Bushwick New York, street art and graffiti evolved out of the hip hop movement. However in Paris, the seeds were planted during the avant garde period in the 1960’s. Avant garde artists were using posters and decollage techniques for their works. This evolved into a street art form that employs stickers and paper “paste-ups” which even today are regularly plastered all over the city.
Stenciling is another street art form popularized in Paris. The artist Blek le Rat starting using stencils in Paris in the 1980’s. He was inspired by the stenciling technique deployed by Italy’s fascist propaganda machine during World War II. Blek le Rat stenciled a series of life sized rats all over the Paris and a new art form was born.
(Diversion: there are many exterminator shops all over central Paris which feature taxidermied rats in their display windows. What’s with Paris and the rats?)
The world famous street artist Banksy was so inspired by Blek le Rat that he adopted stenciling for his works which feature ironic pranks and anti-capitalist messages. Jef Aerosol, an artist from Lille France, also adopted the form, using stencils to profile pop culture characters.
As with many cities, the Parisian street art scene is still operating in a grey area between legal and illegal. Some of the large scale murals in the 13th Arrondissement are legally commissioned and Mur Oberkampf has an ongoing program in the 11th. However, you will find plenty of street art in Paris that is as furtively painted as the grittiest alleyway in London’s Brick Lane. So, while you are admiring the large murals, keep a keen eye out for those guerrilla paste-ups and stencils because they will give you a lesson on Paris street art history.
Read more: Find out more about Banksy and street art in his hometown of Bristol.
Read More: See more of Paris with this four day itinerary.
Four Neighborhoods for Finding Street Art in Paris
There is street art all over Paris but there are two neighborhoods in particular with a well established concentration of it. They include the 13th Arrondissement and the Belleville (adjacent to the 11th Arrondissement). In addition, there are several canal areas which are up and coming, including the Saint-Denis and Canal de l’Ourcq.
Street Art Tour of the Belleville & 11th Arrondissement
The Belleville/11th is probably the best neighborhood to explore street art in Paris. Like so many great street art areas, including San Francisco’s Mission or Chicago’s Pilsen, it’s a working class immigrant neighborhood that is battling gentrification. Neighborhoods like this attract artists who need cheap lodging and older buildings to practice on. The Belleville is also great because you’ll find a mix of both commissioned pieces and guerilla works.
If you want to wander the neighborhood on your own, the street art map below will show you the key streets. However, I recommend that you take a street art tour with Street Art Paris. It was the best €15 I spent in Paris (not counting the cheese). They provide a thorough tour of the neighborhood with a well informed guide.
Look carefully at this piece by Txemy and you’ll see several different kinds of spray techniques. There is also a little mosaic by Paris street artist Space Invader tucked into the upper right corner.
This piece typifies the unique cultural history of Parisian street art. You see a mash-up of spray, paint, stickers and stencils. The red hearts have been spread all over Paris by a collective called the Peace and Love Crew. The yellow and turquoise portrait is by Zelda Bomba and the cartoony clocks are by Wekup. The creepy spider is by local artist Ardif who has created a computer generated “urban zoo” out of animals that are part organic and part steam-punk.
These two pieces also reinforce Paris’ love affair with the stencil. The typewriter is by Wrdsmth, who you can also find in my article on LA street art. The “grow more, buy less” message also typifies anti gentrification messages that you can see throughout the 11th.
The Parc de Belleville sits on a hill with great views overlooking Paris. There is a series of pilings with whimsical portraits and more murals on the sports field below.
Street Art Tour of the 13th Arrondissement
In the Belleville, even the commissioned pieces were on a small scale, but in the 13th Arrondissement, they’ve gone big. This XXL walls project is a collaboration between StreetArt13 and the town hall for the district. You’ll find home grown artists like Space Invader, but also worldwide talent like Vils, Shephard Fairey and Conner Harrington.
You can take a formal tour of this district, but I chose do it on my own. Most of the murals are concentrated around the strip between the Nacionale and Chevaleret metro stations and they are so huge that they are hard to miss. You can also print and take along StreetArt13’s map.
The muralist Shepard Fairey is best known for his Obama campaign poster but he was also commissioned to do three murals in the 13th. This one shows a bit of French patriotism. He sums up the whole ethos of street art with his website tagline:
“Manufacturing quality dissent since 1989”
Charles Shultz would roll over in his grave if he saw this but I love the dark parody. These murals aren’t on the StreetArt13 map but you can find them just west of the Nacionale metro station under both sides of the tracks.
Once again, in the French tradition, Paris street artist C15 created a massive stencil in the 13th.
The artist Dface has an Andy Warhol vibe featuring characters that always seem to be skirting danger. He has two pieces in the 13th and you can also see more of his work in Reykjavik.
The Canals of Saint-Denis
Starting in 2016, the Saint-Denis district began developing a “street art avenue” along the Saint-Denis canal. Every year they add new works and you can take a stroll to find them using this map.
(the following four images are courtesy of Tan Ban Nguyen who lives in Paris and runs the Travel to Work blog.)
This video shows what’s up on the canals. It is courtesy of Paris Mur Mur, check out their Facebook page for regular posts featuring new works.
The Canal de l’Ourcq
The banks of the Canal de l’Orcq are filled with graffiti and murals. In recent years, various events like the “Canal’s Summer Festival” (Eté du Canal) have expanded and increased the cultural value of Canal de L’Ourcq with new commissioned works. However, according to Elisa from the World in Paris, the works turn over frequently so the art on the canal is always evolving.
Elisa recommends tackling the full twenty three kilometer canal by bike. Her self-guided bike tour covers interesting spots like Parc de la Villette, the Géode, or the suburb of Pantin with its industrial heritage.
If you would rather walk, you can find the Eté du Canal festival commissions clustered in a couple of locations. The easiest to access is in the Bassin de la Villette (accessed from the Jaurés metro from the southwest and Porte de la Villette from the northeast). If you are willing to do a combo of RER, metro and/or taxi, you can find more murals further east in Pantin, Bobigny and Bondy. You can use this map (or the one below) to find them. If you walk the full route between Bassin de las Villette to Bondy, it’s about seven kilometers.
Two More Spots for Urban Art in Paris
The Paris Sewer Museum
Remember those rats I mentioned above? Well, you can find them in the Sewer Museum. It’s just the sort of gritty urbex experience that any street art lover will want to experience. Not only will you learn about the infrastructure of Paris’ dark and wet underbelly, but they have adorable (?) murals of rats, bacterium and creepy crawlies.
Urban Art Galleries
Wide Walls has compiled a list of ten galleries and art spaces that feature urban art. Several of them are located in the 11th Arrondissement so you could work them into a self-guided tour of the neighborhood.
Paris Street Art Tours
Street Art Paris
I took their Belleville tour but they also run street art tours to the Left Bank and Montmartre. There is a listing on Trip Advisor for “Underground Paris” but it’s the same company. Check dates and book on their website or read reviews on Trip Advisor.
Street Art Tour Paris (with Kasia)
This group runs tours to the Belleville and Montmartre, as well as the 13th and more out of the way places like Vitry-sur-Seine and Canal de l’Ourcq. They run public tours on the weekends and do private tours every day. Check their website for availability or read reviews on Trip Advisor.
Paris Street Art Map
This map will identifies some specific spots, streets and canals for designing a self-guided tour.
Learn More About Street Art
Learn more about great global artists with a street art encyclopedia like the New Street Art, Street Artists 2: The Complete Guide, the World Atlas of Street Art & Graffiti or Lonely Planet Street Art.
In fact, if you have an Amazon Prime account, you can get the Lonely Planet for free as an ebook on Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t have an Amazon Prime account, you can get a 30-day free trial HERE.
The street art in Paris is a world class amalgam of stencils, paste-ups and large walls. Like Paris itself, a lot of it is beautiful. But, it’s also edgy, messy, political and fun. Go exploring and find out for yourself.
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