Originally from Lyon, Nelio has been part of the French street art scene since he was just 14 years old back in the 1990s. With his spray cans, he creates works that blend elements of abstract art, architecture, cubism, graphic design, and graffiti murals, composed of symbols, geometric shapes, letters, and, sometimes, facial features. He has been compared equally to Picasso and Escher and his works grace not only the walls of the French capital but cities across Europe, Australia, Asia, and South America. Nelio prefers working in abandoned places, or at least those far from advertisements and crowds.
Wander around Belleville in the 20th arrondissement and, chances are, you’ll come across a work by Philippe Hérard, an artist who has made the neighborhood his home and canvas for the past 25 years. He is famous for his gugusses, which loosely translates to ‘twits’ or ‘foolish people,’ which, pasted or painted, are presented in absurd or uncomfortable positions along with symbolic articles like buoys, ladders, and planets. His earthy tones and the sense of desperation or hopelessness his art conveys contrast sharply with the garish, commercial-seeming street art you can find just about anywhere.
Thomas Dityvon aka Mister Pee
For years, Mister Pee was the comic book illustrator for a popular children’s magazine and he has a background in graphic design. Today, executed from his home base in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil, his street art explores the idea of freedom, how it is defined and how we choose to break away from the flock. Often political in nature, his characters, depicted wearing hats, are symbolic of corporate culture and its overbearing influence on modern life. Below, you can watch him in a sketch off with another local artist, Decktwo, at La Bellevilloise.
A rising star, Levalet, or Charles Velal, grew up in Guadeloupe, where he first encountered urban art and studied visual arts in Strasbourg. His work has been appearing in Paris (often in the 13th arrondissement where he lives) since 2012 and, more recently, he has made inroads into Berlin’s scene. His characters, drawn in Indian ink, interact with the architecture and structures in the public space, often in ways that border on the ridiculous. While they could easily be taken as works of social commentary, the artist insists he is not overtly political.
Christian Guémy, more commonly known as C215, was one of the first Parisian street artists to attract global recognition. His work focuses on faces, most often those of the poor and dispossessed, refugees and the homeless, created using stencils and spray paint. Of late, he has been compelled to leave his home city in search of virgin territory, given, he claims, its transformation into a ‘trendy scene’ where artists are selling out for passing fame. While you can still find his work in the French capital, his newest work resides in cities in India, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia.
Artiste-Ouvrier, the pseudonym of Pierre-Benoît Dumont, a student of philosophy, art history, and a one-time train cleaner, has been active in the art scene since 2002, however, he started stenciling in the early 90’s. He works using stencils and a two-layered, multi-colored technique that he invented, and his creations often have a feel of 19th-century classicism about them. He started working behind a squat in the 1st arrondissement, taking a metal door as his canvas, a surface he still loves working with today. You can find many of his works around the Oberkampf neighborhood in the 11th arrondissement.
Blek le Rat
Blek le Rat, variously referred to as Paris’ first street artist and the father of stencil graffiti, began his career in 1981, painting stencils of rats – what he called ‘the only free animal in the city’ – onto the capital’s walls. Often spoken about in the same sentence as Banksy, Blek is a clear influence on the Londoner’s work. In an interview in 2008, Banksy admitted: ‘[E]very time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier.’
The Swedish-Portuguese artist André Saraiva moved to Paris when he was 10 and discovered graffiti just three years later. His top-hatted stick figure, Mr. A, won him international recognition at 18 and he has since exhibited in contemporary art galleries in Paris, Los Angeles, and Lisbon. As well as being a noted street artist, he has designed goods for designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Sonia Rykiel, and served as creative director and owner of clubs and hotels across the world.
JR (whose real identity remains a mystery) started out as a standard graffiti artist in Paris, however, his move into the medium of photography, inspired by finding a camera in the metro, has transformed him into an international street art star. Dubbed the ‘Cartier-Bresson of the 21st century,’ he won the TED Prize in 2011 and used the $100,000 to start the Inside Out Project, a global public portraiture initiative. His most publicized Parisian works of late include covering the Panthéon in selfies and making the Louvre Pyramid disappear.
The French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed is famous for his incorporation of traditional Arabic calligraphy into his work, a style he has dubbed calligraffiti. By using words, their meaning, and the movement of the script across space, he hopes to lure people into a different state of mind. He started his career in Paris and his work now appears on walls on every continent. Though eL Seed is now based in Montreal, he was one of four street artists chosen to produce works that would cover the Pont des Arts after the removal of thousands of padlocks that were endangering its stability.