It’s funny to think how my first visit to Paris involved the requisite art stops (the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay), and how I now get my artistic thrills by lurking in the dark doorways of artist ateliers in Paris’ fringy Belleville neighborhood. But as my relationship with the city has evolved, my understanding of the “real” Paris has evolved as well. I’m not knocking the d’Orsay (it’s worth it every time), but today’s contemporary art scene often happens behind closed doors. A few times a year, these doors open up, and I was lucky enough to be in Paris last week for the Portes Ouvertes de Belleville.
Having lived in this neighborhood this winter, I suspected that there was either some crazy drug trafficking or crazy art-making (or maybe both) going on in the ateliers that lined the rue de Belleville, rue Denoyez and rue Ramponeau. I really wanted to learn more about the scene but—because I am not cool by nature—I figured this was a dynamic subculture that was inaccessible to me. No longer!
My first stop the other week was at “Frichez Nous La Paix,” an artistic collaborative that is responsible for much of the incredible street art in Belleville. I had watched the evolving graffiti on rue Denoyez all winter, and meeting the artists responsible for it felt kind of like discovering that Santa Claus does, in fact, exist.
Just next door, “Le Maison de la Plage” is an atelier that showcases whimsical paintings by Marie-Jeanne Caprasse, ceramic work by Marie Decraene and avant-garde jewelry by Rosalie Paquez. The artists had begun as squatters, and the establishment of this atelier in 2006 has helped them to connect with the art-consuming public.
Up the street, I stopped into the atelier of Krica de Belleville, who has been producing tiled mosaics (many of cityscapes) and earthy jewelry for thirty years. In other words, she’s legit. Next door to her, Jaya Bludeau turns out t-shirts stenciled with phrases and images referring to the Belleville art scene, and he shares a light-filled studio with photographer Samuel Le Coeur.
As I hopped in and out of ateliers and chatted with artists, others were continuing to work on surrounding walls, changing the landscape of the neighborhood as I moved through it. “The police don’t bother us,” one artist explained to me, as his collaborators painted a life-sized elephant onto a wall on the rue Denoyez.
Everyone living and working in this part of Belleville seems to agree: art is a living thing and the neighborhood is more dynamic for its presence. I’m hesitant to speculate, but… OK, I’ll speculate: if there is a Picasso of tomorrow, he/she probably works in Belleville today.
If you missed the Portes Ouvertes, most of the neighborhood’s ateliers are open on select days throughout the week, or by private appointment. So once you’re done dodging the crowds at the Louvre, and once you realize that most of the art in the Marais’ swanky galleries is prohibitively expensive, hop on Metro Lines 2 or 11 to Belleville and hang with the folks who are making it happen today.
Erica’s post about Belleville Artist Marcus McAllister