♥ Welcome to my project, kissBankers ! With your kind support, I will produce a 52 minute documentary exploring the muralist movement: the art of painting over breathtaking heights.
(The tallest mural in Europe, realized by Pantónio, in 3 steps. photos : Gilles Le Fer)
Windowless gable walls were graffiti painters’ early targets, particularly in urban areas under renovation, and since 2012, monumental graffiti is in full rebirth especially in Paris’ 13th arrondissement.
Through a design thought as a décor, obliterating the blandness of the walls, artists skillfully revive these soulless surfaces.
(Martin maneuvers the aerial lift for the artist JACE, in Pantin, 2014 / Photo: Guillaume Saintives for ART AZOI)
█ The protagonists
♦ The 10 main featuring artists :
(They all have diverse artistic backgrounds: painting, stencils, graffiti, design…)
(STEW and Gaël on the "Tivoli" tower, a painting over a 15 storey facade, in Paris’ 13th arr. Photo : Jérôme Thomas)
♦ The residents :
They play an important part in this documentary. Their views and impressions are central. Often, painting is realized in low-income neighborhoods: Vitry-sur-Seine, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Pantin, the 13th arr. of Paris…
Community life collides with a live-conducted painting, creating great human synergies. A formidable social- bond creator, painting often starts collective discussion where anonymity and withholding are usually the norm. To quote Nemo in “le Parisien”:
« I want people to gaze towards the sky, I am tired of them looking down ».
(A Vitry-sur-Seine resident takes the pose in front of a wall painted by Astro. Photo : Jérôme Thomas)
█ Introduction to the movement
Wall painting is as old as humanity itself. From prehistory to antiquity, and middle ages to industrialization, men have always wanted to draw over walls, whether for creative, religious or commercial purposes.
Muralism, a democratic form of art, is in the continuity of Mexican muralism, as well as the Bronx-born graffiti culture.
(The"Polyforum" by Mexican muralist David Siquieros)
The global spreading of this movement allowed an expansion to new cultural landscapes, each new artist bringing his own iconography, style or lettering.
█ History of muralism in Paris
♦ The beginning :
Before WW2, the overgrowth of sign paintings over gable walls, best represented by the brands “Picon” and “Bébé Cadum” was getting a bad rap. Muralists realized huge signage for branded products. This artisanal form of publicity, of which only a few ghosts remain, reminds of a time where hand-painters, half artists- half equilibrists, worked with sable brushes, which provided an incredible flexibility, before they were replaced by computers.
(Advertisement over gable wall for Amer Picon)
After the war, muralists offered the public eye a series of trompe l’oeil pieces, while technics and paint quality improved. Paris’ slums were progressively replaced by higher and higher buildings, particularly in the 13th and 14th Arrs., offering new creative spaces.
("Le Bestiaire", trompe l'oeil over a 5 storey building, by Philippe de La Nouvelle and B. De Renty, painted in 1996 in the 15th arr.))
♦ The first generation :
Sign paintings slowly faded away from the Parisian lanscape through successive demolitions and renovations. A new generation of street artists then took interest in empty surfaces. In 1971, while wall-painted ads became prohibited, to be replaced by advertising boards, the artist Francois Morellet painted his first wall upon request from the Ministry of Culture (in a location now hosting the Georges Pompidou center).
(Mural by François Morellet, 1971, on the current Georges Pompidou center’s site)
(Mural by Nemo, Menilmontant. Photo : Gérard Laurent)
♦ The New Generation :
In early 2010, a new batch of French and international artists coming from the graffiti scene, such as C215, INTI, OBEY, KOUKA, STEW, PANTONIO, KATRE, invested these monumental spaces. Most of them had already been actively painting horizontal surfaces for about 20 years. For instance, the 13th arr., with support from its local mayor Jérôme Coumet, became a veritable street art pool.
In 2014, Mehdi Ben Cheikh steps in and turns a housing estate building, the “Tour 13” into an exhibition center. This transient residency attracted 25 000 visitors and 80 international artists. Its facades, painted by El Seed, Pantónio, Stew, Ludo and Katre, showcased the gallery’s content.
(“Tour 13” in the 13th arr. of Paris. Photo: Jérôme Thomas)
Before the building’s demolition, Katre painted a piece with a massive collage, a gigantic trompe l’oeil, boasting a futuristic architectural perspective. His work barely finished, the wall was shattered.
Six months later, Stew draws a 50 meters high heron on Avenue de Choisy, still in the 13th arr. Two weeks of preparation were necessary, followed by three weeks of staggering work in the winter of 2014. I mostly tagged along to assist, as rolling paint kept me warmer than filming his performance !
█ Why the urban art revival ?
♦ The housing market context :
In France, economic slowdowns lead to the degradation of real estate. Between 1990 and 2000, squats were flourishing and the D.A.L. [an NGO fighting homelessness] attempted to raise awareness on its cause by breaking into unoccupied property and setting squats, in places like Paris’14th arr., rue René Coty, rue Didot, or rue du Dragon. In the 20th arr., a large urban renovation program left the residents powerless: the working class Paris, migrants, squatters, homeless and artists had to lead a common fight to preserve their neighborhoods’ authenticity. Miss.Tic, Mesnager, Nemo and Mosko & Associés spearheaded this battle by taking possession of the wastelands in these threatened areas. In the meantime, the numerous abandoned lots, hidden throughout the city, became playgrounds for graffiti artists, relentlessly sharpening their art, often collectively.
♦ The art market seizes the trend :
Art galleries remained out of reach to street artists for a long time, for general lack of interest for such artists, combined with a reluctance from the latter to evolve in this environment. By the mid-2000s, only a handful of art galleries displayed urban art. However, in the midst of a contemporary art crisis, the Itinerrance gallery opened its doors in the 13th arr., and launched exhibitions for a few up and coming artists, starting in 2008. Among them, YZ, Jana & JS, Btoy, Oricanoodles, Logan Hicks, M-City, C215, Inti Castro, Ethos, Borondo and Pantonio. Artists the most active in the streets are today the most represented on the art market.
♦ The birth of new promotion tools :
The democratization of the Internet allows the birth of a few specialized websites from the beginning of the 2000s, mostly hosted through sharing platforms such as Fotolog, Instagram or Flickr, and of course Facebook and twitter. In 2012, over 500 million pictures were shared via Flickr. Urban art photographers swiftly built networks around these sites, while increasingly managing their own blogs: http://www.worldstreetartbyelcommendatore.com/interview-jerome- thomas-sky-is-the-limit/. These new media provide a massive and fast diffusion of their stories.
Another paramount factor is the democratization of photography. Today, all cellular phones are equipped with a camera. A new generation of paparazzi appear, captivated by street art, and transmits the artists’ work through the net. For some artists, they have become formidable reserves of archives, as well as significant drivers of visibility.
(Angela captures me being photographed by Roswitha Guillemain, during the destruction of Tour 13. Photo : Angela Sabino.)
♦ A changing political context :
The response from local authorities towards graffiti adapts: from a coercive approach, they steadily move to a certain supervised tolerance, and even casual collaboration. In numerous cities, “free” walls are thus offered to graffiti artists, who handle them at will. Cities increasingly condone their walls being used “reasonably” by graffiti artists, as long as the residents approve of their work. A new generation of mayors, sympathizing with urban cultures, take part in the aesthetical enhancement of their neighborhoods. Neo-muralism then becomes instrumental to alienate tags (a pointless objective given that tag is the essence of graffiti culture).
(C215 & Pantonio in Vitry. Photo : Jérôme Thomas)
█ How are these murals painted ?
♦ Funding :
No standard method could be depicted, as processes vary from a mural to another, from Kouka’s initiative in Vitry, portraying Bantu warriors on the walls of a housing estate, to art galleries securing permits from local authorities in order to promote their artists. Public funding of such cultural initiatives are scarce, however the full financing by the city council of Marko 93’s entire building mural in Rue des Arts, Aulnay-sous-bois, is worth mentioning.
Unlike the 1990’s murals, many of which artists were remunerated for, a wide majority of murals today are self-funded. Artists purchase their own gear, while the renting of lifts is covered either by art galleries, neighborhood associations, sponsoring brands, or rental companies themselves.
(Traditionally, commissioned muralists would see their performance financially covered, as well as their expenses. Above the “Mur des Canuts” in the Croix-Rousse area of Lyon)
♦ Painting techniques :
The monumental shape of this type of work requires methods to best repeat their sketching. Since 2004, some artists like Gerada went through a lot to paint at such heights: he would start from the bottom with a simple ladder in a vacant lot, then switch to inconvenient scaffolding, to finally try out various models of aerial lifts. Paints’ types and techniques vary: from Gerada’s coal, to Kouka’s roller, through JR’s collages, Stew’s spray cans and even a jackhammer for Vhils!
Artists stemming from the graffiti scene handle the spray can like no one else. This technique makes rapidly covering wide surfaces easy, and adapts perfectly to the discipline (although quite harmful to the artists’ health). They generally need at least 2 or 3 days to paint buildings between 30 and 60m high. It is often used in combination with other, more classic tools such as brushes and rollers, over a single mural.
A piece’s running time is also often relative to the rental price of the necessary lift, which can be considerable: between 300 and 1000 euros daily. Unlike the original Mexican muralism, where teams of painters and workers would operate collectively, neo-muralism is an individual performance, notwithstanding the occasional help from companions.
(Pantonió and myself on the last week of filming. Photo: Angela Sabino)
♦ Obstacles to production :
Artists who Paint outdoors are exposed to weather conditions. Paris in not Los Angeles, the winds and winter storms make it a difficult job, some days even impossible. Further, as some works are officially commissioned, they are under certain deadlines as well as drastic security standards (rarely respected on the ground).Still, some works lean towards a dazzling 70m height, where vertigo is rewarded by a unique vista.
They eat, listen to music and handle their communications from the lift, and that space quickly becomes an outdoor workshop. Some lifts allow a new perspective by moving away from the façade, while others are set on rails and require the painter to get off his perch and observe from the streets below.
█ What is the impact of neo-muralism on the city ?
♦ An alternative to the advertising offensive :
Contemporarily to neo-muralism, Paris is experiencing a new invasion of aggressive advertising, the likes of Apple justifying their whopping publicities by financially contributing to the restoration of antique facades.
(The police headquarters in Paris, covered by Apple advertising tarpaulins)
Agreements between lessors and brands are made without any consultation with the residents.
Since 2007, the French Heritage Code allows advertising on the tarpaulins covering the scaffoldings installed on historical monuments. A real bargain for advertisers, who regularly indulge in the luxurious front walls of the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvres or even the Courthouse, as publicity media. According to the concerned decree, the financial yields should be engaged in the monuments’ restoration works, and the advertisements should not cover more than 50% of the total surface of a tarpaulin. JC Decaux, the company handling the renting of these spaces, through its commercial brochures distributed to its potential clients, concedes that the rental of such spaces can reach between 290 000 and 390 000 euros per month, depending on the location and the season.
♦ An architectural shift :
Mural painting is connected to architecture and extends it. Perspective is its tool to stimulate a 3-dimension presence. Neo-muralism stems from administrative constraints, in that it is generally set up in working class areas, housing estates and projects, on deteriorated surfaces. Even though local administrations try to mitigate urban renewal expenses, the artistic freedom and potential notoriety implied for painters remain attractive. Artists and politicians come together for neighborhoods’ embellishments, and the choice of a particular wall is very strategic. Even its orientation towards the sun will influence the human eye over its perception of a fresco.
Not only will a successfully drawn facade turn its support into a work of art, but also the entire neighborhood with it. Mural panting modernizes the city, creates landmarks and points of reference, encourages expression and social bonds, and cultivates local small-scale businesses. It belongs within the realms of public art, and of the imagination of artists and decision makers alike.
Out of reach, out of trends and timeless, neo-muralism benefits everyone: residents, politicians, local authorities, gallery owners and artists, and feeds another phenomenon: urban arts tourism. Authentic street-art tours attract an increasing number of visitors around this new heritage.
Outside official muralism, artists working illegally are rare, in great part due to the technical constraints of the craft. Will the near future see vandalism affiliates going over monumental murals ?
Finally, land art, another form of monumental graffiti seems to represent the future of this hyper-format, as seen through one of Gerada’s new works, visible only from the sky.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
It’s now been 20 years that I have gravitated around the graffiti scene, hopping between the roles of actor and spectator, and continual witness to this movement in constant mutation. Between my friends and I’s early graffiti attempts in the 14th arr. and the recent monumental collage on the very mediatized Tour 13, genuine lifestyles have built on this passion. Katre’s invitation to cover his performance on Tour 13 was the starting point for this documentary. While I didn’t have a chance to visit the actual exhibition, I ended up on his work site: as chance would have it, my friend and artist was badly in need of an assistant, and in spite of my fear to get on the narrow lift, a nascent interest for a film idea overcame. I then embarked on a journey of several months on Paris’ crests, shaken by winds and colors.
The project offered stunning and unique views of Paris, its metropolitan area, and its horizons. Furthermore, being in a personal approach, I had the chance to take all the necessary time to cover a blossoming movement. At a crossroads between graffiti, street-art and muralism, neo-muralism is a colorful and vibrant response to urban murkiness and a latent economic crisis. For the short lapse of a glance, the imagination of the passer-by awakens and nothing interferes between him and the creation in course. The featuring artists are French or international, I have met them in exhibition openings, graffiti jams or at gatherings between actors of the scene. Painting, like music, is universal and resonates within us all. It is this vibration that I am trying to capture in this documentary.
Beyond the social bonds created by this direct encounter between artists and passers-by, many architectural and political issues are at stake in this topic. Since the beginnings of Mexican muralism, the interaction between artists and politicians has always been a passionate and conflictive one. Jesus Gonzales Aguilar, a Mexican historian and artist will discuss this with us in front of the Polyforum by David Siqueiros in Mexico. Even though my film focuses on Parisian muralism, it seemed crucial to me to take root in its latin-american origins. Don’t be surprised to be introduced to the mayor of Paris’ 13th arr., or Jack Lang [the very media-savvy former minister of Culture] in my movie, as arts and politics are inseparable! The other protagonists mainly come from the graffiti scene, but also from classic painting, like Pantónio, a Portuguese native to the village of Azur. His work on Europe’s tallest fresco was the longest and most intensive part to film.
The documentary style is straightforward. I film outdoors and without a net, without staging, in contradiction to what is generally broadcasted on television where everything is scripted and dramatized. I take images on the spot, taking risks and shooting hours to be sure to capture the crucial instants. Many timelapses will also punctuate the film, to illustrate the time spent on each work. I’m obsessed just as much by the aesthetical aspect and the subject matter. However between performances and interviews, I aim at a balance between graphics and speech. Close to these artists, I feel genuinely responsible to best transcribe their work/passion, without digression or leaps.
The timeline follows the murals’ progressions, alternating between walls and artists in their performance. Several chapters will disrupt this chronology to better explain the movement: funding, techniques, and commercial takeover among others, will be chapters building up the theme. A voice over will be limited to the introduction and conclusion of the movie, while carefully selected archives will illustrate the historical reference to Mexican muralism. Having a cameraman in Mexico, I will have a chance to incorporate recent rushes as well. The film’s pace will be lively and dynamic, not unlike the artist’s performances often under time pressure. I will fluctuate between timelapses and slowmotions to let viewers take a break between two layers of paint. The editing will alternate live action sequences, in situ interviews, as well as a number of conversations between artists and local residents. The camera doesn’t interfere, as I try to blend in the urban landscape like a predator, aiming to best capture the reality in front of me.
Music shares the space with image on a 50/50 basis in my vision. Thanks to a background of over 20 years as a composer/producer, I’ve built a series of tracks to create the film’s atmosphere, varying from hip-hop to atmospheric and dub. The music tempo will be, according to the ambiance of each sequence, hectic or zen, while some parts will compose with only the raw sound recorded, reflecting on the urban soundscapes the artists perceive when they are not listening to music. An ascertainable calm predominates when you reach higher, the city’s noises appearing muffled. This is where the sound made by the brushes or sprays give a third dimension to the image.
I favor shooting handheld, however I here had to adapt in view of the technical challenge. I purchased a magic arm to test unusual angles, and a GoPro Hero 3 paired with my GH3 and a more recent GH4. It allowed me to use the aerial lifts for endless vertical travelling shots, facing city or façade-side, for amazing results! I work alone, and every shooting day is a challenge to diversify camera angles.
I stem from the MTV-fuelled generation, and like it when it throbs! Nonetheless I am as fascinated by the work of Depardon, or Marc-Aurèle (WRITERS, ANTIFA). During my archive research, I was moved by the style and image processing of Agnes Varda in her "Murs Murs" documentary. From the other side of the Atlantic, I’m influenced by all the classics like STYLE WARS, or 80 Blocks from Tiffany's kitchen. Martha Cooper, with her massive "Hip Hop Files", is one of my personal heroes. From the French side, I would also mention Karim Boukercha’s "Descente Interdite" and "Paris Tonkar". Finally, my favorite TV series is The Wire, for its realism and street poetry.
"Sky's The limit is my 6th documentary. My major achievement so far being the feature documentary "Home-studio, the musical Revolution" produced in 2006, which delves into home-made musical production. Also in the urban arts category, my film "Traits Portraits" was broadcasted by Gameone in 2009. You can look into my CV for more details !
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♥ For any further question, do not hesitate to contact me: : firstname.lastname@example.org