Gregos. I am curious as to what his full name is. He lets me in, but am sworn to secrecy – well at least to not putting it in print. The first time I spotted one of Gregos’ faces was on a meander in the 18th almost a year ago. A month ago I spotted another face, again in the 18th, and realised there may well be an entire collection. There is. In the most random of places around the 18th arrondissement. Admittedly they are becoming harder to spot because he now places them in higher, more obscure and harder-to-reach places because people are taking them down.
It was an afternoon of initiation into the world of street art for me. We met at his quartier general as he calls it, his headquarters, at Le Saint Jean on rue des Abbesses.
After which we walked around the neighbourhood as he pointed out various other artists’ works, and before long I start to notice the signatures, and spot them on my own.
He has been putting up his faces around Paris for six years now, and even though he also paints- the faces are still what he enjoys doing the most. A great number have been taken down though. He hopes the people taking them down are keeping them, and that they will be collector’s items many years from now.
When then, does he go out to put them up? I am assuming it has to all be very clandestine to avoid them coming down as soon as they go up. He tells me that in the early hours of the morning. Around 4am because it’s quiet on the streets then. That’s when he also likes to work. Although in winter he does not put any up.
This is because the adhesive used to put these faces up takes several hours to dry. And in winter it can take far too long.
I ask how he feels about people taking them down. He’s happy with that. It shows that they are being noticed. He no longer signs his name on them though. For the moment he is the only artist in Paris creating these 3D moulds, so people know it’s his face.
|One of the few signed, but damaged, faces.|
I walk around Montmartre that afternoon, with the man behind the faces, having him point out all his faces in the various places. I was there to see the latest installation. His 360th in Paris. Symbolic, he says. A journey, full circle for him, from when he started a number of years ago- when he stopped working and decided to devote his full time to his art.
To date 400 faces have been installed in Paris and and in other countries. He now collaborates with other artists around the world on installations in foreign cities.You can in fact order a face from Gregos, paint it and install it on your own city.
He has a fervent following of street art enthusiasts, and his faces are photographed widely.
Other than the faces, Gregos paints acrylic and oil paintings and travels overseas when the opportunity avails itself for exhibitions and workshops. He currently has an exhibit on at Artkraft on rue Chaptal in the 9th arrondissement. He is exhibiting with other renowned street artists; Nowart (Arnaud Rabier), Fkdl (Franck Duval), Zokados and 2rode (Francois Tworode) – real names and monikers that are hybrids of their real names, all carving out names for themselves in the world of street art, using different mediums and the streets as their canvas.
I want to know how the art is valued, given that it is everywhere and accessible to all. Does the very nature of it being street art not diminish its value? This is not the case he tells me. Art dealers can still values street artists’ work, and with a resurgence of interest in this type of art, collectors and followers are becoming more discerning.
The streets of Montmartre are an open canvas for the artists here. It is everywhere. To the the uninitiated eye, it is difficult to distinguish between the art styles and various signatures, but there are distinctive ones – with small easily recognisable signatures. In some cases, it seems like the work of angry teens armed with a can of spray paint, then you start seeing the images in between some of the angry words.
Activism? Subversion? This erstwhile image of what street art was about has changed.
It is no longer just aerosol spray painting. There’s stencil art, charcoal, murals, and even installations hanging from windows and roofs. The artists have webistes, facebook pages and twitter accounts. They’re connected onto social media and exhibit widely.
As we walked Gregos pointed out Mimi the Clown’s work, easy enough to spot, he paints clown faces dressed as Superman. Gregos rattles off other names, identifying their art as we walk. There’s Space Invader the artist who uses small tiles, making mosaic images, there are colorful canvas squares in high, hard-to-reach, but easy-to-spot places – another signature work. He points out a piece of work through an apartment window, another renowned artist, who also does a lot of street art. Every corner is full of surprises. At one point I am walking with my camera aimed to the ground as I follow the obvious work of another artist who has his work, emblazoned on the very pavements we’re pounding.
When I met with Gregos, he was still working out of his home studio, but looking to move to his own atelier, because it was becoming more difficult to work with his toddler son in his apartment. He finds time for his work in between his other responsibilities. After our meeting, he was rushing off to pick up his son from crèche, and later in the evening when it was quiet- he’d get down to working again, creating more faces to add to the walls of Paris.
More images of street art in Montmartre here.
Some from initiation into the world of street art below.
|An image by Space Invader|