Street Art in Bayonne France : from microscopic works to monumental frescoes!2 November 2021
To say that Street Art was born in Bayonne in 2017 seems surreal! Yes, Bayonne is indeed the capital of Street Art in the South-West of France and yes, one has the strange sensation that the city has been rocked by urban art for an eternity. In the streets of the old town, the works of art are discreet and punctuate a very pleasant stroll. As soon as you move away from the centre, as the gable walls of the buildings rise, the works of art take to the sky.
Space Junk, which co-organises the Points de vue Festival, has been producing a line-up of high-flying artists since the first edition. Each year, French and international artists give their best to create works that are always more breathtaking! But before going to discover these works that will blow your mind, I’ll start this stroll with a local graffiti artist whose work caught my eye 😉
Exist the graffiti artist ‘made in Baiona’ and his gallery of broken faces
Attracted by the beauty of the small streets of the old town and by the Basque soul that emanates from them, I started my discovery of Bayonne without a map in hand. The day was magnificent and the desire to discover the city was as strong as the desire to hunt for street art! To tell you that it is really very very pretty 😉 As I walked along, faces with a very hip-hop style, but also very broken… What we call real faces caught my eye. All these portraits are the work of the local graffiti artist Exist who, far from being Vandal, puts his faces on palisades or wooden panels covering closed shops. What a pleasure it was for me, after many circumnavigations of the city, to come across the artist himself on the Marengo Bridge, where he poses on sunny days to sell his work. A word of advice if you visit Bayonne, go and meet him, the simplicity of street artists is worth all the lessons in the world! By the way, I’d like to take this opportunity to pass on a little message to the Bayonne town hall: “If you could stop painting over the works of your local artist with brown paint, it would be really great for all lovers of spontaneous urban art 😉 “.
Little Bayonne, where street art delicately blends into history
It’s hard to concentrate on my quest for Street Art in Bayonne as I am in this very pretty historic district! It must be said that its 16th and 17th century houses with coloured shutters reflected in the Nive river are enough to make you contemplate… And then I go for it, I slip under a nice archway to rush into the small cobbled streets. And there, another interruption! A noise of ball attracts my ear and my eyes seek and find by chance the Trinquet Saint André where a game of pelota is taking place! So I refocus and get back to the heart of the matter and quickly realise that many of the letterboxes around me have been painted by the French stencil artist Christian Guémy – alias C215 -. It is even a festival of works that you will be able to discover: children, personalities of the region, animals, lovers… Dozens of letterboxes have been embellished since the 1st edition of the festival in 2017. If you like stencil art, you’ll have a feast in Bayonne!
In little Bayonne, you will have to open your eyes wide, because to see the invisible you will need a sharp eye! With a little insight you can find the little “jaune” men by the Belgian artist of the same name. His miniature stenciled characters refer to those we meet every day in our daily lives without really seeing them. The artist never ceases to make them live chaotic situations that make you smile, but the background is a bit more serious, as you will have understood 😉
Here, no work will damage a building and it is at human height that they can be admired, like this hyper-realistic helium balloon by the London artist Fanakapan.
Before you leave little Bayonne to venture into another neighbourhood, take a look at the Plaza Patxa, a hotbed of Basque militancy. You will find frescoes from a bygone era that bear witness to the political past of this old neighbourhood. There is a fresco from 1993 where the Spanish and French were looking at this rebellious people with a magnifying glass, or the faces of young members of the ETA who were killed or disappeared. The militant group that had taken over this place and renamed it has disappeared for years, but surprisingly the frescoes remain untouched!
I leave this pretty neighbourhood with regret, but these soon fade away as soon as I see what awaits me on the other side of the River Adour.
The districts of Saint-Esprit and Sainte-Croix; a real concentration of colourful works!
While crossing the Adour river, I saw a work that you must have seen thousands of times on social networks. A pile of gigantic whales made by the Swiss duo Nevercrew. The work, entitled “Tide”, is much more impressive than the idea I had of it, and it makes you smile, since Bayonne was one of the biggest players in whale fishing in the past. It is even said that a whale strayed into the waters of the Adour in 1752! The artists Christian Rebecchi and Pablo Togni are two fervent defenders of the environment and highlight in their work the harmful effects of man on nature. This cruel fishing is now banned in France, but unfortunately it continues in many countries… Street art being international, I hope that the message of these artists will be heard beyond the borders!
On the other side of the Saint-Esprit bridge I glimpse a few portraits in the distance and decide to get closer. I then discover with horror a work by the artist Hopare which has not stood the test of time and has not lived well on the various supports that make up the reception wall. I won’t show you the photo because it would make your heart ache. A little further on, a portrait gallery awaits me. Created by the Marseille graffiti artist Deuz. These faces with hard, sad, lost looks do not leave you unmoved and it is in this ability to convey a simple emotion that lies the talent of this hip-hop inspired artist.
I decided to head for the heart of the Saint-Esprit district, where some great works are hidden! I passed by the work of the artist Veks Van Hillik several times before seeing it. This tattoo artist / painter makes fun of conventions and claims to be part of the Lowbrow movement. He has his own style which oscillates between dreamlike and surrealistic. There is in his works, often turned towards the marine universe, a touch of candour which always hides a much darker background. Born in the South West of France, he now paints in Italy, Australia and even Brooklyn.
If you’re just passing through Bayonne, this is the area I strongly advise you to visit to get a taste of what the city has to offer. Saint-Esprit is not the saint of street artists, but you might end up thinking so! On a few streets, extremely different frescoes are waiting for you. We find a masked child, made by the Dijon artist RNST who had shown a beautiful creativity during the lockdown.
Or the astonishing work of the Spanish artist DEIH, who uses the codes of science fiction in order to find his inner truth. This work is part of his series on introspection called “The Insider”.
The surprising work that really made me smile was that of the French artist duo Ella & Pitr. I had the strange sensation of finding myself at dawn crossing Bayonne the day after the Feria! I have no idea if the artists had such an idea in mind when they made this one; but it looks very local 😉
In a completely different vein, the work by Boaz Sides aka Untay is light and strolling. I was not surprised that it was inspired by the song and video Wonderful Life by the artist Black. The work of this Tel Aviv-born artist has a certain sketchiness or unfinished research about it. He offers viewers a visual diary that leaves a lot to the imagination. There is poetry in the air!
As I gradually make my way towards the top of Sainte Croix, where I have been told that the works are vertiginous, I come across the murals by the Bordeaux collective Monkey Bird and the Biarritz-born visual artist Koralie. Two works that give me a little courage to reach the following works because it’s a serious climb!
On the heights of Bayonne, Street Art is transformed into monumental frescos!
Artists who create monumental frescoes tend to use the expression “Sky is the Limit” and you will understand in one picture what it means 😉
But before going on to the works, I want to tell you about this ZUP – Priority Zone- of Bayonne called the Hauts de Sainte-Croix. As soon as I arrived on the heights, I realised that I was in a very green environment, extremely well maintained and very pleasant. 7 huge buildings dominate the hill and offer a magnificent view of the city; then on the slopes, smaller buildings nestled in the greenery take shape. These gigantic buildings have nothing to do with those found in the north of large cities such as Paris or Marseille; the lines are pure, almost gentle. This ZUP of Bayonne is quite disconcerting and will shake up any preconceived ideas! Perhaps this city was more intelligent than the others by calling on a great name in architecture, Marcel Breuer, leader of the Bauhaus movement, to create its social housing in the 1970s. However, if you go there to discover beautiful frescoes, remember to open your eyes as well because this district is a beautiful example of achievement!
The first work that caught my eye was that of the twin brothers from San Sebastian in Spain who make up the Hownosm Duo. The colour palette of red, pink and grey is part of their signature, not to mention the complex compositions they propose. To stop in front of one of their works is to discover details that are so obvious that you wouldn’t have thought of them at first! This work, called “Our beloved land“, is a tribute to the Basque people who kept their culture alive during Franco’s oppression. The traditional Basque cross, which represents the unity of the people, and the flag – the Ikurriña – which was once banned, are displayed in a stylised way. A majestic work of art that skilfully adorns one of the huge buildings designed by the architect Marcel Breuer.
On another wall, the almost organic marine strings of the Portuguese artist Pantónio reach for the sky and suddenly the expression “Sky is the limit” takes on its full meaning.
I walk away from these massive buildings with an ounce of hope in me for all the suburbs that haven’t had the chance to benefit from as much attention in terms of urban planning… Hope is life 😉
Along the way I came across the work of one of my “favourite” artists! Why darling, you may ask? Well, I can’t say; there is something classic and reassuring about his work. The colour palette used is a bit old-fashioned and the backgrounds are often reminiscent of the wallpaper we used to see in our grandparents’ homes. The iconography is also from another time, as you can see, the lady’s hat and her brooch are rather vintage. Even her robots have a soul, the colour used takes us back to the past as if they were made with old copper pots that adorned the kitchens of yesteryear. This work does not show the full range of his work as he sometimes puts his characters in bizarre situations which brings a surreal touch to his frescoes. This work by the Italian artist Pixel Pancho fits so delicately into the urban landscape that one might think it has always been there.
In a completely different register, the Venezuelan artist Koz Dos confronts the animal world with the human world. He does not hide the surrealist influence that Salvador Dalí may have had on him. His style is easily recognisable as in each of his works he caps the human with an animal head; preferably a cat or a lemur. Personally I found this work very esoteric, almost Freemason-like; tell me what you think in the comments!
I must admit that I am having a little trouble finding a common thread in all these works. The least we can say is that Street Art in Bayonne is an astonishing mix of styles. Take these metallic, almost anamorphic arrows with the recycling logo. They are located next to the containers provided for this purpose, which is not without a sense of humour, but it was difficult for me to guess the artist. In fact it is a work by Fanakapan, known for his helium balloons!
In a very urban style, I was very pleased to discover the work of Adrien Enaer, a Parisian artist adopted by Montpellier. The way he creates and builds his frescoes around the portrait is extremely graphic and modern. His colour codes and the delicacy of his composition make his works decorative objects that fit perfectly into the urban landscape. Certain details such as the small circle above his portrait or the relief work of the number five on the cap remind us that this artist comes from the world of graffiti.
After more than 18 kilometres on foot, I still have many works to discover! I must admit that the following works are much further from the center of the city than I thought and so I decide to finish this incredible journey by car towards the works created thanks to the Points of View festival.
Street art in Bayonne is exploding in all areas of the city!
If you are a real fan of Urban Art, it is not a single day that will allow you to discover and take the time to appreciate Street Art in in Bayonne. You really need to spend a weekend there, which will also allow you to discover this beautiful city full of history. For this last paragraph, I decided not to stop at one location; there are works around the stadium, on the banks,… I simply chose three works that have a direct link with the Basque country 😉
So I begin this nod to our Basque friends with the work of Paul Ressencourt and Simon Roche who make up the duo Murmure. It is placed on an old pediment which is an architectural element of reference in any Basque village. Their work is deliberately committed and I think that the theme of the environment is particularly important in a town that is only a stone’s throw from the ocean. I’m not going to tell you about their absolute mastery of certain techniques, because their work is so accomplished that it jumps out at you. I really fell in love with this work and found that with the magnificent graffiti located on the same ground, it made an exceptional visual whole!
Revisiting the Basque beret is no easy task! Caricatured by the Americans, glamorised by Michèle Morgan; the Basque beret has become a national symbol and we know that in France, touching symbols is not an easy task. It is with brio that the Spanish duo constituting Dourone has tackled the subject! In a graphic and hyper coloured style they succeeded in anchoring this object of the past in a modern future with warm colours. The glamour is always present and the title of the work “Pensando es un cambio” – Thinking is a change – is more than appropriate. An essential work on this beautiful journey.
It is often said that the Basque has a hard head, not to say stubborn, and a long life. Preconceived ideas also have a long life 😉 But the image of the Basque shepherd is still a reality and the green hills of the Basque country are still full of sheep and the shepherds who accompany them. Shepherds, masters of the mountains, who continue the traditions to the delight of our taste buds. The French duo Sismikazot paid tribute to this guardian of heritage by highlighting the Basque code of honour “Hitza Hitz” – what is said is said / word given -. On this typical house with red shutters, Antton, a shepherd in the village of Sare, is proudly represented.
Street Art in Bayonne: an essential part of the French scene?
A thousand times yes, and as I said, you will have to spend a weekend there to savour all the flavours! Because the works I have selected for you are only a small part of what you could discover there. I’m sorry for the artists I didn’t mention in the article, but I would have had to write a book to list them all! If I have ended on these few works that sublimate the DNA of the Basque country, it is because I particularly appreciate artists who offer a resonance in their work to the place they invest. Even if it is not absolutely necessary, an editorial line brings an extra soul to the discovery and sometimes even forces the artists to leave their comfort zone. The most beautiful editorial line that I have seen so far in France is the one in Boulogne-sur-mer 😉
Street art in Bayonne offers a significant place to the Basque country and its beautiful coast. If you venture to Bayonne, don’t forget to make a small diversions to Dax, which is starting to have some very nice works 😉
To find your way around, the Festival Points de Vue website has an interactive map with the location of the works. And for those who prefer paper, you can find printed maps at the Space Junk space or at Blondie’s, the very nice café just next door 😉
The 2021 Festival has just ended and new majestic works are waiting for you! As for me, I’m off to a new Street Art adventure!
Take care & See you soon!