The 52 CIRCLES: a Parisian car park taken over by Street Art, hidden from the public eye!4 February 2022
Graffiti and Street Art in car park is a normal thing in the Paris region! But a car park decorated with works by Street Artists and not open to the public is rather rare. Originally, the 52 Circles project, led by the artist Ojan and the Villa Belleville, was not meant to be so large. But with artists and their networks of connections, things can change very quickly! I had the immense honour of visiting this more than surprising place behind closed doors and I’m going to share with you a few images and also my feelings about this place which was not unknown to me!
When the discovery of a Secret Paris takes me back twenty years!
This is certainly the Street Art visit that has been the strangest for me so far. I contacted the Villa Belleville which is a wonderful artists’ residence on rue Ramponneau. When I got there I realised that I had worked there many years ago. The place was called the Centre des Comédiens and we used to shoot castings for the cinema! At the time, the atmosphere in the neighbourhood was extremely tense because a crime had taken place in the car park opposite the centre. As the perpetrators were not arrested, people did not linger in the neighbourhood and tended to flee it!
I must admit that when we went to this same car park, I was a bit stressed… What I didn’t know was that it had been emptied, that only one car had been immobilised on the premises as evidence and that in fact it had never re-opened! An empty car park in Paris is strange, and a car park with such a story is even stranger!
The genesis of the 52 Circles project
The landlord of the car park is the RIVP, a social landlord known by the Street Artists for its various incursions into their world. It decided to carry out a project before the car park was eventually reopened. He then called on the Villa Belleville and the artist Ojan to create a large fresco in the car park with the young people of the neighbourhood, including a number of taggers! Ojan calls on his artist friends and invites the young Crew RTZ to join the project which deviates towards something much bigger! In the end, more than 30 artists will take part in the exercise of creating circular works; hence the final name of the project: The 52 Circles!
Only an artist with an architectural background could have come up with this idea. Marrying the round of the circles to the square architecture of the car park reinforces the character of the building and gives it a new reading. I immediately thought that the street artists must have had some difficulty constraining themselves to a circle! They are used to limiting themselves to large walls… or to limiting themselves to the arrival of the police when they are bombing like vandals! In fact, they were able to simply transform constraint into creativity for a visually very sweet result.
An underground stroll dictated by the absent element of the Car Park!
Have you ever been in an empty car park? Personally it was the first time for me! No noise, no more smell of petrol or oil, a kind of “zenitude” in a place that many find disturbing at night. Once welcomed by Ojan‘s circles, the descent into the Car Park begins; and I can see Apôtre‘s automatic writing on my right. I realise that I am walking around like a car avoiding parked cars… I continue my visit as the conditioned human being that I am, with this strange sensation of discovering works through a spyglass!
Wisdom and serenity emerge from many of the works!
I waited for some time before I could put into words my feelings during my visit. The theme of nature chosen by Ojan, the colour codes he tried to pass on to the artists make the whole thing very soothing. A curious feeling, especially when you know the place and its history!
Many of the works are very graphic, geometric, even rigorous, and harmonise elegantly with the architecture. It is as if a discussion is taking place between this massive, square structure and the lightness of these creative bubbles. If you let your imagination run wild, you get the strange sensation that the works continue beyond the circles… These works respond completely to the more organic ones and it is a gentle alchemy that works very well. Perhaps also because they are spaced far enough apart so that they can breathe without clashing.
When the artist plays with the notion of the circle until it disappears
Anamorphisms, optical illusions,… Some artists have broken the rules and that’s good because they also break a monotony that could have settled. I’m not going to hide from you that I love those who break the codes to better reinvent them! Breaking the circle, spreading it over several posts and leaving it up to the eye to reconstitute it or not, that’s what Ojan did with a very pure graphic design. Hydrane chose to stretch it out like a ball of chewing gum that stretches as far as the eye can see. Lek had the ingenuity to make the circle disappear and be reborn by working around it. Kid Kreol & Boogie imagined what the work that would emerge from the circle would look like. As for Panzer, he managed to slip all the codes of “old school” graffiti into a colourful work. After these few photos, you will have understood that there was a great creative emulation in this car park!
An explosion of colours by Crew RTZ
They usually put their blaze on the heights of Belleville. Sometimes in the most inaccessible places. To imagine that these young taggers had the patience to concentrate on a circle, to take the time to create is quite amazing! There is good in the surprise! Their works are bursting with colour and you can feel a certain wind of freedom in them. Their very colourful worlds contrast with the wiser works of experienced artists. The circles respond to and complement each other and I must admit that this overdose of colour at the end of the car park is very welcome! I have selected two works: The first one by VEED who offers us a striking Blaze with a writing that we are not used to seeing. The second one is by Souleymane who has created a structured composition in a small space. He succeeds in the difficult exercise of telling us a story in one image. Sincerely, there is in this crew a seed of talent 😉
Accompanied by a Golgoth my visit comes to an end
I had already fallen in love with the swing of Tcheko’s characters on the Canal de l’Ourcq! So it’s not surprising that I chose the bust of his Golgoth for the cover of the article. Tcheko has dislocated his powerful character at the bottom of the car park. It is like a reassuring presence that invites you to follow the visit in all tranquillity. I am bluffed by the way he masters the anatomy and also by the way he used the place to highlight his giant while magnifying the space. The foot of this Golgoth makes us feel the momentum of a runner on the track. We find this same momentum in his legs. Then a tense hand invites us to stop while the other one, with great elegance, points to LEGZ‘s work… There is genius in this creation which also breaks the rhythm of the circles to impose its own. Without him the visit would not be the same. I invite you to follow David ‘Tcheko’ Latulipe, because in my opinion he still has some nice surprises in store for us.
How can you discover these unusual Street Art car park in real life?
To this question only the landlord could answer! I tell you as I think it is a heartbreaker to know that this magical place is closed to the public, even more so when you see the success that L’Essentiel Paris had last summer. Ojan, with the help of Villa Belleville in the production, has managed a balancing act that makes the visit disconcertingly fluid. If the place was open I would tell you to run there without delay. Maybe if you make noise, the landlord will hear you in return? Maybe if the journalists who visited it talked about it without waiting for an eventual opening it would be possible to find a nice sponsor to offer this place to the public? I hope with all my heart that when the RIVP reads these lines, they will want to share this beautiful adventure with you as I do! Before leaving you and heading off to new discoveries, I would like to warmly thank Ojan, the Villa Belleville and all the artists who have allowed me to share in this collective creative work that are the 52 circles.
See you soon for new Street Art adventures!