Street Art in the city of Grenoble in France: hundreds of concrete gable walls come to life!16 March 2023
Street art and the city of Grenoble seem to be inseparable today… One could even say without exaggerating too much that it is the largest collection of murals in Europe! And yet, a few decades ago, there were no works of urban art in the streets of Grenoble, just a few tags in certain districts that were rather anecdotal. I know something about this because I am born there. Surprisingly, since its construction, this city had all the assets to host magnificent murals. And even its cultural and political history could have made it the forerunner in this field! But it was not until 2015 that Jérôme Catz, a former pro snowboarder, launched the Grenoble Street Art Fest. Today, this Festival is certainly the most important in Europe and since its creation more than 300 works have taken over the walls of the city!
A bit of history on this city that has become an open-air museum!
The holidaymaker, a ski enthusiast, knows nothing about Grenoble, which he crosses with a certain disdain on his way to the Alps. He passes through large, concrete and often icy arteries. The vision of its grey walls and its bad reputation as an open city do not make him want to stop there, nor to know more about it.
But the history of concrete is inseparable from this city whose historic centre is rather “art deco”. Concrete was invented in Grenoble by Joseph Vicat. Thanks to this era of concrete, Grenoble experienced an incredible boom in the 1930s; it became the most modern city in France… but also the most concrete! All the architects, curious about this “indestructible” material, left their signature on it. Even Auguste Perret, a disciple of Le Corbusier, built a huge tower to look at the mountains. This incredible adventure in concrete has certainly built a modern city at high speed, but it has also left immense mouse-grey gable walls that give a rather sinister air to the city already enclosed in its mountains.
Jérôme Catz was not the first man to want to put colour on these walls. It was Hubert Dudebout, mayor of the city from 1965 to 1983, who had this desire. Even if he revolutionized the city by importing the tramway, building impressive cultural and sports infrastructures,… his dream was to introduce culture as close as possible to the population, there remain above all very 70’s metal sculptures and only one fresco by Ernest Pignon Ernest dating from 1979, restored on the occasion of the second edition of the Grenoble Street Art Fest in 2016.
Jérôme Catz, who is passionate about board culture, urban art and surrealist pop art, knew as early as 2003, when he created his cultural centre Space Junk in the city centre, that these walls could accommodate colour…
As I was unfortunately not in Grenoble to walk around and enjoy these magnificent achievements… I decided to dedicate my research to the hyper centre, with this desire to discover what my birthplace had to offer to the passers-by who walk in the streets. I therefore drew a straight line from East to West in the city centre, without having to cross the bridges over the Isère river. My objective: to make a non-exhaustive inventory and to understand if this festival was purely urban dressing, if messages were slipping into the frescoes or if some graffiti and works of protest artists appeared somewhere in the city.
Street Art in Grenoble dresses up the gable walls with vibrant colours!
To begin this approach to street art in Grenoble, I went to the Galliéni residence, just east of the banks of the Isère. This residence, like many others in Grenoble, was modern and dull at the same time. The characteristic of these useful houses in cities that grow too fast! But now the walls have been adorned with colours and international artists have come to put their signatures on them.
We find the giant anamorphics of Peeta Ead who manages to distort architectural designs with his spectacular mastery of 3D. The pile-ups and trompe l’oeil of artist Leon Keer, who here in a “green” city, offers us a point of humour with his juxtaposition of cars.
There is also a magnificent calligraphy in perspective by the Moldavian artist Izzy Izvine. This work offers a very nice perspective with the floating musical notes painted by the artist SNEK.
These works are all beautifully done, but I must confess that I am missing that little something that triggers the thrill and makes me jump around. I come back to this sentence of one of my cousins from Grenoble who is not at all a fan of urban art: “It’s better than all the grey walls, it brings colour to life”. Even if these works don’t speak to my inner self, I know they will speak to some of you and that’s also the beauty of art. I move away from the residence and as I start walking again, I am breathless! This is what I was waiting for, right in front of my eyes…
A complex work to be deconstructed, analysed and scrutinised in its smallest details… The work of the Chilean artist INTI is very clearly committed to the environmental and social fields. But this artist sometimes makes us lose our bearings because he inserts historical, mystical and religious references into his incredible works. Here the work is called “A pale blue dot” in reference to Carl Sagan‘s popular science book on human’s place in the universe. I am not going to describe or decipher the work, but to quote the artist’s words: “Our planet is a solitary speck in the great cosmic darkness that envelops us. In our darkness, in all this vastness, there is no certainty that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
For my part, I finally had my Waouh effect and I’m delighted to go back to my street art discoveries in Grenoble.
Committed and even protesting works and vandal graffiti artists in the heart of the city!
On the way, I wasn’t sure what to expect in the city centre. In my memories in the Hoches Gardens area, the buildings are smaller and the streets are not wide enough to work with large works… I was wrong! Before arriving in the neighbourhood I see a very sophisticated Professor Fox appear from afar… I had the idea for a moment to attribute it to Bault, but in fact it is by the artist Veks Van Hillik, more known for his mysterious and aquatic creations than for his forest animals ! Maybe the mountains inspired him 😉
I continue to meander through the streets and finally find myself in the spot! The one you always wait for when you like urban art and walk around a city… The one that makes you twirl around so many works. It’s flashy, committed and sometimes funny. The spot mixes small stencil works, collages, graffiti and giant walls. It’s an explosion for the eyes… a real treat!
The least we can say is that on Rue François Raoult, there is commitment and a message in the air. Between the works of the artist OTIST which call for awakening and rebellion, Combo CK which joins the Black Lives Matter movement and reminds us of that terrible sentence “I can’t breathe” uttered by George Floyd a few seconds before his death. Not to mention the enigmatic work of Grenoble-based illustrator and sculptor Jean-Marc Rochette with his “32 bilan provisoire” which refers to the yellow jackets and the 32 eye injuries resulting from the use of LBDs by the French police! The atmosphere of this small street might seem heavy… but the works are colourful, graphic and just make you want to pass on the message. A successful bet for these committed artists!
With the works of the artist EZK, the wind of protest that blows on this street is confirmed! The funniest thing about all this? One of the entrances to the municipal police station looks directly onto these works! If you pass by this unmissable spot, you’ll see that it gives you a strange sensation to see these works with blue uniforms wandering around. It’s quite an unusual context 😉 I continue my way and rush to the left at the back of the Hoche car park and it’s a new festival of works that explodes my pupils!
It’s a work by the Dijon artist RNST that catches my eye first… nothing surprising, I love this committed universe which, with the representation of masked children, highlights the most disadvantaged or oppressed populations. His muscular punchlines contribute to my appetite for his work, which I never tire of. His “Let the revolutionary springs rise” brings me back to the Arab Spring, but also to the Carnation Revolution in Portugal… and of course to the French movements that are getting closer and closer to dehumanized governments!
Of course I am not going to share with you all the works in this incredible spot! Those of you who go there will be in for a few surprises… But before leaving, I have selected two works that particularly touch me. The first work, called “Lady Refugee”, is by the artist GOIN; a committed artist who knows how to remain anonymous. This work is like an uppercut, it shows the reality of a world adrift. It is a hard-hitting work that has the merit of making us think about the abominable situation of these migrants who cross the Mediterranean to flee war and the way our so-called modern world treats them.
The second work called “Let’s take a walk on democracy” is by the Lyon-based stencil artist DAV’. When I saw this hijacking of Alice in Wonderland, I immediately thought of a fresco made after the yellow jackets movement! I was wrong. Did the artist have a premonition? I don’t know… But just this weekend, I was walking in the streets of Paris enjoying a ray of sunshine and I found myself in the same situation as Alice on this work… I went back home… my walk in democracy stopped dead ;-(
I leave this spot rich of works and messages with the certainty that I still have a lot to discover in the city centre of Grenoble! So I take the direction of the SpaceJunk cultural centre… it’s Sunday, it’s closed, but I don’t know why I have the feeling that the surroundings of this place, which has become a cult in Grenoble, must be full of beautiful surprises!
A real Graffiti Hall of Fame in the heart of the city!
Honestly, I expected everything but this! I can’t believe it! This immensely long wall is a firework for my eyes… I’m gambolling in all directions and I already know that excellent Writerz have tackled the concrete… ” Bubble letters “, Wild or Old Style lettering, hyper worked blazes, low brow figurines and characters of all kinds come to offer a striking show! The whole is harmonious and we go from one style to another without violent rupture. A magnificent work! Unfortunately, I don’t know the graffiti artists of the Grenoble scene, and that frustrates me a bit… but I must admit that after discovering that this huge “Hall of Fame” is the work of the CONTRATAK collective, the same one that organizes some block parties mixing music, painting,… I understand that this Grenoble Street Art Fest is not there to decorate. It makes the city vibrate!
After this visual explosion, I continue on my way and a little voice tells me that I am not at the end of my surprises!
Head for Space Junk, the cradle of Street Art in Grenoble!
Along the way I don’t really know what to think, or what to expect… I tell myself that in barely 7 years Jérôme Catz and his cultural centre Space Junk have done a lot in the city. I wonder what the streets around this space have in store for me, which is unfortunately closed on the day I visit.
I’m not surprised to find a committed work by the duo NeverCrew on my way, but the very American eagle it overlooks surprises me… I feel like I’ve been teleported to Queens thanks to artists Srek, Greg and Killah One. The further I go into the neighbourhood, the more I see the number of multiple works becoming denser.
“The shepherds of Arcadia” by Kouka Ntadi rub shoulders with the famous cat by Christian Guemy aka C215, which is not surprising. The closer I get to the Space Junk space, the more the small works intensify. Falco‘s “The Overthinker” is surrounded by graffiti, there are satyric works by artist GOIN, a slightly trashy Alice in Wonderland who allegedly decapitated the rabbit with a golf club by Eugene Barricade… and a multitude of other works. As if this display of Street Art had always existed in the streets of Grenoble.
In fact, you really have to be on the lookout because there are hundreds of small works, stencils, collages and installations hidden in these alleys! Of course, the discovery is punctuated by more visible works such as the very poetic Animatoland world created by Graciela Goncalves Da Silva or “Freedom for speech” by Combo.
After having made the camera of my phone crackle a thousand times, I finally decide to go to the Cours Berriat to finish this morning escapade in the streets of Grenoble.
Graffiti disappears… monumental frescoes reappear: the Cours Berriat in full transformation!
The Cours Berriat, like the Cours Jean Jaurès, is one of the great cold arteries that cross the city of Grenoble. These arteries where the wind blows in the middle of winter, these arteries that we tend to desert! The part towards the city centre has been nicely renovated, and sincerely one can find there some nice trendy tea rooms and some nice shops… On the other hand, when one moves away from the centre, the dilapidated buildings are juxtaposed with modern constructions. The Cours is in the process of being transformed and the graffiti on buildings destined for destruction contrasts with bright monumental frescos. A rather confusing cacophony which nevertheless offers us the chance to see some beautiful works.
The most enigmatic, even abstract work, in which I find the faces of the famous “hall of fame”, was precisely created by Ekis & Boye, two artists from the Contratak Collective. I don’t know why, but I have a crush on this rather discreet work which fits perfectly into the urbanisation. A short walk awaits me to reach the part of this famous Cours where the works are most abundant. During this walk, the architectural contrasts are sometimes striking!
The first fresco that jumps out at me is resolutely Art Deco, a nice reference to this city which is marked by this 1930s architecture. This huge “Notre dame de grâce II“, made by the artists Zek156 & Ankh_one from the A’Shop Crew, overhangs a work that uses the same stylist by the artist Etien. The two works work very well together and are strangely opposite a completely tagged building. Here is a beautiful illustration of the contrasts that Cours Berriat can offer.
The Cours Berriat is also what I tend to call lace; giant frescoes overhang other works and this creates a unity that is quite unusual when you are used to consuming urban art. The works respond perfectly to each other until they become one. This is the case with the magnificent work “La courbe” by the master stencil duo Monkey Bird and the more than stylised writing of Ink4rt. And it’s also the case with the work “La belle mécanique” by SNEK. I’m enjoying it!
I finish this discovery of Grenoble’s Street Art with a second masterful work by the duo NeverCrew who never cease to alert on the disappearance of endangered species… An end of walk by a polar cold and this famous wind which tells me to go back and warm up 😉
Should you live the Street Art experience in Grenoble?
In fact this question sounds almost like a bad joke! Grenoble is undoubtedly the French or even European capital of Street Art… Imagine that I only shared with you a third of the works I saw and especially that I only concentrated on the city centre whereas the surroundings are full of incredible walls!
Imagine putting the works of Bayonne, the Boulevard Paris 13 in Paris, the electrifying effervescence of Spot 13, or the somewhat organised disorder of the Tuileries Tunnel into a huge shaker and shaking it very hard! You get an explosive cocktail that blithely combines the magic of the muralists, the bubbling of the graffiti artists, the pep of the miniature works… In fact, if you are a fan of urban art, it is impossible not to go to Grenoble! Moreover, the organization of Grenoble Street Art Fest has done things right and provides you, on the front page of its website, an access to a detailed and very precise map of the works!
And if this very long article hasn’t convinced you yet, I promise to go back before the end of the year and to share with you a multitude of works that I will discover in Seyssinet, Fontaine, La Tronche (where I was born), Saint-Martin d’Hères,…
I must admit that my home town is transformed by this festival and that I still can’t believe it… I only have one desire to continue this exploration!
I leave you with all these beautiful discoveries and I put on my trainers to leave for new Street Art adventures! It’s soon spring and I hope to treat you to some colourful cities!
See you very very soon