The Coul’heures d’Automne Urban Art Festival blends delicately into the French Côte d’Azur landscape24 November 2023
I’ve been following the development of the Coul’heures d’Automne Festival in Antibes / Juan-les-Pins since its inception. I always find it surprising, even suspicious, to discover a town’s attraction to urban art when graffiti isn’t rooted in its DNA. Between you and me, the DNA of Juan-les-Pins is above all one of the finest jazz festivals in the world, it’s the gentle way of life on the Côte d’Azur, a haven of peace wedged between the cinematic Croisette and the glamour of the Bay of Angels, the beautiful blue glittering under a resplendent sun… everything but graffiti and urban art!
So you can imagine that when these two pretty little towns launched a festival featuring street artists, it must have been no mean feat! So when I received the invitation from the region to come and have a look around, I have to admit I was a little reluctant, but I was also a little curious, as this festival, outside the summer season, has a festive atmosphere that could be likened to that of the wastelands of northern Paris, where the sound of hip hop mingles with the gestures of graffiti artists! As I make my discoveries, you’ll be able to judge for yourself whether this crazy gamble has paid off… or not!
A discreet festival that is taking off
The Coul’heures d’Automne Festival has been running since 2020, yet the media specialising in urban art don’t give it much exposure. Perhaps it’s for this simple reason that I didn’t bother to look beyond Marseille to discover new spots for your viewing pleasure! But to be honest, a stroll through the towns of Antibes and Juan-les-Pins is rather pleasant… And what’s more, the icing on the cake is the majestic works of art – what more could you ask for?
Before the appointment with the Festival and city teams, I left the hotel at dawn to take the pulse of this urban art festival. I’m a free spirit, a little allergic to guided tours 😉 My first discovery was a major one, as I fell head over heels in front of a work as immense as it was majestic by the duo MonkeyBird, the goldsmiths of stencil art. It’s a Garden of Eden, the lines of which fit in admirably with the pretty park it overlooks!
As I walk along, I realise that there is no overarching theme here, but rather a real desire to place the works in their direct urban environment. A work that speaks to an audience predisposed to receiving it. A work that does not offend the eye but reinforces the purpose and use of an urban space. These include “Baby Love” by the artist Wanjah, which is part of a magnificent carousel, and “Jazz des cigales” by the illustrator and muralist Williann, a nod to Ella Fitzgerald’s famous “cricket song” on the wall of the school’s museum.
There are plenty of works of art in the city, but they’re all very discreet! The trick is to keep your eyes peeled, as it would be very easy to walk past Olivia Paroldi‘s magnificent engraving or Alberto Ruce‘s delicate sheep without seeing them! The same goes for Isaac Cordal‘s micro-characters, some of which have been stolen, or Astro‘s trompe l’oeil calligraphy, which looks as if it has always been there in the urban landscape.
At this stage of my discovery, I’m missing the ‘vibe’, the extra something… because although I salute this effort to integrate perfectly with the existing town planning, I can’t really feel the hairs standing up on my arms! The MonkeyBird work has set the bar very high and I don’t know if all these pretty, delicate works will be enough to awaken the enthusiasm and emotions that lie dormant inside me.
But as you emerge from these magnificent little pedestrian streets, the works begin to take on a larger scale. The walls are more modern, the buildings taller, and so the surfaces for expression larger. For the 1st time, I discovered the work of César Malfi, a rising star in Côte d’Azur urban art, in a 4-handed work with artist Jennifer Miller painted on 8 March for International Women’s Rights Day. Ardif‘s huge ‘mechanimals’ fish take over the walls in a huge long passageway.
An unpleasant crossroads has been given a new lease of life thanks to Tim Zdey‘s ably flashy urban dressing-up… the facade of a building has been transformed thanks to the incredible talent of Moldavian artist Izzy Izvne… and the water sports stadium has been metamorphosed by Kalouf‘s incredible bird taking to the skies. So you’ve guessed it, the Coul’heures d’Automne Festival has no shortage of XXL works of art to make you dream, and above all to transform even the most unpleasant urban areas!
Before returning to the city centre to tell you all about the Coul’Box, I can’t overlook the latest masterpiece created on the expressway by Andréa Ravo Mattoni. I’ve already told you about his work in Boulogne-sur-mer and in the Tuileries Tunnel, but here it takes on a whole new dimension! This artist, who used to take a detail from an existing work out of a museum, has turned to artificial intelligence… He’s now adding his own programme and, with his incredible technique, reproducing images from his own imagination and that of iA… His monumental work looks like that of a great 18th or 19th century master, but it combines cutting-edge technology directed by the artist’s brain! A must-see and experience!
Meet the public in the town centre around the Coul’box from the Coul’heures d’Automne Festival
It was early in the morning when I came across the 1st Coul’Box set up opposite the Vauban harbour… to my great surprise, I spotted some extremely sensitive stencil work by a local artist, Artmor1. I discovered the faces of women and children from India, China, Benin and Burma. Faced with the Mediterranean Sea, which is as beautiful as it is dramatic, I can’t help but think of the migrants fleeing their countries… Even though it’s not the main theme of Artmor1‘s work, his stencils stir a certain emotion in me, and it’s when I look up from his works that I realise that at 8 o’clock in the morning, I’m not the only one to spend a long time looking at them!
In fact, there are Coul’Boxes all over the city, and generally I rarely talk about these ephemeral structures because they’re just too ephemeral… But the idea of the Coul’heures d’Automne Festival is to keep them alive for a whole year by unfolding these Boxes and exhibiting them in the rue des trois moulins…
Right in the centre of town, a few steps from Wanjah‘s Baby Love, I take the time to observe the artists at work and the reactions of passers-by. Some ask questions, others just take photos; I realise that it’s a never-ending stream of discussions and interactions. These Coul’Boxes attract tourists who don’t expect to see urban artists and delight street art enthusiasts who have come from far and wide to meet the artists.
While Aroke is polishing up a portrait of Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer, graffiti artist Trace.mat is treating young children to an introduction to graffiti… (future little graffiti vandals… I love it ;-))
The interaction with the public is fluid, gentle and kind… the atmosphere is as cool as the Boxes and you can feel that a real chemistry is created between the artists, the public and the works… A real pleasure, especially as the artists exhibiting in the Coul’Boxes are often from the region and are also creating a work at La sChOOL, the heart of the festival’s reactor!
The urban art vibe on the Côte d’Azur is definitely at La sChOOL!
I can feel you thinking I’m going a bit too far! But I’m not! As soon as I set foot in La sChOOL for the first time, I felt that unique vibe, the one that makes me tremble from the inside… Entering La sChOOL is a bit like stepping into Spot 13 or the Tuileries Tunnel for the first time. It’s feeling the vibe, the creative abundance, the explosion of talent, not always under control. The sChOOL is one of those places that breathe Urban Art, and when I say Urban, I mean in the broadest sense of the word and that means urban music, urban dance, graffiti, etc.
The atmosphere at La SChOOL is ultra-friendly, with good humour enhanced tenfold by the surrounding colours. It has to be said that this hybrid urban art centre is at the heart of the Couleur d’Automne Festival‘s reactor, as it is supported by the Festival’s founding association, Label Note! Sébastien Hamard, whom I had the opportunity to meet, is the master conductor of this astonishing orchestra! For the duration of the Festival, which takes place during the All Saints’ holiday period, La sChOOL is transformed into a festive venue where musical and artistic events take place… the venue is open all year round and I recommend that you get in there too!
The Coul’heures d’Automne Festival: unifying, accessible and metamorphosing?
I know, you’re used to me giving my verdict without preamble… But the Festival Coul’Heures d’Automne reminded me a lot of the Festival des Nouveaux Ateliers in Port de Bouc. So, as I had a very good feeling about Sébastien Hamard, who is in charge of the artistic direction, I thought I’d ask him this little question to compare my feelings with what they wanted to send out to the public. So I asked him to describe the Festival to me using 3 adjectives… It’s harder than it sounds!
As far as the first two are concerned: Unifying -bringing people together- and accessible, I agree with him 100%! All you have to do is observe the osmosis between the public and the artists/works to be sure! I think that in the long term this event leaves a great mark on the population and becomes an unmissable event for the inhabitants of the region, which some people must even look forward to!
As for the adjective “metamorphosing“, it’s hard for me to say because the last time I visited Antibes / Juan-les-Pins I was an au pair and that was a few decades ago! From what I’ve seen, I think that the Festival is gently transforming, while preserving the integrity of the beautiful heritage of these two towns… We can’t talk about a huge metamorphosis, like in Bayonne or Grenoble, but each new edition of the Festival is a new stone in the edifice.
Want to try some street art in Antibes / Juan-les-Pins?
If you’re passing through the South of France and are irresistibly drawn to the beautiful Côte d’Azur, if you have an ounce of curiosity and a taste for Urban Art, Antibes / Juan-les-Pins will offer you the best of both worlds! Of course, I’m not going to tell you to travel across France or even across the ocean to get there, as the Festival is still in its infancy; but the cruising speed and dynamism that the team is instilling promise to make it a key venue for urban art in the years to come.
I loved the strange ‘snowball’ effect, starting with small works in the city centre and expanding as the streets get bigger and the urban topography gets more modern. I loved the focus on local artists and the excellent balance between graffiti and more structured works, even muralism. I found the accessible nature of the works interesting, even if I think that after three editions, their messages could be a little more corrosive and engaging… (As you can see, I’m trying to get a message across, because I think the public is ready ;-)).
Whether it’s during the Coul’heures d’Automne Festival or outside the Festival period, you’re bound to find something to enjoy in Antibes Juan-les-Pins… To help you out, here’s a link to the interactive map of the works, and don’t forget to visit La SChOOL!
If urban art by the sea appeals to you… don’t hesitate to take a stroll around La Seyne-sur-Mer, Marseille, Port-de-Bouc, Port-Saint-Louis, Sète or even Le Barcarès! As for me, I’m putting on my sneakers and heading for Nice! Yes, you read that right, and I’m telling you right now you’re in for a big surprise 😉
See you soon for more street art adventures!