There is probably an interesting conversation to be had regarding the nature of graffiti and public art and another on whether graffiti can still serve as a rebellious expression when it is found on sites approved by the municipal authorities. Does graffiti need to be illegal or subversive to properly wear its tag or is safe street art equally as credible or valid?
This weekend, the capital of my Breton Département of Côtes d’Armor, Saint Brieuc, is hosting the fourth edition of a now popular street art festival. This year, the walls of seventeen buildings across this north coast city are being painted by graffiti artists from across France. Unfortunately, the covid-related travel restrictions have limited the international nature of this year’s festival but previous editions have featured artists from neighbouring Belgium, Germany, Italy and the UK as well as from further afield, such as Peru and Kyrgyzstan.
The images that follow are predominantly works painted in Saint Brieuc as part of the earlier festivals of street art but the header and footer images are from Rostrenen, a sleepy small town near the southern boundary of the Côtes d’Armor.
As you would imagine, selecting the sites to be painted in a modern port city with a historic medieval core surrounded by streets full of imposing early-19th century buildings, is no easy task. This year, having secured agreements with the buildings’ owners and the local authority, officials from Bâtiments de France, the government body responsible for town planning and preserving the nation’s built heritage, threw a rather large spanner in the works when they refused to sanction 18 of the 27 sites submitted to them.
This year, it has therefore been necessary to recycle some sites used during earlier years; inevitably losing the works painted there. Many of the murals painted for previous festivals were always destined to remain no longer than the last of the summer visitors but several frescoes are still adorning the walls of the city today; fading gracefully before the relentless power of the elements.
After this weekend, there should be some 55 officially graffitied facades across the city, as well as a few unapproved ones; the officially sanctioned ones are not tucked away down obscure side streets but are found on the main thoroughfares. If you do decide to hunt them all down, your arty ambling across town can now be directed with the aid of a downloadable phone app!
If I am able to get some decent shots of this year’s murals, then a follow-up post may be in order!