Urban art pioneers including visual artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest from Nice, regarded as one of the founders of French urban art, have paved the way for an entire generation with his drawings reproduced on posters, and he continues to be a reference point for young people. While street art developed prolifically in the “urbex” areas – that is, abandoned public buildings and private properties – with word art such as tags and graffiti, along with stencils, stickers and large mural paintings, it is only recently that areas have been legally designated for urban art on the French Riviera. Having spent years hunting down tags with a view to cleaning up the city, Nice is gradually opening up to urban art, authorising a wall area in Las Planas in 2020, followed by a zone along Avenue du XVe Corps in 2021. In terms of events, Alberto Colman launched Urban Painting Around the World in Monaco in 2017 after seeing a performance by Anthony Alberti, AKA Mr OneTeas. During the event, international artists produce works live that are then sold with proceeds going to the Prince Albert II Foundation. Other municipalities such as Antibes Juan-les-Pins have gone even further, making a strong case for urban art as a tourist draw by hosting a festival dedicated to the art form as well as showcasing permanent works.
Around fifty walls
The Antibes project is the brainchild of Sébastien Hamard, founder of Label Note, the association that launched the Nuits Carrées music festival along with the sChOOL, a third space that brings the community together around music and urban art. This venue has become the beating heart of the Coul’Heures d’Automne festival, which now spreads out over the whole Antibes Juan-les-Pins area and is supported by Mayor Jean Leonetti. The 2022 edition showcased international talents and gave an overview of the diversity of urban art, as well as featuring local artists and event regulars such as engraver Olivia Paroldi and Jérémy Besset, founder of the Festival de la Craie (Chalk Festival) that takes place in Mouans-Sartoux in November. “The idea of creating a chalk festival came to me between two exhibitions, as a way of thanking the community,” says the Cannes native born in 1984. “It’s a temporary form of art that lets adults and children alike express themselves on a piece of urban space, and we’re developing it internationally in around twenty cities in 2023.”
A vector for education and knowledge transfer
In Nice, the local urban artist community has been mobilised by projects devised with the support of Robert Roux, the city’s deputy mayor and delegate for culture. Creators were invited to use the tram site fencing as a backdrop for their art, and the municipality has also acquired permanent works of art to show the way. The initiative continued when another pioneer of French urban art, Speedy Graphito, was commissioned to create a large gallery dedicated to the art form on the walls of 109. “The Neanderthals decorated their walls, which were their own streets,” says César Malfi, who has just completed a 120-sqm piece on the façade of a six-storey building in Les Moulins with the help of local young people, following a call for projects by the City of Nice. Brian Caddy, known for his old school-style mural paintings featuring colourful forms outlined in black, is part of this community of Riviera street artists, and his work can be found at the entrance to the Parking Mozart in Nice, among other places. “Right now I’m also doing a lot of work in schoolyards, for example in the Sainte-Pétronille Elementary School in Saint-Laurent du Var. It’s a way of introducing children to urban art, and I also talk to them about hip-hop culture.” Having been thrown into the spotlight to enhance the Riviera’s locations and give them added tourist appeal, urban art is increasingly sought after as a means of education and knowledge transfer for young people and the general public.
By Tanja Stojanov