If our days were focused on the official fair, our nights were concentrated on a rawer environment: Paris’ streets. After all, isn’t it the heart of a city, of urban art, somehow of Life itself?
As soon as the stand was closed and cleaned, our SAMA crew was rushing outside to breathe some authentic air, we would hang out in the neighbourhood here and there, admiring capital lights on the Channel’s docks, walking around the 13th murals, collecting treasures among cobblestones. We couldn’t get enough while flying from cross-roads to sidewalks, filled with grey cements and colourful scents, light concrete and dark night, Milky Way was paint-dripping on the pavement, while pollution couldn’t help us smelling the sweet and sour wind of liberty blowing on our trip.
We had a lot of great moments and encounters in this district emptied by dusk. But our main discovery was found on our second evening on site, a freaking amazing one, especially as it turned out to stand right around the corner of the Cité de la Mode et du Design.
As we were leaving the fair after the opening party, our team passed behind the big building when suddenly, some large doors appeared, their wide open flaps revealing an incredible coincidence to our wide open eyes: inside walls seemed to be fully covered with massive graffiti. We immediately stopped, diving our feet in the ground to face this place’s guardian: a fifty-something man was standing in front of the entrance, pepper and salt beard eating his serene chin, muscled calves wrapped up in military trousers, tanned skin engraved with sage wrinkles and antique cap nonchalantly set on his tired forehead. We almost assaulted him with messy questions in English and in French, everybody at the same time: where are we, wooow, is that street art, holy shit, who are you, damn, what is that, can we come in, is it open, can we come in, can we come in, please can we come in???
At last, the wise guardian raised his husky voice to make us shut up: “I am the General. And this is my one thousand six hundred and twenty-second Arts and Technics Social Laboratory.”
We entered what happened to be a true, real, rough artist squat, as unlikely as gorgeous. It was called L’Art Seine 22. Serendipity had obviously offered this unbelievable surprise to us in reward for our efforts, that must be the only explanation.
Inside, the hallway served as the General’s office. Beyond it, a labyrinth of corridors, whose every part was illuminated with artworks, welcome our figures shaking with excitement. After visiting every corner and nook, we sat in the common room which was a gathering spot, a bar and a shop, host by a Rasta dude named Cix.
We couldn’t know at that moment that this place would become a second home for the whole duration of our stay, and that this meeting would be the start of what we hope to be an ever-lasting friendship.
Every evening after work, we would come back at L’Art Seine. Our crew would mingle with the squat managers, artists or visitors, sitting on the wooden school stools, we would have endless chats with them, drink Heineken bottles with them, make art with them, smoke loads of cigarettes with them, listening hip-hop music with them, have laughs out loud with them, in a word: bonding.
That’s how we met the squat main protagonists. Cix was among them, running the bar and the organisation, a tall black guy with long black dreadlocks, always wearing thick black sun-glasses, gifted with the tone of a rapper and the flow of a monk; graffiti artist, old member of the super famous 80’s Parisian TPK crew, his spirit was sharp even if his gesture was poised. We also got along very well with Andrew Wallas, an artist whose peaceful eyes, gentle freckles on his young nose and kind sprawling smile seemed to bring calm to the sometimes messy atmosphere. Formerly using to live in Amsterdam, he hated cats’ guts but loved jelly beans candies, speaking with him was about being listened more than getting a words rush, however, when it came about painting, the output was efficient as well as accurate.
There was also Monsta, round-shaped, low-voiced, nervous-energized, humour-loaded, tidiness-lover and apparently, new Moste fan: finding a cool sketch in the notebook of our Mexican genie, he insisted a lot for him to paint the same on a “big wall” of them, provoking a marvellous nocturnal spraying session, while which every spectator asked if he was illustrating a “legs gang-bang”… We also were lucky enough to be introduced to Goze, an incredible fella whose speciality was to make phosphorescent 3D paintings on canvas. In the middle of all the boys, there were fortunately a few strong ladies to represent female gent with talent and patience, like silk-painter Toxic, or red-haired vegan assistant Marie-Laure, or the art promoter Ihpn. In another category, how to forget Thor, the huge brown-haired dog with a high taste for cuddling?
Inside the squat, the connections magic was continuing more than ever, and we understood that it was kind of fate when the General explained that they were open as shelters not only for artists, but for homeless families too: an artistic structure using street art as a social tool? Mmmh, isn’t it ringing a bell? Some workshops were even scheduled for kids, we were lucky enough to see what those little creative creatures could do with their two small hands: delicate plastic dragonflies or butterflies, precise decoration out of cut metal cans, imaginative pencil drawings, so much mature than what adult like me could ever make.
Later, when we would be back, we would hope from our Amsterdam home that Paris L’Art Seine would still think about us, wishing to keep on being mates and creating great collaboration with this incredible crazy family.
Editor’s note: Since we’ve come back: Toxic has visited SAMA twice for a research trip on future workshops at our Summer School; Ihppn came with her musician husband and spend the weekend with SAMA talking Paris subculture and comparing graffiti sites; Andrew Wallas is working on a sketch for the wall in SAMA collection, and little Thea is planning her visit to make the movies about Paris. So yes…. It was True Love!