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Cigarettes: mandatory. Respirator: optional.

(Click here for the video.)

Between a half day in a tattoo studio (more on that soon) and eating some wonderful buckwheat crepes with our friend Sharla, we just happened to walk through the square at Place du Capitole where Toulouse Graffiti Jam 3 had just started. Half of the square was transformed into a maze of plywood walls with paintings in-progress by over 30 artists, while a live DJ spun French hip-hop and timely tributes to Beastie Boy MCA, who had passed away less than a week earlier. Most of the artists were native to Toulouse and Paris, while others came from UK, Spain, Italy, and even Atlanta and LA.

Graffiti seems to be a reoccurring theme, even back to our first day in Reykjavik. It continued in Glasgow where I thought to myself, “…can’t tell if there is a lot of decent street art here, or if I’m just from the midwest and don’t know whats normal.” In Paris, I spotted an Invader tile mosaic strategically placed next to one of Hector Guimard’s Metro station entrances. The artist who tattooed me in Madrid (… also more on that soon) started sneaking out to spray paint when he was 13, and even had plans right after my appointment to go paint some walls with friends who were in town from northern Europe.

I was vaguely familiar with a couple of the French artists at the Toulouse event, which made it exceptionally cool to just happen across giant pieces of their work in public.

The first was a giant floating one-eyed head by Leopold Geb. I recognized his style from seeing a few of his drawings online. When I searched around enough to find out his name, his tumblr linked to an artist I had met with earlier that day.

Then there was a piece by Vincent Abadie Hafez, also known as Zepha. Zepha’s work is composed with broad-stroked and impeccably (impossibly) balanced writing, influenced by arabic calligraphy. That writing was instantly recognizable in giant gold brush strokes amidst darker layers. I loved it enough to get a decent photo, not even realizing it was actually unfinished. When we walked through again a couple days later, it was covered in an almost-opaque red except where he had encouraged random viewers to rub it away with their hands. This revealed an under-painted circle of lettering he had put down beforehand, which I think told an interesting story about this type of art.

Graffiti has roots in defacement. And the defacement side of graffiti is sadly still kicking. The territorial pissings of taggers exist in every city we’ve been in. It defaced legitimate street art in Reykjavik. Our first view of the Eiffel Tower was through the harshly scratched-up glass of a Paris Metro car. The lift room for the tower at Sagrada Familia was filled with carvings of every kid who ever had to stand in line. At Vardzia, the nearly thousand year old frescos outside the tiny cave-church are barely out of reach, but the feet of saints and angels are almost erased by names and pledges of young love.

To say the graffiti at this event is something completely different is an overstatement. Street art culture has evolved to form a collective conscience that keeps most of it on dilapidated buildings and other urban decay. It’s also become respected enough as medium that artists like Geb and Zepha now display their work in galleries. Another artist that was there, TOTEM2, does commissions for advertisement murals. But none of them honed their talent on municipal plywood in this much sunlight. They retain their credibility as street artists because they still get out at night and make art in the street.

Maybe it’s getting hard to use the word “defacement” any more when so many of those surfaces are being improved. But Zepha brought that term full circle in Toulouse, where the finished product of his work would only be fully realized through literal defacement by the public– ironically, the only defacement taking place at a graffiti exhibition. He described it on his site as “Calligraphic text and then covered… To be newly discovered by curious hands.”

-T

15
Jun 2012
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Toulouse Miscellany

A little collection of photos from Toulouse. A view of the city from Sharla’s semi-supersecret location, the Pont Neuf at night, all the used Converse your heart desires (every vintage and second-hand shop had piles of them), delicious food, political stickers on the street (we were there a few days after President Hollande was elected).

The last photo is a stunning culinary find from a subway stop convenience store for the price of just a few Euros. Back home, these things grow wild and are difficult to find even if you know what you’re doing. If you’d rather have someone else do all the hard work for you, not very affordable. Alicia rehydrated them and cooked them for dinner. Yum!

14
Jun 2012
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Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse

On Saturday in Toulouse, we attempted to go to Carcassonne, but when we got to the station, the train tickets were sold out. So we bought our tickets for Monday instead, and wandered around town. We came across Cathédrale Saint-Étienne, pushed open a huge door and stepped into the dark entryway.

The Cathedral was cold and damp, dimly lit by the grey morning skies, and the carved stone floor was easy to trip over as it had been worn down unevenly by millions of footsteps over the last thousand years. Of all the houses of worship in Europe, it’s not considered a jewel of either art or architecture (in fact, it is considered to be rather oddly cobbled together over the years), but we were still in awe of the tangible saturation of time and devotion.

14
Jun 2012
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Toulouse Hospitality

In January, Tony scheduled a tattoo appointment for May 11 in Toulouse. An old friend of his happens to live there, so he emailed her to see if she would like to meet us for coffee while we were in town. Sharla, her husband, Laurent, (and fancy kitty friend Eugenie) ended up hosting us for five days. Despite the fact that Tony hadn’t seen Sharla in over a decade, Alicia had never met her, and neither of us had met Laurent, we had a great time. Sharla took us to a sorta-almost-secret spot to look out over the city, to a great crepes place, and on an evening walk through the park. Also, she makes really, really good granola.

Laurent’s parents, Jean-Pierre and Anna, were determined that their son’s American guests would have the opportunity to sample the best of French cuisine, so they hosted us for lunch on Sunday. After meeting their teenage and half-century old tortoises, we had champagne and sampled a variety of canard delicacies. There was magret séché de canard (salt-cured duck breast), three types of duck sausage, crispy fried duck skin, and some foie gras Jean-Pierre potted himself. Then came wine and salad and delicious cassoulet, which featured more duck sausage and duck legs. Then five different types of cheeses, ice cream and chocolates for dessert, and a sampling of the sole remaining bottle of Laurent’s grandfather’s homemade plum liquor.

It was a marvelous feast and we enjoyed every bite. Toulouse duck is far and away more delicious than any wild Mississippi River duck. Thank you Sharla, Laurent and family very much for your kind hospitality!

(The dinner photos in this post are courtesy of Jean-Pierre.)

13
Jun 2012
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