Tucked in the middle of a busy commercial area between retail stores on rue Rivoli is not where you’d expect to find a former squat building housing over 30 artist studios! A sign hanging on its colourful front facade advertises itself as being the “coolest place in Paris”. After climbing up the winding graffitied stairs, visiting each of the 6 floors and feeling the general creative energy of the place, I kind of have to agree.
If you’re craving a bit of colourful chaos, with a plethora of things from dissected plush animals, vibrant cartoons, magazine collage paintings, funky sculptures, etc, then this is the place for you. Connecting 59 Rue Rivoli to the name of this blog, I think the place screamed “hodgepodge” since there was a little bit of everything. I was glad I stumbled on it through a reddit conversation where a person asked where to find artists at work in Paris.
I was able to meet a most eclectic artist, Francesco, who has been there for 15 years and is actually one of the original squatters! Admiring the umbrellas hanging upside down in his studio, I asked him “Bonjour, puis je prend un photo?”. Instead he reached for my camera and ended up taking a photo of my friend Hawaiki and I. He smiled and asked where my friend and I were from, and started pointing out some of his work, the strokes of paint, the texture. One feline-like shape on a paper caught my eye, so I asked him if it was a cat, but he replied “oui mais non”, it was “a metamorphosis of animals”.
He then grabbed a pen from out of nowhere and started drawing on a corner what I realized was a cat-like version of myself, then proceeded to also draw my friend with emphasis on his spiky hair. I’m not sure if it was pressure for me to purchase the piece since it now sported a personalized piece of me on it, but I was so amused at this enthusiastic artist and I went ahead and bought it. I thought I immediately could pick the piece up, but Francesca whisked it away to a drying machine, where he mentioned something about it “taking away the last bits humanity”. Absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but nice guy. There’s actually saying on the wall stating that “the artists are a little bit crazy but nice”, and it’s true!
Looking out the front windows at brand name stores across the street I made another comment aloud to my friend about how I was so surprised that this space was here. A floating female voice responded – “Oui, l’espace commercial, je ne sais pas combien de temps il va rester ici…” She was talking to me! My friend and I grinned at each other since we thought we were alone, but apparently not! Intrigued I followed the direction of her voice behind an opening between a screen and some boxes. Behind it sat a thin woman with her back to me working at her pile of magnets.
I let her know I was there with a polite “Bonjour” and continued to look at her art. She said something in French and she saw my confused look and I explained that I was an Anglophone. To which she continued on in English and chatted some more, learning her name, Anita gave my friend and I an address to La Petite Maison, a more underground art place where we should seek out her friend Sandy.
The place is free, where you can wander around looking at artists’ work and if you’re lucky talk to them. If you’re like me, then you probably can’t help but purchase some of their work to support the art community. It certainly helps when they had the most creative donation boxes that I have ever seen. Some include an amusing one that said “A solution if you have too much money” and a racy one with a slot between the legs of a mannequin. My favourite was “Are you saved by a dong?” Curious, I decided to drop in a coin, and there was a satisfying Dong! sound. This year is 59 Rue Rivoli’s 15th anniversary, I’m hoping that the space continues to exist and that artists are successful in their creative endeavors. I also can’t wait to explore the other address, La Petite Maison!