Monday, 13 June 2011

Challenge 1: The mysterious man on a ladder

I recently added a 'Challenge me' box to the side of my blog, offering to attempt to solve your queries about Paris. Last week, I received my first question, and I'm glad to say that I was able to answer it.

The question came from Anne, and this is what she asked;

“I went with a friend today to do your street art walk and we noticed many changes since you published the walking notes, most particularly, the many works of a sad looking monochromatic fellow on a ladder. There were lots of different variations on the theme, but none were signed. What do you know about the artist?

The first step was to retrace the route of my walk (updating it at the same time!) and track down this character. It was immediately obvious that Anne was right - this fellow was everywhere! But who is he, and who is the artist behind him?

Although I wasn't familiar with these creations, the style and the character was definitely something I'd seen before. At one point, this man on a ladder even meets the character I already knew - the 'homme à la bouée', a creature already very visible in this part of Paris. Clearly the same artist was behind both, but in theory it would be easier to find out something about the creator of the man in the rubber ring rather than the more recent ladder dweller.

Just above the crouching man, is this the only 'aborted' space invader in Paris?

However, although these creations are also very visible online, the artist behind them is more difficult to dig out. As is the case with many street artists, no official credit has been taken for them, and they are not even signed with any kind of alias. All that seems to be known is that the artist refers to them as 'gugusses' - a kind of clown.

The artist's technique is a clever one. Carry the man and a very short ladder to the scene of the pasting, then extend the ladder as long as is necessary using charcoal and chalk!

Dig a little deeper though, and a name begins to appear; Philippe Hérard. A video portrait of the artist in his studio - situtated in the vicinity of these creations - confirms that this is indeed the man behind the characters. His official website also displays many other creations on similar themes.

A name then, but what about the motivations of the artist? Why does an established artist who has already developed a series of characters on canvas choose to take them outside of his studio and on to the walls of the city around him? We could assume it to be a form of publicity if it wasn't for the fact that this pasting is done anonymously. Did he feel instead that these 'gugusses' were trapped in his studio, and needed the freedom the city walls? Although I have discovered his name, I'm sure he would prefer me to be investigating the questions these 'gugusses' are asking us.

Challenge me!
Seen something in Paris that has caught your eye but remains a mystery, or ever wondered about obscure people or events in the city's past?
Challenge me to find the answers.

I am no more than an amateur, but I have acquired a certain knowledge of the city in the three years I've been doing this blog, and perhaps more importantly, I've learned where to look for answers to the more obscure questions I ask myself! More than anything else, this kind of research is something I enjoy doing. Through this service I hope to find answers for those who have asked questions, but perhaps also to other readers who may be asking themselves the same questions. So, if you have something that has always bugged you, fire away!

11 comments:

Tim said...

Invisible Sleuth!

Adam said...

Ah yes, I forgot to mention that my cloak of invisibility does give me certain advantages in my investigations.

Anonymous said...

Alright ... I have a question, and your kindly-offered "challenge" is a gift from heaven.

Near the end of March, we were in Montmartre, and we were in love with it of course. We walked up the Rue Norvins. My question is: *who gets to live on the Rue Norvins* ??? And who in the world lives in that park-like mansion area bounded by Rue Norvins, Rue Girardon, Rue de l'Abreuvoir, and Rue des Saules? What an incredible place! ~~ Thank you!

landscapelover said...

Adam, what a great idea to offer yourself up as a modern-day Sherlock / Poirot / Vidocq, as a way in to ever more obscure parts of the city. This post is fascinating; I shall have to conjure up my own fiendishly difficult query for you to investigate. Jill
PS Thanks for your great question on my GGW post - sadly it is taking a long time for my responses to appear, but they should do so eventually...

Adam said...

Anonymous - I'm onto it! I think I know who did live there and a little of its history...

Thérèse said...

Excellent Adam and very comforting to know that one day we will have a question and certainly an answer...

paris (im)perfect said...

I noticed these "man on a ladder" creations on a recent walk, too. So glad you were on the case! Stunning research as always, Adam. I'll look forward to reading about other mysteries you solve!

Anonymous said...

[[Anonymous - I'm onto it!]] Well, that is mighty fabulous of you ... we walked up the Rue Norvins on March 21st. As just one example of the astounding coziness of what is there ... about half-way up the rue, there is a little park on its north side. (At the highest magnification on the google satellite-view, there is what looks like a light-colored triangle, seen through a gap in the tree-canopy: that is pretty much where the small, sloping park is.) It was a beautiful mild day*, and people were lunching in the liitle park. Looking out the back fence of that park (that is, looking north) you see that pair of brown-roofed buildings, roughly T-shaped as to how they sit together (as we look from above.) Those buildings looked like modest country houses; it occurs to me as I write this that they might even be the residences of domestic help. But what a place to have your house!!

* The rest of Paris, seen from Montmartre, was notably hazy compared when viewed from the heights here. The comoarable haziness was so remarkable to me, I took a hi-res photo from the Place du Calvaire (about 50 feet east of the Espace Dalí) looking south out over the panorama of Paris, just to document it.

Anyway ... thank you!!

Peter said...

Bravo for finding the name! Most street artists try rather to make themselves known ... and then later to sell in galleries! A lot ongoing right now; Jef Aerosol at Place Stravinski, Mosko, Mesnager, Artiste Ouvrier, Cyclope in the 17th, many other street artists ar St. Sulpice next week...

Regarding who lives where at Montmartre, let's keep the secret until they leave! :-)

Anonymous said...

Here's a challenge "to myself" that I answered somewhat, via the internet, after coming back from the trip on which we were on the Rue Norvins: there's a gorgeous, utterly anonymous building facing the Arc de Triomphe, with one long wall right on the Ave. des Champs Elysées. Its address is 1 (and apparently also at least 2) Rue de Presbourg. Who or what could possibly be in, or own, such an address??

My somewhat answer is that apparently it is at least partially occupied by a trade-union headquarters (at the "2" of that building):

C.C.F.A Comité des Constructeurs Français d'Automobiles

But there are also apartments to rent, in this building -- for about 5000 euros per month. This one:

http://www.book-a-flat.com/en/apartment-paris-2226.html

... (not available, at the moment) has its windows looking right out on a splendid private garden that is next to L'Étoile itself!

I find one indication ...

http://collections.conceptbb.com/t4710-croix-rouge-japonaise

... that it was a "Hotel Astoria" around the time of the first World War.

Anonymous said...

PS - after considerable inspection of the photos at the link I mentioned above (apartment-paris-2226.html etc) I am convinced that that apartment is at 8 bis Rue de Presbourg, not at 1. My apologies!

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