Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cataphiles: The Cave people of Paris

PARIS — On a recent evening, a 31-year-old street artist led a small group through a dark tunnel off a disused train track in the south of Paris. After crouching, crawling and sometimes wading through water, using headlamps to light their way, they finally arrived in a chamber with vaulted ceilings about 10 feet high.

The space was once used by a brewery to store bottles. It is now part of a sprawling network of abandoned galleries below this city, where a secretive community of street artists, history buffs and other Parisians regularly prowl. They are sometimes called cataphiles: lovers of the catacombs, as the subterranean network is commonly known.

Some seek peace and quiet from the bustling city, others an unusual canvas for their art, still others a place to party with friends at a lower cost and in a more jovial atmosphere than in the clubs and bars above. Many cherish the secrecy and, to some extent, exclusivity of their endeavors.

“My creations have a lot more value here, because they are intended for a limited audience that deserves to see them,” said the artist who led the group and declined to give his name, but went by Nobad. “They went through the trouble of coming here.”

Nobad stencils European paintings with a twist, like Gustave Courbet’s “Desperate Man” in glow-in-the-dark paint. But the walls are covered with art, including paintings in the style of Egyptian tomb murals, grimacing black and orange devil faces, a giant multicolored parrot, and an abundance of graffiti. In one room, the walls are encrusted with mirror shards, and a glittering disco ball hangs from the ceiling.
The egalitarian ethos is like that of Japanese aesthetic circles from the Tokugawa era, where people from different stations in life meet on an equal basis:
“You can’t be judged on your appearance because we are all dirty with mud and wearing boots,” said a 45-year-old pastel artist who gave her name only as Misti, on another outing. “So the banker and the punk, they party together.”
The 3 minute video with the Times article captures that ethos: "There is a lot of graffiti here and not enough classical masterpieces."

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