Did you hear the one about the two lesbians who visited a city called Brest? There’s no punchline to that joke. But we are two lesbians and we did visit the city of Brest in Brittany, France. In fact, we went to Brest and we liked it.
The coastal city has the usual lighthouse, quayside and docks you would expect. It is also home to an impressive military arsenal and huge aquarium complex. But the best thing about Brest is its street art. A few years back, the city had a big problem with graffiti. Kids were spraying their names on houses and the place looked a mess. Rather than banning graffiti, the town council took an innovative approach to fixing the problem. They invited internationally renowned street artists to paint in the city. They got young people involved in street art workshops and taught them how develop their skills. They encouraged citizens to apply for permission to exhibit their own street art on walls around the city. A few years on and street art in Brest has transformed the city into a vibrant and colourful living canvas which residents can be proud of.
Recently we were invited to join street artist Guy Denning on a paste up in Brest. We watched an unassuming blank wall be transformed into an awesome piece of art work for the whole community to enjoy. The first thing Guy did was leave one of his signature branded paint cans on a window ledge in a nearby street. He then sent out a tweet showing a picture of the can and his social media fans went crazy as they began searching for it. Guy does this a lot, his work sells for a small fortune and he likes to make it accessible to everyone. Street art and free art pieces are his way of providing art for the people who can’t afford it, why should they miss out?
A few other artists had turned up to watch the paste up and we were soon joined by council members and some locals who were passing by. Couples, families and older people all stopping to have a look at the new art. Everyone was impressed with the new addition to the city and enjoyed watching it go up. It’s a far cry from the early days of street art when kids spray painted in the dead of night and regularly had to run from the police. Back then street art was controversial, subversive and frowned upon, seen as antisocial and a scourge on communities, so what changed? Those kids with spray cans grew up. They got normal jobs and had kids of their own. They came of age and brought the street art culture with them. They work as teachers, designers, police officers and doctors, some of them work for Brest council. Street art isn’t new and frightening anymore, it’s widely accepted as just another part of the art world.
We watched Guy paste up a series of funky monkeys based on the Ascent of Man. This piece was to highlight the Cop 21 United Nations conference on climate change to be held in France this year. Climate change is an issue close to Guy’s heart and he isn’t afraid to tackle it through his emotive art work. Guy Denning’s Descent of Man warns of an underwater world of the future, brought about by our unwillingness to act on climate change in the present.
The eye catching monkeys proudly stroll down a busy street outside a school. Guy says he fully expects the local kids to add their own marks to the wall. He looks forward to the top hats, handbags, penises and teacups that will no doubt be added to his work in marker pen. The beauty of street art is it is always evolving. Once your art is in a public place it is there for the public to do whatever they like with it. Whether they admire it, take a selfie with it or add a comedy monocle and moustache to it.
If you find yourself in France and you’re looking for street art, you could do far worse than Brest. There are exciting pieces all over the city and there is even a plan to create an app for a street art walking tour. So for street art in Brittany, remember, Brest is best!
Wandering Wives teamed up with Guy Denning for a street art giveaway. Congratulations to Jake Go for winning an original stencilled spray can. For more street art shenanigans you can follow Guy Denning on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.