For nearly two decades, the name C215 has appeared on the world’s walls alongside images of cats, poets, philosophers, and politicians. A maverick, an educator, a forward-thinker, Christian Guemy is a proud Parisian intent on keeping city culture alive on the streets.
Settling into a chair in a secretly located studio, echoes of C215’s past work are everywhere – prints, canvases, endless spray cans and stencils including Star Wars’ C3PO, and the chillingly famous Je suis Charlie, referencing the terrorist attack on Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Christian is reflective, pensive. His city is close to his heart and he’s passionate about how it moves forward and how it’s inhabited: “Twenty years ago or thirty years ago if you wanted to evolve in the city you had to take the subway, and being down and you would not see anything from the city,” he says in his native French tongue.
To Christian, it’s not the world famous monuments that make Paris, it’s the smaller corners of reality that interest him: “Being in the car or being in traffic, you wouldn’t enjoy the small things of the city – if you were driven from the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, or to Montparnasse.” But what do these places say about the city? Not so much. “What is astonishing is that we street artists, usually we don’t paint in famous places. We paint in streets that have been avoided for centuries by tourists.” And this is where Christian finds the parallels between city riding and street art – shrinking cities and opening our eyes to the more subtle joys of urban exploration. “Thanks to e-mobility, everyone is passing by in the new district like the 13th district and discovering our works because our works are reflecting reality and the real life of Paris.”
A student of history, art, and language, Christian’s passion for the past Parisian greats is clear, and his works act as a love letter to the city’s yesteryear, a coy smile etched across his face as we discover his works around the Pantheon. “I’m very proud to have been exhibiting in the Pantheon in Paris and painting portraits of Pantheon people, famous French people who are buried in the Pantheon because of their virtues. All around the Pantheon these pieces are still there and they became a symbol for the district and a symbol for many French people who are really praising the street works, people like Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseau and for sure, I’m happy and proud being French.”
"And what is really fascinating in this job is to interact with reality and especially the city and to leave artworks behind you which people will face without asking for it.”
Christian has come a long way since he inadvertently began his career in street art, a discipline he began in order to send messages to his daughter by painting her face on the walls of the school run. “I came to the streets to paint in 2005, to paint portraits of my daughter. I didn’t go to art school but I was in university to study history, German, English, and artistry and I made [street art] for pleasure since I wanted to make my family and people happy in the streets.”
Street art has seen a boom over the last twenty years, a medium that has always existed but has been propelled through the social media and internet revolution. To Christian it is no coincidence street art has found a prominent home in the zeitgeist of modern life: “In the 2000s we became the first generation of what we call street art, which is a combination of computer culture, internet culture and graffiti culture. And what is really fascinating in this job is to interact with reality and especially the city and to leave artworks behind you which people will face without asking for it.”
Shock and awe aren’t part of Christian’s MO, what he leaves behind on the streets is meant for the city and its people – to leave a little bit of joy in the world: “I try to paint in the streets artworks that are not really shocking but that can gather people and provoke positive emotion, positive feelings and positive reactions. And to be able to interact with reality and maybe change a bit of the city is something very important and very pleasant.”
The work he considers his favourite? Another wry smile crosses his face as he leans in his chair. “The fresco that I am the most proud of is certainly the big blue cat of National Subway within Paris. It is a seven floor fresco so it is one the biggest I have ever made but what is important to me is that it is certainly the fresco that has changed its environment the most and it became kind of a logo for me or a symbol of my works.”