On the French Atlantic coast, close to Nantes and South of Brittany, Saint-Nazaire is the place where I grew up. It’s also the place where I work now, since March 2019, when I got hired at the Tourist Office. One of my first missions was to write a touristic brochure about street art in the city. During this mission, I discovered a beautiful mural by an unknown artist and eventually found out not only who painted it but also the great story behind it. Here’s how it happened.
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For a few years, giant murals have flourished on the walls of Saint-Nazaire. It started in 2015, thanks to the music festival “les Escales”. Every summer, this popular festival dedicates a big part of its programme to a specific place in the world, sometimes a city, sometimes a country, and many artists from this place are invited to play live on stage during the three nights of the festival at the end of July. In 2015, the focus was on Valparaiso in Chile, and for the first time, three graffiti artists from this city (INTI, top left picture below, La Robot de Madera, picture to the right, and Charquipunk, bottom left) were also invited to paint three different murals in a suburb called “le Petit Maroc” next to the harbour where the festival takes place.
Since then, a new mural has been painted every summer, by the South-African Nardstar* in 2016 (top right picture below), the artist from Detroit Ellen Rutt in 2017 (picture to the left) and the Brasilian painter Apolo Torres in 2019 (bottom right picture).
In 2018, the focus of the festival was Melbourne, which was very special to me: my hometown in France celebrating the city I love the most and where I lived for many months during my travels around the world! The mural done that year is in my opinion a masterpiece:
It was painted by Adnate, a graffiti artist who dedicates a huge part of his work to the Aboriginal people of Australia. I had the pleasure of admiring many others of his portraits in the streets of Melbourne:
Anyway, when I started listing the works of art that were going to appear on the brochure that I was writing for the Tourist Office, it was easy to find details about these murals. But it wasn’t that easy for another one…
This mural was painted on the walls of an ancient bunker from World War II on the harbour, facing the ocean, in a very quiet and secluded location where only fishermen go. It would have been impossible to track down the artist who did it without the help of a popular yet secret personality of Saint-Nazaire: the creator of the “Oides”.
The name “Oides” comes from the word “doigt” which means finger in French, but pronounced backwards. These little blue and always smiling characters have been created by a local artist who decided to remain anonymous, because most of them were painted in illegal places at first. There are now more than 500 in and around Saint-Nazaire, where they quickly became very famous and appreciated.
A mural with a few “Oides” (picture below) could be found on the same wall as this mysterious work of art, and luckily their creator knew who painted it: it was an artist from Belgrade called Djuradje.
What was a Serbian artist doing in Saint-Nazaire? The mystery remained so I decided to message him via his Instagram page. A few hours later, he replied with a vocal note, explaining to me how he had ended up here. I found his story so interesting that I decided to publish it:
“I was in Paris with some friends earlier this year and we decided to take a trip to Saint-Nazaire to meet another friend of mine who lives here. As a street artist, I always carry sprays with me and when I was there, I decided to paint a mural. My friend showed me a few spots around the city and I picked this one because it was directly facing the ocean. One morning, we were having breakfast on the coast with her and a friend of her who travels a lot. We were talking about the places she visited and her dream of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean and that inspired me for this mural. It’s called “The Old Man and the Ocean” and it represents this dream and also my own dream of exploring the world at the same time. So that’s the story of how I came to Saint-Nazaire and painted this mural.”
But the story doesn’t end there. Another festival takes place in Saint-Nazaire by the end of June: it’s called the festival “Bouge” (literally “move”) and it’s about hip hop culture with music, dance, performances and street art. Some people who organise it saw the mural that Djuradje painted and they decided to invite him to do a new one during the festival. So he came back a few weeks after his first stay in Saint-Nazaire and collaborated with a dozen of other graffiti artists (including another guy from Serbia who came with him and the creator of the “Oides” who was in charge of the entire project) to give a new lease of life to a large concrete wall. The common theme as you can see on the pictures below was pirates!
I briefly met him while he was at work and had a quick coffee with him and his Serbian friend (the guy at work on the top right picture above). He also let me take a picture of him posing in front of the mural he was finishing that day. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay very long but they were both very friendly and it was great to finally put a face behind this mysterious painting!
And what about the street art brochure? It eventually got published last week, at the beginning of August 2019, and it lists not only the murals, but also all the sculptures, monuments and exhibition sites of Saint-Nazaire. Have a look at it online (it’s written in French and in English) or grab your own from the Tourist Office if you’re visiting the city!
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