Jacques Villeglé, the Poster Thief of Paris

Jacques Villeglé, the Poster Thief of Paris
The walls of Paris’s buildings have always been a canvas for artists, from early Roman graffiti to today’s taggers and street artists all basically saying “je suis ici,” here I am. It’s no wonder that after World War II, artist Jacques Villeglé found inspiration in Paris’s walls: adorned with colorful paper posters advertising everything from cinema to products to concerts. Like any good street artist, he waited until the right time to strike. Over time, the layers of posters on a street would be torn and ripped by passersby, also by the team pasting up new posters. At this stage they became, in Villeglé’s perspective, Post-Cubist art, and so he boldly ripped the thick layers from the walls, in effect stealing them. Villeglé took the stolen, rolled up posters to his art gallery then mounted them on canvas. He presented the layered, ripped posters as a new kind of art alongside a group of avant-garde artists called Les Nouveaux Réalistes such as Niki de Saint-Phalle, Yves Klein, Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. Jacques Villeglé, Rue Pastourelle, 1972, 25 x 27 inches. © Modernism Inc., San Francisco Villeglé’s life story is told in Jacques Villeglé and the Streets of Paris by Barnaby Conrad III. It’s the first English language book on Villeglé who turns 96 on March 27 and lives in Paris and St-Mâlo, Brittany. It’s full of pictures of Villeglé’s art – and a few of him stealing posters on the streets of Paris. Conrad first got to know Villeglé in 2004 in Paris and was inspired to write the book, ultimately interviewing Villeglé over three years’ time. The book covers Villeglé’s entire life but is told in the manner of an ongoing conversation between the two men. They meet throughout Paris in cafés like Brasserie Lipp, walk the streets where Villeglé found and stole his famous posters, or visit Villeglé’s atelier on rue au Maire. It’s like an ongoing tour of Paris listening to these two men chat. Jacques Villeglé, Sorbonne, January 1992, 44 78 x 35 inches. © Courtesy of Modernism Inc., San Francisco Conrad is an excellent historian about things French and an artist in his own right. He was born in San Francisco and graduated from Yale with a B.A. in Fine Arts in 1975. In New York he served as senior editor of Art World and Horizon, and editor-at-large at Forbes Life. He was a correspondent in Paris for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1982-87 and has written a number of books including several with French angles such as Absinthe: History in a Bottle (1988), Les Chiens de Paris (1995), and Les Chats de Paris (1996.) Although trained as an architect, Villeglé and his friend Raymond Hains explored various types of abstract art but Villeglé wasn’t inspired. His inspiration came when the friends were walking on Boulevard du Montparnasse the winter of 1949 and spotted a huge collection of torn posters on a fence. They impulsively stripped them off, took the sections back to their apartment, and created an eight-foot-long mural of tan, red and black shapes and letters they named Ach Alma Manetro. It ultimately became their first masterpiece and was acquired by the Pompidou Center in 1987.

Lead photo credit : Jacques Villeglé, 7 avril 2016. Photo by François Poivret

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Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives part-time on the Île de la Cité and part-time in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization. She also works as the San Francisco ambassador for France Today magazine.