He's leapt and danced across decaying walls and condemned buildings since 1983. Now legendary, the naked, innocent figure known as the Corps Blanc, has puddle-hopped through Paris, then out into some 20 other countries, even scaling the Great Wall of China.
The ethereal white figure is the vintage creation of Jérôme Mesnager. Mesnager is among a handful of street artists who nearly thirty years after their clandestine graffiti debut have made their names in the art market. Whole sections of wooden fences bearing Mesnager's fetishized figure have been sold in galleries and auction houses. The medium is indeed a part of the message.
Catch me if you can
Rapidly painted freehand in some of the most unexpected places, Le Corps Blanc resembles a posable wooden mannequin come to life. The icon has withstood the test of time, despite the ephemeral nature of street art. Some disappear when buildings are razed or walls are cleaned and repainted, or when other graffiti artists cover them over. In certain neighborhoods, however, the streaking figures are sought after by property owners and have become a part of the local heritage, like the giant mural Mesnager painted high up on a building in the 20th arrondissement at 68 rue Ménilmontant.
Although a number of Corps Blancs can still be seen, especially in the Latin Quarter, Mesnager knows of only one in Paris that actually dates back to 1983. He's reluctant to say publicly where it is, for fear that taggers--the bane of any city dweller's existence--might blot it out with their own scrawling signatures. When a well-placed Corps Blanc does meet such a fate, Mesnager takes it in stride. "I usually wait until the city cleans away the tag, then I repaint."
That public authorities today distinguish between the differing forms of graffiti and leave his and other street artists' work in place is a triumph in itself for the artists. Mesnager recalls that once the city erased without notice a stencil on his own exterior wall that a top graffiti artist, Miss.Tic (pronounced mystique), had painted as a surprise for him. "I really was not pleased to lose my Miss.Tic!" he says, chuckling at the play on words.
The above text contains excerpts, with minor revisions, from an article, Inside Outsider Art, which I wrote based in part on a interview with Jérôme Mesnager. It originally appeared in France Today magazine and is republished with permission.
Text & photos ©2010 P.B.Lecron