Lyon, The City of Murals

Incredible By Garry Polmateer |

For the last four decades a group of muralists in the French city of Lyon has been transforming the city into a massive outdoor art gallery. Huge murals painted in the trompe l’oeil style cover walls all over Lyon depicting historical events or famous people or mundane moments of everyday life. As of now, there are more than 150 murals across Lyon.

Lyon’s love affair with mural art started in the early 1970s, when a group of local students decided to bring art out of the confines of galleries and museums and into the streets and within reach of ordinary people. In 1978, CitéCréation, their student cooperative movement, was born.

“Wall of the Canuts” in Lyon. Photo credit: thierry llansades/Flickr

When they started, according to CitéCréation’s Halim Bensaïd, an internationally acclaimed mural artist, Lyon was a fairly dark city. “It was known only for Paul Bocuse and the traffic congestion in the Fourvière tunnel. It was industrial, polluted and sad.” Fortunately for them, the new mayor at the time, Michel Noir, thought the same. Noir decided to brighten up the city launching various programs to clean up and rejuvenate the city’s public squares and historic buildings. His drive brought him into contact with the struggling muralists, who found themselves in the right place at the right time.

One of their best known projects is the nearly 13,000-square-foot Mur des Canuts, or Wall of the Canuts, in the hilly Croix-Rousse district. The trompe l’oeil mural depicts a large staircase marching up at the center of the painting towards some distant buildings. On the bottom one can see a few shops and a bank.

Another famous trompe l’oeil is La Fresque des Lyonnais, a mural of some 30 of Lyon’s famous figures from both past and present, including the Roman emperor Claudius, the pioneer filmmaking Lumière brothers, silk weaver and inventor of the Jacquard loom Joseph-Marie Jacquard, author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and others.

To create paintings of such monumental proportions, the artists breaks the artwork down into small manageable squares. Each square of a planned picture is then projected onto a wall and a sheet of tracing paper is taped over it. With a small spiky roller, the artist traces around the outline of the image, punching tiny holes in the paper. When all the sections are complete the artist blows black powder through the tiny holes, effectively transferring the outlined image onto the plaster. Then begins the painting.

Each mural takes two to nine months to finish. Interestingly, 80 percent of CitéCréation’s mural artists are women.

To date, CitéCréation has completed more than 650 murals around the world, from Canada to China.

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The Wall of the Canuts before the mural was painted. Photo credit: CitéCréation

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Photo credit: Ernest/Flickr

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Photo credit: thierry llansades/Flickr

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This mural depicts 31 famous individuals from in and and around Lyon. Photo credit: Andrew/Flickr

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Photo credit: Howard Lifshitz/Flickr

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Photo credit: John and Melanie/Flickr

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Photo credit: Nicolas Nova/Flickr

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Photo credit: thierry llansades/Flickr

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Photo credit: Sylvie burr/Flickr

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Photo credit: CitéCréation

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Photo credit: CitéCréation

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Photo credit: CitéCréation

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Photo credit: CitéCréation

Sources: France Today / Wikipedia

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