A French graffiti artist has struck a chord in Shanghai
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE
Paul Dezio with one of his wall paintings on Nanjing Road.
Paul Dezio is a true Frenchman, but he is more at home in China.
He spent his early days in Taiwan and Hong Kong before heading to Paris, where he pursued art. He moved back to China later and made a name for himself as a street artist.
“It’s crazy to think about it, but I’ve spent two-thirds of my life in China,” Dezio, who is in his early forties, told Shanghai Daily.
“When I moved back to Paris, I felt kind of homesick because I’ve always lived in an Asian environment,” he added, joking that like many French-language learners in China, he turned to “Le Petit Prince” by his great uncle Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
So, when he was offered a job in Guangzhou in 2006, he accepted the offer without hesitation. He arrived in Shanghai a year later and has lived here since then.
“When I returned, the energy and vibrancy of China drew me in. So, I decided to stay here,” he stated. “But at the time, my Chinese was terrible. With few options, I finally chose Shanghai.”
In Shanghai, he senses a welcoming vibe.
Like in Paris, there is no actual city core but multiple little centers.
“Everything is very down-to-earth, of human scale,” he said of the city’s narrow alleyways and old neighborhoods.
His favorite spots are in downtown Jing’an District, where boutiques and cafes are tucked away in tree-lined cobbled lanes, allowing him to appreciate the thrill of discovering new tiny things while also reviving memories of Paris.
The graffiti wall is on the south facade of the Tian An 1000 Trees mall.
He found fame and fortune in Shanghai. His story began on Moganshan Road, which he frequented regularly. The dusty road tucked away in the smokestack industries along Suzhou Creek was a graffiti artist’s paradise. A 600-meter-long graffiti wall gradually emerged, cementing the street’s role as the city’s street art hotspot.
“When I arrived in Shanghai in 2007, there was hardly any street art in the city or around China. But there was a boom in 2010, when the World Expo attracted a large number of artists to Moganshan Road,” he said.
Sadly, the graffiti wall didn’t survive the wrecking ball when the area underwent a major facelift in late 2020. But with the opening of the new landmark – Tian An 1000 Trees – Dezio and other 16 artists created a new giant graffiti wall on the southern façade of the mall to pay tribute to the local art spirit.
Street art has remained in Shanghai since then, but it has progressively evolved into a popular method of beautifying and enhancing areas, particularly older ones, in Shanghai, where urban renewal projects continue to emerge.
He saw business opportunities and co-founded Urban Art United with Sun Yan.
Dezio at work.
“Shanghai is a city that has evolved rapidly. With these major changes, a lot of places are trying to involve artists in making people much happier by allowing them to live in this atmosphere,” he said.
After painting multiple walls in historic areas, he discovered that there were always people around him, eager to join while he painted. “Here in China, the culture is quite open. It’s simply creating art in a public space, regardless of its form.”
Dezio sees the city as a kaleidoscope of hues, drawing inspiration from its fast-paced yet multinational atmosphere. He also enjoys using flowers to convey messages of vigor and vibrancy.
So, when he was approached to create an image to mark China and France’s 60-year diplomatic relationship, he thought of French fleur-de-lis and Chinese plum blossoms.
According to a 2021 French radio news report, China has become the preferred Asian country for French people to work and live in.
“There’s a strong bond between my country and China,” he said. “Shanghai especially has that link with France due to a similar vibe.”
He is now collaborating with international artists to develop art projects throughout China, including murals, sculptures, and digital art, to further his integration with local communities.