What first caught my eye was a black-painted head, low down on the wall of an alley as I walked by. I was almost past the alley when I noticed there was also someone kneeling next to the head, looking through a large portfolio of what turned out to be stencils. Next to him were several cans of spray paint and I realized I was about to see a piece of street art in the making. Peter was now out of sight, well ahead of me, so I took a couple of quick photos and hurried to find him. I knew he'd be as interested as I was in watching the artist work.
When we got back to the alley, nothing had changed. The artist kept sticking his finger on the thick coat of black spray paint, waiting impatiently for it to dry enough to begin the next step. Finally it passed the finger touch, and he selected a stencil to tape on top of the black base. Once it was in position, he grabbed a can of gray spray paint for the next layer. This continued for a couple more stencils as the crowd of watchers grew larger. We were right in front with a good view that was suddenly filled by two gendarmes pushing their way through to confront the artist. It didn't matter that we couldn't hear the conversation, nor understand the French anyway, we knew what was about to happen. At that point, an older woman pushed through the crowd and began to speak with the police as well. I thought she must have been the person who called them, and after watching a bit more, we left to continue our neighborhood walk.
Montmartre is full of winding streets often connected by steep sets of stairs, like those you find in the metro stations but without the escalators. We headed down a nearby set, and at the bottom, found another stenciled face, that looked like it might have been recently completed and was signed Pitr. We spent some time shooting the street art piece and looking around a bit more, but decided to climb back up, wishing at every step for an escalator.
Surprise, surprise. Back at the alley, the gendarmes were gone and the artist was still there, layering on another stencil. We wormed back into the crowd, up close enough to continue taking pictures of his progress. I'm guessing he used as many as ten different stencils, maybe more, building up layer by layer, to develop the detail of a slightly photoshopped portrait. That made me wonder if he actually uses photoshop layers in some way to make his stencils. However he does it though, lugging everything around in his backpack, applying the stencils in the right order, keeping track of the subtly different gray colors, and dealing with the public and police, puts it rightfully into the category of street art. Perhaps that's what the woman who joined the conversation with the gendarmes told them; she wasn't complaining about graffiti, she was promoting street art. That's what I suspect now because after the artist tagged his final version, Pitr, he walked off, chatting away with that same woman. See our photos of the whole process.
Update: Peter counted the stencils and there were only five.