PARIS Do artists still live in Paris? Property and Art in Paris

Local resident and contemporary British-Iraqi artist Athier Mousawi shares his behind-the-scenes take on life in Paris as a modern-day artist...and how this relates to the property market.


Do artists still live in Paris? Property and Art in Paris

Local resident and contemporary British-Iraqi artist Athier Mousawi shares his behind-the-scenes take on life in Paris as a modern-day artist...and how this relates to the property market.

Coolest artists spots in Paris

Paris needs little introduction as one of the most brilliant creative cradles of the world.  Over the centuries, its elaborate gardens and elegant cul-de-sacs have nurtured some of history’s most influential and inspirational artists, writers and thinkers. From Montmartre to the museums, Paris hums with centuries of greatness, but what about now? Has it been overshadowed by the likes of Berlin, New York, London, Istanbul? Where does the artistic heart still beat? Increasingly, global property trends are defined by artists pioneering new areas of cities that then become the hot new places for clever investment, but can the same be said of Paris?

Local resident and contemporary British-Iraqi artist Athier Mousawi shares his behind-the-scenes take on life in Paris as a modern-day artist and how this relates to property in Paris


Why did you first move to Paris?

“I first came because of the Cité des Arts, which is a really interesting place the likes of which i have yet to find anywhere else in the world.  A huge building set on a beautiful part of the river, it has 420 studios and hosts resident artists from around the world.  Institutes from everywhere, Germany, Mexico, Greece, Israel, Guatemala will send their artists here for a semester or a year and so you find this really interesting mix of musicians, writers, photographers and painters passing through. It’s creative dynamite.”


​“That was in 2010, and afterwards, I kept trying to live in other cities, like London and Istanbul, but Paris always drew me back. I used to bring my girlfriend – now wife – who is also an artist for weekends, and we’d get off the train and hop on a Vespa and start exploring. She started to fall in love with the lifestyle like me, and so moved back two and a half years ago.”


Which neighborhood in Paris did you choose to live as an artist?


​“We live in the Marais, which is beautiful and has a lovely vibe that’s really mixed.  Historically, it’s the Jewish and Gay district, so it has a lot of colour and vibe and a lot of interesting people live here now.  Property is much cheaper to rent here than say London, and the prices aren’t defined by area but more by luck.  We have a beautiful apartment with high-ceilings just off Place des Vosges, and pay well under the market rate. You find stories like that constantly around Paris.  Rent here is not so defined by real-estate agents, it’s more organic than that. We live right on the cusp of the Marais just by the river because my studio is in Ivry, which is the new district that’s emerging as a place for artists just South-East of Central Paris.”

Is this the new cool hang-out for artists then?


​“Not quite yet! It’s still got a pretty gangster feel to it. Right now, there’s not much going on for entertainment, my neighbours are industrial screen-printers, carpenters and metal-workers, but I like that about it.


Paris is different to London, where artists keep expanding organically through the edges of the city to find cheaper spaces, and then the neighbourhoods themselves become hip, gentrified. It’s more like New York, where there is still so much gravity to the centre of town.  In Manhattan, you have the bridge and the river as a natural barrier and in Paris, this barrier is the peripherique. While it only takes me 15 minutes to cycle to my studio, most Parisians have a mental barrier to places outside the ring-road, so it means rents and studio space stay really affordable.  The up-and-coming neighbourhoods for artists are Montreuil, Aubervilliers, Pantin and Ivry. I pay €200 a month for my studio, which is nothing for a developed European city, and you find a lot of artists are doing that now, stepping just outside the city walls, and a vibe will no doubt follow them.”

So is an artist’s life in Paris all it is cracked up to be?


“It’s all the stereotype and then some!  The people who pass through are amongst the most interesting you’ll meet, like these really cool, Hemingway-style Americans who come to live and write.  All the people who live here have chosen it for the right reasons, so you can constantly find yourself in really lovely conversations. I never make plans, I just walk out of my door, go for a stroll and bump into friends…we go for a drink, then dinner and it’s all in flow.  Life can be like that in Paris. I also like it as you totally blend in as an artist. It is woven into the fabric of being Parisian, rather than seen as a struggling creative profession.  You aren’t confined to one corner of the city where the artists hang, like in London, here you belong everywhere.”  


What do you love about life in Paris?


“​It’s so lovely and convenient. Paris does what it does perfectly. It’s a relatively small city, so everything feels tangible and you never have to say no about making a plan.  I hope from coffee at the Eiffel Tower to drinks in Pigalle on my bike really easily, so it’s a city you can really manage.  Imagine Central London, say the area from Notting Hill to Westminster – in Paris, that encapsulates the whole city.”

The global property trend tends to go that where the artists go, the hipsters and then the property market follows. Do you see it developing as a new, hip, neighbourhood?

​“The artists are always the ones who go first, but Paris has more psychological barriers than London, so here it will happen, but much more slowly.  Ivry is a bit behind Montreuil, where you are starting to find more cool converted studios and warehouses, but although it’s evolving, prices aren’t going up too much.  Everyone wants to be in the arrondissements, but people don’t realize how much they can save by breaking through the psychological barrier. Paris has yet to integrate its different ethnic groups socially, and a lot of this is pushed outside the walls  There is this sense of ‘Barbarians at the Gates! but let’s not look’.  That’s why people feel tension from the projects and the social housing you see around the city.

“I am in unique position. I’m a huge guy who speaks Arabic and, in my painters overalls, I can hang out in the gangster-filled parts of town, which are like Peckham in the early 90’s – all gambling shops and dodgy dealers – and I can kind of be anywhere. I feel very connected, which is unique in Paris, to transition through these different layers of society.”