In 2013, inspired by the Paris city guide he had just published, comic book illustrator Charles Berbérian created life-size blue-hued murals with scenes of Parisian life for the construction hoarding of La Samaritaine’s Rue de Rivoli façade. They were a big hit with passers-by, who loved them and took countless photos. Berbérian’s art work is now back on display again at the Rue de Rivoli, but with even larger designs covering the enormous hoarding currently being erected in front of the future contemporary facade.
“When passers-by see the building work going on at La Samaritaine on the Rue de Rivoli, I thought they might be wondering what’s happening behind the hoarding. That’s why I wanted to show people at work,” says Berbérian. Over 70 metres long, the first two comic-strip murals go behind the scenes of the construction site, showing people, machines, action and the overall environment.
“I’ve visited the site and seen for myself what’s going on, but I’ve also immersed myself in the photography of Vladimir Vasilev, who is a regular visitor to the site. His photos are very beautiful, very human – they capture looks, intimacy and moments in time in an incredibly graphic way.”
The challenge was then to find a way to convey this emotion in large-format drawings. “I thought it needed only a few colours, some close-up details, so as not to overdo it and fall into the stereotype trap.” This approach worked, and it’s hard to believe that each scene was originally created as an A4-sized drawing before being enlarged to fit the hoarding.
“When I saw the results, I immediately thought of the reactions of the neighbours, who’d wake up in front of this gigantic poster, but with real workers working alongside my images – almost like science fiction, really!”
The next chapter of Charles Berberian’s story will appear shortly when two more sets of illustrations are installed, covering the facade from top to bottom. The subject will no longer be the construction site, but rather La Samaritaine’s past and future customers and, by way of a grand finale, the view of Paris visible from the store’s terraces. The illustrator wanted to follow in the footsteps of the unknown artist of the panoramic watercolour painting that previously served as an orientation plan for visitors venturing up to La Samaritaine’s rooftop gazebo. “The work touched me,” explained Berberian. “I therefore wanted to honour it, but in my own way. Drawings can be created to maintain the links from one century to another, and from one artist to another.”
[EN]L’histoire que nous raconte Charles Berbérian continuera prochainement avec la pose de deux autres bandes qui couvriront la façade jusqu’en haut. Il n’y sera plus représenté le chantier, mais les clients passés et futurs du Grand Magasin mythique et, en apothéose, une vue de Paris, tel qu’on le découvrira depuis les terrasses de la Samaritaine. L’illustrateur a voulu ici mettre ses pas dans les pas de l’auteur anonyme de l’aquarelle panoramique qui faisait office de table d’orientation aux visiteurs s’aventurant sur le belvédère de la Samaritaine. « C’est une œuvre qui m’a touché, explique Charles. J’ai voulu la « reconnaître », j’en ai donné ma propre version. Le dessin, c’est aussi fait pour maintenir le lien, d’un siècle à l’autre, avec tous les dessinateurs ».