beyond the wall: #1


the hands of peace

If you live in Montreuil, you've probably passed by this magnificent painting on Rue Edouard Vaillant, if not I suggest you go and admire this beautiful work of art. 

(If you don't live here, come and see this one and many more.)


You can't help but be moved by these hands, their poignancy.  They're definitely sending us a message.

When you pass by, you stop, you ask yourself, what does this mean?

Is it a gesture of prayer? A cry for help?


The realism is troubling.


They draw you in, you gravitate towards them and you want to be wrapped in their tenderness, to help them even.


The artist behind this work is called "Espion", "Spy" in English.

Well-known for some due to his long career in the street art world and known locally in Montreuil for his numerous paintings all over town.

He's an artist to check out if you're discovering him now on lovemontreuil, and beyond the art an extremely interesting human being.

These hands were created in November 2018 following a call for tenders from the building owners.  He put forward his ideas for the tender and was chosen from 3 possible artists.

Here he explains his choice to go with black & white, in contrast with some of his other very colourful works in Montreuil



He goes on to say that black and white can evoke nostalgia, sadness, love.

He chose these hands because hands are so expressive.  They can be worn down, damaged, they can tell someone's story. 

He wanted these ones to be restful and welcoming. 

You may think that these hands are begging or asking for help but he goes on to describe the symbolism he sees in them

"For me, colour is style whereas black and white brings out the substance.  Black and white paintings have a vibratory emotion, they speak for themselves."

"In some cultures this gesture is one of prayer

Through this work I'm asking for peace.   As simple as that, peace for everyone.  Unfortunately Man is aggressive, bellicose, but we all have peace within ourselves, we just have to find it to be able to shine it onto others."



In speaking to Espion, I not only see an artist but a poet too.  He has a mastery of the French language like I've rarely heard.  It doesn't surprise me that his friends call him 'le sage', the 'wise-one'.

He explains that he loves playing with the French language and his dexterity with it probably comes from the fact that he reads a huge amount of books.  A lesson to us all.

As for the 'sage' side to him, it could quite possibly come from the fact that he has practiced a martial art for more than 30 years, Silat, a martial art which originates from Malaysia. 

This is not the first artist I've met an artist who practices a martial art.  It allows you to keep some balance in what can be a rather unstable career path.

"In martial art you work on both the physical and mental, in other words your spirituality.

Spirituality is the driving force, the part holding the steering wheel. Your body is the vehicle,

so you have to maintain it well.

You have to take care of both, the brain and the braun."


Born in the Parisian suburbs in the 70s, Espion was interested in art from an early age.

Very sensitive to art as a boy, whether it was fine arts, art brut, naive art...he tried to absorb as much of it as he could, notably in his town's libraries where he read a lot of encyclopaedias and comic books.

As a big fan of Starsky & Hutch at around 12 years old, he noticed during the car chases, big bold lettering in the background on the city's walls. He was fascinated by these colours, letters and shapes, but he didn't know what it was or what it was called.

He had discovered something he liked but he had so many unanswered questions. 

In 1984 this thirst for knowledge was finally quenched. The French TV show "Les Enfants du Rock" showed a documentary on a new American phenomenon: "hip-hop" and its various disciplines, including...graffiti. And that was it, he was hooked.


He knew this was the art for him, he felt at home with it, he could see himself doing this. He recognised himself in those he'd seen on TV, both from a social and artistic point of view. Since then he's never stopped.

He believes that graffiti is the last great artistic movement to date, that there hasn't been another one since then.

An art form he sees as "syncretic", because every country, every culture infuses its own influences into it.

"There and then it hit me like a thunderbolt, I'd got the answers to my questions, what it was called, who was doing it and why"



Like the majority of young graffiti artists, Espion started out by painting on trains, doing lettering and creating characters.

At that time graffiti was seen as something subversive and was not accepted by institutions or even the public at large.  That's why they were pushed into the shadows, painting in hidden places and on prohibited surfaces.

Like so many other youngsters at that time, Espion didn't have the money to buy the spray cans he so desperately needed to paint.  To make money he had the idea to go and ask local shopkeepers if they wanted their metal security roller shutters painted/branded. 

It worked and he did tens of them- that's how he first financed his passion.

In 1991 he held his first graffiti workshop for kids and his local town hall gave him 200 spray cans as well as blank walls to express himself on.  Attitudes towards graffiti were changing

Since then he has held hundreds of workshops and created hundreds of paintings across France and abroad.

He's also worked with IKEA, la SNCF (national rail service - oh the irony!), and has collaborated with humanitarian and charitable organisations(Les restos du coeur / Emmaüs / Secours Populaire/l'Hôpital Troussea) as well as participating in national tours with inner-city organisations like "Droit de Cité".



I can't write a full article about Espion's entire career as the site is not big enough.

He's had his fair share of ups and downs and has seen how the graffiti milieu has evolved over the 30 years.

How the art world works and doesn't for some.

This talented self-taught creator wants to keep moving forward with his art, delivering a message, passing down

his know-how, continuing to be diverse in his style and above all not giving in to the "system"

He's a character, a modern poet, a rebel.

I, for one, want him to continue to make our streets more beautiful, our walks more interesting and to keep us thinking while contemplating his latest offering

As he says

"Wherever I am I'll paint"

We hope so.