French Graffiti Artist Goes to Court to Dispute the Sum of His Fine

Azyle tagging a Paris subway car (screenshot via YouTube)
Azyle tagging a Paris subway car (screenshot via YouTube)

The French graffiti artist Azyle, who was arrested in 2007 after 17 years of covering Paris’s metro cars with his distinctive cursive tag, thinks he should pay for what he did. He also thinks the €195,000 (~$220,000) in damages that the Parisian transit authority (the Régie autonome des transports parisiens, or RATP) demanded and was awarded during his 2012 trial is an exorbitant sum, so he’s appealing the decision.

Luckily, Azyle never quit his day job. He is a manager at a major French auto plant and has spent the years since his arrest putting the skills he’s mastered as a white-collar worker to use. He’s made extensive spreadsheets chronicling the details of all his tagging activities between 2004 and 2007 — the graffiti for which he was arrested — and performing painting and buffing tests on metro car mock-ups to verify the RATP’s claims. Now he’s set to appeal the ruling in a trial that was originally scheduled to begin yesterday, but has been pushed back to March 2, 2016, at the RATP’s request.

The interior of a Paris metro car tagged by Azyle (photo via @ajputman/Instagram)
The interior of a Paris metro car tagged by Azyle (photo via @ajputman/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

“Fundamentally, I have one principle, it’s justice,” Azyle told the French culture site Clique. “That might seem strange, but I detest injustice. I know what I did was illegal, I know it was prohibited. That I should be caught and fined — I have no problem with that …. My ultimate goal is that I’m listened to and taken into account, and that I’m fined a correct sum. I’m telling myself, fuck, I’m delivering my confession on a silver platter, I’m playing their game, I’m telling them exactly what I did. But it’s not enough, they don’t hear anything.”

According to the artist’s audit of his own work in the Parisian metro system, his fine should be no more €40,000 (~$45,000), or roughly one fifth of the sum demanded by the RATP.

“After my arrest in 2007 I spent about two years looking over all my work and classifying it in a spreadsheet including the location, the quote from the RATP, the material — ink or paint — the surface — what part of the train car, the wheels, the undercarriage — if it was still or moving, whether or not it was washed; I analyzed everything,” he told Clique. “I did this so I could verify the RATP’s numbers. What annoys me in the end is that it’s up to me to prove that the RATP made mistakes. They can’t be bothered to do something clear and transparent, they’re so accustomed to guys who lie to them or try to confuse them, so I’m coming to them with a kind of audit telling them, ‘Look, there’s a mistake here,’ and I’m trying to prove it to them.”

Azyle's tags on the side of an Air France Concorde in 2001 (screenshot via YouTube)
Azyle’s tags on the side of an Air France Concorde in 2001 (screenshot via YouTube)

Among the inconsistencies he claims to have found in the transit authority’s numbers are duplicate claims — trains he tagged once that were reported by multiple RATP agents — and grossly exaggerated washing costs. By the agency’s own estimation it took one hour to clean one square meter of the exterior of a train tagged by Azyle; however, in demonstrations and tests the artist performed in front of a bailiff during his 2012 trial, and again in the lead-up to his appeal, using the same paints and cleaning products on panels of the material that the Paris metro cars’ exteriors are made of, he found that it took no more than 10 minutes to clean off a square meter of his tags. If the paint was very fresh, sometimes it took only two minutes to be removed. The RATP’s estimates of the time and labor required to clean Azyle’s tags, in other words, would be at least six times greater than reality. He even reviewed footage he had filmed of RATP workers cleaning trains he’d covered in his tags to verify the results of his studies. Though the artist’s findings and analyses were ignored three years ago, he’s hopeful that his appeal will be more successful.

“I’ve done something illegal, I ought to pay — no problem,” he told Mediapart. “But the real question is, do I have the right to demand a just fine, and are the RATP and the justice system willing to grant me that?”

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