How did you become involved in
researching street art?
While studying Art History and Sociology, I was taking a socio class
called “Deviance” at the same as an art history seminar on “Public Art.” That
year I attended the 2nd annual Under Pressure festival. While
watching graffiti writers paint all day, I reflected on all of the theory I was
studying in terms of public space and deviant behaviour and how it was coming
into practice before my eyes. From that moment I became hooked on the culture
of writing and how it functions in the urban sphere. My attraction to street
art practices developed from my interest in sanctioned public art projects and
how the work of guerilla urban painters falls somewhere in-between graff and
official public art and is therefore able to do something pretty special.
defines a street artist?
Anyone who puts up art, that’s visually
and ideologically distinct from the signature graffiti writing movement, on
city streets and doesn’t appreciate being lumped under this umbrella term,
hahaha. It’s challenging to talk about hyper-varied art practices as part of
one movement without stepping on some toes, but “urban painting” or “street
art” have become naturalized terms that encompass diverse art practices that
developed as an evolution of, rebellion against, or addition to graff writing.
Essentially the easiest way to define
street artists is by comparing their work to that of writers. The greatest
difference is of course visual. Instead of primarily aestheticizing and
abstracting letters, street artists tend to explore more formal art techniques
to create largely figurative narratives – from realistic portraiture to
cartoonish characters – that aim to address the general public. What they
create, where they do it, who they do it for, why they do it, and what
materials/techniques/styles are used all differ from what writers do.
Do you have a favourite area in Montreal
to go street art hunting?
These days all I do is walk out my
front door….I don’t have to venture very far to encounter plenty of living
walls on the plateau. What I like best though is bumping into the work of
artists that I know while traveling - it
makes you feel connected spatially in real time instead of virtually in
Social media being so prevalent, do you
feel it has been a valuable tool in the dissemination of street art?
No doubt. I started doing graff
research in the mid-1990s when the oil was just being poured into the Internet
machine, so there were literally only handfuls of good sites. Now, forget about
it – social media, and to a lesser extent documentaries and publications, are
responsible for street art blowing up as a worldwide movement. Graffiti’s
international spread in the 1980s as a result of travel, graffiti-laden trains,
zines, movies, exhibitions, as well as popular and hip-hop culture was super
impressive, given the lack of internet and social media. It also made the
movement a lot more underground and exclusive. Today both writers and street
artists benefit from international reputations thanks to our obsession with the
snap’n’post (documenting & sharing).
have been several debates regarding the evolution of street art. Critics have
said that it has become more 'decorative' than 'social.' Must street art convey
a social agenda?
Absolutely not. It “mustn’t” do
anything, short of exist in my estimation. One of the greatest strengths of
this movement is that it facilitates new avenues for expression and that it
does so in a way that’s palatable, reflective, at times fun, sometimes
political, but most of all, raw and free. Urban painting is not limited by
style, content, context, message or media, which explains its popularity – as it’s
sort of like a mixed bag with something for everyone. The very fact that
graffiti and street art exist is already political because the bulk of the
time, it’s unauthorized. Street art certainly has the potential, and very often
does, outright address socio-political issues but that’s no more important than
portraiture. Whatever form it takes, it reflects our cultural landscape, thus
privileging one strain over another is simply short sighted…it’s like privileging
mind over body and soul, losing sight of the fact that they’re all connected.
is your opinion on the urban art scene in Montreal?
It’s alive and well and successfully
communicates the dynamism, agency, and zeal the city has to offer.