montreal mural festival artwork by etam cru

Montreal Mural Festival: Celebrating an Artform with a Giant Party

Imagine getting some of the best people of your particular interest all together in one place. You all get the opportunity to show off and then, while you’re enjoying doing your favourite thing in the world, you get to head off and party with your peers, your idols, and your friends. Does that sound like an okay time? Well, the Montreal Mural Festival thinks it’s a great idea.

Montreal is already home to a bunch of great festivals. Jazz Fest, the Comedy Festival, and even events like Osheaga attract the best artists, comedians, and musicians from around the world. They have an amazing setup for their events, encourage people to get excited and involved, and do it in one of the greatest cities in the world. The last time I was in Montreal, my friend told me that it was the first city they’d been to that felt like it breathed. I tend to agree. It has a special energy to it unlike other North American cities and wears that on its sleeve. Go anywhere in Montreal and you’ll experience something different from elsewhere.

In keeping with their love of only the best, the Montreal Mural Festival reached out across the globe, nabbing Australian muralist Rone and France-based La Diamantaire for their efforts. These two and many more international muralists were joined by Canadian artists like Stikki Peaches, Alex Produkt, and Matthieu Connery, all of whom worked together to give Montreal a mural facelift.

And while the muralists were glad to do their work, almost all of them took some time to enjoy the city, it’s people, and their fellow artists. The Festival itself proved to be a great distraction, scheduling no less than six official after parties packed with great music and plenty of other distractions. The event turned out to be somewhat of a meet-and-greet, the greatest networking meeting for mural artists in North America, and in one of North America’s greatest cities.

The Festival itself had a slow start and some organizational difficulties starting out this year. Anyone who knows Montreal has experienced its bizarre weather and the Mural Festival wasn’t spared. Supply shortages also lead to some delays, but all the murals were up and completed by the end. And, unlike other festivals that just leave behind abandoned tents and a lot of litter, the Montreal Mural Festival left behind some beautiful public art that everyone can enjoy.

Such highlights include Zoitan’s comic book and War of the Worlds-inspired mural, 2501’s kaleidoscope of black and white shapes and animals, and Cyrcle’s perspective-changing Pantheon. These are all just a taste of what Montreal got out of it’s latest mural festival. Hopefully these pieces will stay up until at least next year’s events, any hopefully the festival continues to attract the world’s best muralists and public art enthusiasts.

montreal-mural-festival-VILX1
VILX, FRANCE

montreal-mural-festival-RONE_Paris_StreetArtNews-6
RONE, AUSTRALIA

montreal-mural-festival-Etam-Cru

BEZT FROM ETAM CRU, POLAND

montreal-mural-festival-academia_in_dispute-823x1024
ALEX PRODUKT, CANADA

For more great works of art visit the festival’s muralists page.

coby kennedy post-apocalyptic weaponry

Coby Kennedy’s Post-Apocalyptic Weaponry

If the latest zombie craze has taught me anything, it’s that you have to be ready. I myself have a pretty great zombie attack plan, one that uses the local geography to keep me and my friends alive mostly by hiding. But Coby Kennedy isn’t content with hiding, he wants to take the fight to the streets, using part of the street.

The Brooklyn-based artist has taken to fashioning street signs into weapons for any post-apocalyptic world. Part Mad-Max, part found object art, and part political commentary, Kennedy’s work is dangerous in more ways than one. Like the greatest of apocalyptic art, Kennedy’s pieces speak to the present more than they do to any specific future. “It’s based on a narrative which reflects contemporary situations,” Kennedy said recently in an interview with Complex, “A lot of the street signs are from places in Brooklyn that have history and weight, places that are losing that particular culture.” The threat, a common concern all over the Five Boroughs, is homogenization and gentrification, the swapping of low-income housing for trend and coffee shops. While his art looks part of a desperate future, Kennedy insists it’s part of a desperate present. After all, how many times have we seen Brooklyn and New York destroyed in TV, movies, and books? And in how many ways? Preparing for the future is perhaps impossible. Kennedy’s project shows the present is perhaps more frightening than anything Hollywood can concoct.

Unlike those swords you find in stores, be they katanas or replicas of movie props, Kennedy’s street sign weapons are legitimately dangerous. The machetes will actually saw through another human. The shields will hurt if you get smacked in the head. These pieces, however, are part of a larger narrative Kennedy is creating though various media, not relying on a single method or means to tell his story to anyone willing to look, hear, or participate. All of them are instead part of a weird narrative that spreads into many different places. Many artists have a similar theme, look, or feel, but Kennedy is building the same story with each of his projects, be it his hyper-realistic post-apocalyptic paintings, gun vending machines, and now his dangerous weapons made from scrap are all part of that same vision, that same universe of Apocalypse.

Many of Kennedy’s fellow New York artists have taken their trades from the street to the gallery. In fact, many of New York’s successful artists rely on the fine art world now to make their living, but Kennedy’s post-apocalypse narrative project is the first I’ve seen to actually look at and interrogate that movement from street to gallery. After all, his story is told in disconnected parts: a machete in someone’s living room here, a gun vending machine there, a painting hanging in a gallery elsewhere. They are all part of the story and it requires the “readers” to traverse different spaces and times.

But while Kennedy’s art does look at the present through a vision of the future. He’s quick to remind us that the Apocalypse is fluid and may mean different things for different people: “When is the Apocalypse? Ask a Native American, he’ll say, ‘It already happened. All my friends are dead,’” He said in a recent interview with Animal New York, “Ask a black man 150 years ago, he’ll say, ‘That was Tuesday. The end of the world is my life right now.’ And what about the Bubonic Plague?”

melody road

At the Right Speed, These Roads Sing: The Idea and History Behind the Musical Road

Many people claim the sound and vibration of the road lulls them to sleep, like a strange sort of lullaby. But what if a road could literally sing you a lullaby, not just act like one? This is the idea behind musical roads, a growing style of public art that uses the road to make music for passengers.

The concept is simple: cars transfer sound from their wheels up to the passengers when on different surfaces. The road’s texture and materials, even the speed of the car, all change what passengers hear off the road. In a lot of ways, the car acts just like a needle on a record player, emitting different sounds according to the grooves on the road. Some public artists thought they could change this sound from often unnoticed background noise into something much better, and the rest was people travelling along to different tunes using the car itself for music, not the stereo. But don’t expect to speed along while listening to the songs, they’re best heard at 28 mph. Any faster and the song sounds like it’s being fast-forwarded. Any less and it’s in slow motion.

The idea started back in the 90s, 1995 to be exact, as an art project by two Danish artists named Steen Krarup Jensen and Jakob Freud-Magnus. Built in their native country of Denmark, they dubbed their musical road the “Asphaltophone” and unknowingly started a new type of public art. Jensen and Frued-Magnus used raised pavement markers to make a series of sounds. Though rudimentary, the idea of a musical highway soon caught on.

A few years later, a Japanese man named Shizuo Shinoda accidentally scraped a road with his bulldozer, later noticing that the grooves caused strange sounds in his car when he drove over them. Curious about the phenomenon, Shinoda began experimenting with the grooves. In 2007, his experiments caught the attention of the Hokkaido National Industrial Research Institute. The Institute had previously been working on an infra-red system for detecting dangerous road conditions, but they soon used the technology to refine Shinoda’s idea. “Melody Road” opened not long after in Hokkaido, and since then the Institute has built two more roads in Wakayama and Gunma.

The idea has since popped up in the United States, specifically in Lancaster, CA. The road played the theme from “The Lone Ranger” when driven over, but residents soon complained and the road was paved over in 2008. A couple of years later, the road (or rather, the song) was successfully rebuilt near the original site where people who wish to drive in silence can avoid the musical lane.

The musical road combines science and art to create a unique experience in tune with modern life. The very idea challenges not just how we listen to music, but how we drive, and boasts a new way to make art public and participatory. Many forms of public art are purely visual or purely audible, but musical roads combine the both into something very different. And hey, hearing “The Lone Ranger” theme is a pretty cool way to break up your road trip playlist.

don valley street art, rainbow mural

Don Valley Parkway Rainbow Painting Fetches Millions

For many people caught in traffic on Toronto’s notorious Don Valley Parkway, the Rainbow Tunnel is a welcome break. The tunnel’s entrance is painted in a bright rainbow pattern that’s been shining bright for over 40 years and has become one of the staples of the area. Many people have featured it in their photography and landscape painting, but one such painting just made someone millions of dollars.

peter-doigs-country-rock-wing-mirrorScottish artist Peter Doig’s “Country-rock (wing-mirror)” is a landscape piece that prominently features the original mural. Doig’s work is usually landscape focused, but this one in particular was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Originally, it was thought the painting could reach $16 million.

As for the original mural, it’s history has less money attached to it. Commissioned in 1972, the mural is the work of Canadian muralist Berg Johnson. Johnson’s own relationship to the mural has a life of its own. He’s apparently been arrested multiple times for touching the mural up over its 40 year lifespan, but otherwise is a complete recluse. These rumours are debated and refuted by people, including his friends, but it all adds a certain history to the mural itself, something that probably attracted Doig to it for his painting, and probably influenced the eventual price of the painting at auction.

What the painting shows is the value of public art and murals while arguing how people consume and privatize these public pieces. The original muralist was duly compensated for his work, but it’s nowhere near the sum art collectors are willing to pay for the painting that features Johnson’s public art. Johnson himself, still active in Toronto’s mural scene, is unlikely to see money from the piece that clearly uses his past efforts to increase its value, respectfully or exploitatively. Of course, public art is just that, public, and attempts to police its dissemination invites the very kinds of control that limit artists in general.

But this also speaks to the role art still plays in the world. If Andy Warhol proved anything, it’s that the price of art, just like art itself, is highly subjective. After all, he painted replicas of one of the most common things in a grocery store, a soup can, and made millions of dollars and saw his art displayed around the world. Private art, the notion of being able to hide it away for a much smaller audience, is still worth more than something meant for everyone. And while some public art becomes private, like a recent Banksy piece on a house that was removed and sold at auction, the mural itself remains, at least monetarily, an art style unable to fetch the price of private art, even if its seen by many more people. At the end of the day, however, Johnson’s mural is a widely loved and easily recognized part of Toronto’s landscape, a public art piece every muralist aspires to have in their portfolio.

graffiti murals in downtown new york city

Does Graffiti-Free NYC Work?

In a world that has a hard time differentiating between vandalism and public art, New York is just one of many cities that have decided to turn muralists into the enemy in a War on Graffiti. While a kid painting a middle finger on a bridge seems like a long ways away from artists like Saber or Seen, the line isn’t as blurry or the difference so large.

To address the issue, New York started up Graffiti-Free NYC, a government agency that responds to graffiti complaints with a free removal service for all five boroughs. Some neighbourhoods have had over 400 complaints per year. Naturally a homeowner shouldn’t have to pay to have their door repainted if it’s been graffitied against their will or without their knowledge, so the program’s free aspect can help people who are essentially victims in a thoughtless crime.

Obviously unwanted graffiti should be removed, but NYC’s specific motivations are somewhat hazardous, perhaps even dangerous to the city and its residents. In their mission statement, Graffiti-Free NYC argues they “enhance overall neighborhood aesthetics to improve the business climate, increase property values and create goodwill throughout New York City’s local communities.” And while the program also helps “create challenging and skill-enhancing jobs for low-to-moderate income residents,” the reasons for the program seem to only encourage the gentrification of New York that’s harming many different communities. By wanting to “improve the business climate” and “increase property value” isn’t simply hurting many residents faced with impossible rent increases, it also maintains the idea that “art” and “business” exist as polar opposites with a clear winner: commerce.

While New York claims on their website that “it is the current policy of Graffiti-Free NYC not to remove murals,” for a program that has removed upwards of 170 million square feet of street art, I find it hard to believe that all murals have survived the program on top of the program’s clear goals of making NYC a public art-free institution, unless of course the public art somehow encourages or reflects how commerce is helping the city.

Artists are finding solutions, ways to avoid the Graffiti Squad, but these may actually be making the art more dangerous. If a city is meant to protect and serve its citizens, the Graffiti Squad is a perfect example of how legislation can do more harm than good. In one article at Animal New York, artists recommend going high, to hard to reach places where it creates a safety concern for the people paid to remove the piece. Currently, cleaners can only reach about 35 feet in the air. Above that, artists can still have a clear canvas.

Graffiti-Free NYC represents a good idea that needs serious re-evaluation. The program is necessary, a means for victims of vandalism to get the support they need. But the program also puts graffiti artists at risk and perpetuates ideas that are harming New Yorkers, like driving up property values to push out low and middle income families. A compromise needs to happen between muralists and street artists who do good work outside a corporate structure and people’s desire to live in a beautiful city without vandalism.

worlds tallest mural from high above in downtown toronto

The World’s Tallest Mural, A Mural Seen From Miles Away

We just can’t get enough of the world’s tallest mural, located in our very own City of Toronto. We traveled across the city, snapping up shots wherever we could, in an effort to illustrate just how far away you can see this mural. Our photo shoot even took us to the Gardiner highway. However, this journey was not enough, and served only to whet our appetite. You see, we had a hunger that could only be satiated by taking to the skies, and so we did (with a little help from helitours.ca).

What you see below is a composition of our adventure to capture the world’s tallest mural in it’s full glory. Below is each image from our original vantage point followed by a zoomed in version showcasing the mural. At the top of the page we’ve included a map detailing the locations and distance of our shots. Not only can you get a good view of the mural but these are also some excellent scenic pictures of our great City of Toronto.

A Map Of Our Photos

map

CN Tower

1-worlds-tallest-heli-cn-tower

CN Tower (mural close-up)

1b-worlds-tallest-heli-cn-tower

Mural Close Up

2-close-up

Mural Close Up (wide angle)

2b-close-up-wide

Ashbridges Bay

3-ash-bridges-bay-mural

Ashbridges Bay (mural close-up)

3b-ash-bridges-bay-mural

Marina

4-marina-worlds-tallest-mural

Marina (mural close-up)

4b-marina-worlds-tallest-mural

Cherry Beach

5-cherry-beach

Cherry Beach (mural close-up)

5b-cherry-beach

Gardiner Expressway

6-gardiner-expressway

LA City

LA’s Ban On Murals

Once deemed the Mural Capital of the World, LA became a ghost town for muralists. Started in 2003, the ban was directed at advertisers and simply took many artists with it. At the time, LA was concerned about corporate messages being hidden in the many public art displays around town, a guerrilla marketing tactic that made it hard to differentiate someone pushing a product and someone trying to create art. A blanket ban on murals ended the all public art displays, corporate and otherwise, but the city has been persuaded after a long decade that public art can be allowed back. LA’s own Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and documenting murals, drafted the legislation as a combined effort between the city and hundreds of local muralists and artists. Even though the ban has been repealed, it hasn’t come without restrictions.

Murals are still banned from public buildings, being restricted to privately owned buildings exclusively, and those murals can happen only after the artist pays $60 and fills out the appropriate application form. To prevent advertisers taking advantage of the changes, murals must stay up for 2 years. Unless, of course, the city itself decides otherwise. Artists are still being met with restrictions and red tape at every turn and even if they do manage to get everything in order, there is still a strong chance the city will paint over the mural if certain protocols aren’t met. The city, despite lifting the ban, doesn’t seem to eager to let local artists do good work on private property.

Even the public is on the fence about whether the ban is a good thing or not. A large mural downtown, for example, only barely managed to get made and had to justify itself against a petition with 12,000 signatures and an intervention by the Mayor’s office. Neighbourhoods have to also “opt-in” to the repeal, limiting the space where artists can work even further. Just where, what, and exactly how these murals are being made seems to be at the forefront of many people’s minds.

Of course, the ban was unevenly enforced during its 11-year reign. Celebrities like James Franco managed to get murals up when they wanted, while others were forced to take them down. Now, artists have a bit more freedom and are less likely to face any legal ramifications for their art, but the regulation still makes public art a public concern.

LA’s ban and subsequent repeal brings along a large number of questions about public art, corporate advertising, and how a city and its citizens regard murals and the people who make them. Many citizens worry about graffiti and vandalism, or murals they think are inappropriate or being made in their neighbourhood in a city where shock still seems to reign supreme. The efforts by the city are an example of listening to artists and concerned citizens, even if the result is difficult and cumbersome. Muralists still seem to be the villain, or at least a barely tolerated presence in the city that once claimed to be the Mural Capital.

picture of the artist saber while spray painting street art

Artist Bio: Saber

Graffiti is part of a city, it’s culture and visual aesthetic, no matter how its citizens feel about it. Public art like murals and graffiti document the times, celebrate communities, and demarcate neighbourhoods. For artists like Saber, it’s something to be treasured and respected, an art style that is important because it moves in and out of public space. Saber in particular knows the importance of preserving mural art, having creating some of L.A.’s most famous and widely seen murals, but he also knows that it can’t simply stay on the street. It needs to be in galleries, in homes, in places where people want to go and look at art. Saber also knows that graffiti can challenge convention, and that’s exactly where his art likes to be.

Saber first rose to prominence in 1997, when his massive mural on the banks of the L.A. river began getting international attention. The mural measured 55’ high and over 250’ in length and reportedly took over 95 gallons of paint and 35 days to complete. Highly visible from the East L.A. Interchange, Saber’s piece was seen by millions and stayed up for an astounding 12 years before it was buffed by the US military. In his signature eloquence, Saber said it was quite the “way to go out” before noting that the government could probably be spending their money better. “The Army uses millions of federal funds to help fuel the LA war on graffiti, painting out layers of raw history in the armpit of the city,” Saber said in an interview, “While schools have no books and hospitals are closing.” This commentary on America and its priorities has been a focal point of Saber’s work his entire career.

Take, for instance, the time he was accused of desecrating the American flag. By this time, Saber was travelling the world to show off his fine art, popping up in galleries in from his hometown in L.A. to Europe. He had become a renowned fine artist, someone who bridged the gap between street art and fine art while still making amazing contributions in both worlds. But in 2010, Saber once again came into the media spotlight for his work using the American flag, a mixed media piece he was experimenting with that discussed his lifelong struggle with epilepsy. Being accused of flag desecration seemed to be another instance of backwards priorities, this time by America’s citizens instead of it’s government. In response to the controversy, Saber said his intention was to “show it [the flag] as a living, breathing, changing organism, that represents me as an American trying to manage this lifelong disease without health care.”

Throughout his career, Saber has been first to defend the arts in all their forms, going as far as to hire planes to skywrite “Mitt Romney hates arts” in L.A. Since murals were outlawed in his hometown, Saber found another way to fight against America’s war on art. At the Huffington Post, he argued the state of art in America is under threat. “You have candidates like Mr. Mitt Romney saying that he would completely eliminate funding for The National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, and NPR if elected, claiming they’re a ‘budgetary nuisance,’ he said, “These things cost .003% of the budget, and Romney says it’s a fucking budgetary nuisance! And so art is nuisance now in America.”

Always on the fringe and never one to stand idly by, Saber is a voice for street artists and the arts in general, unafraid to get political and fight for what he believes in.