Forget the National Gallery of Canada. Skip Montréal’s Museum of Fine Arts. And who needs the Art Gallery of Ontario? As fine as these institutions are, they’re unlikely to display works representing one of the world’s most exciting, vibrant art forms: graffiti.
Long regarded as an urban blight, graffiti has in the last few years soared in popularity, thanks in part to people such as Banksy, the famed British street artist, and Shepard Fairey, the American artist who created the iconic Barack Obama HOPE poster. “Graffiti is the largest art movement in the world right now — it’s bigger than the Renaissance in its scope and the number of artists,” says Jason Kucherawy, co-founder of Tour Guys, a company that offers a Toronto graffiti tour.
The tour covers everything from the history of graffiti and the tools of the trade to the vocabulary that street artists use. But Kucherawy not only wants to educate people about graffiti, he also wants them to appreciate it the same way they would any other work of art. “There’s more to it than colours on the wall,” he says. “We want people to see that it takes skill.”
Seeing graffiti artists in action is part of the appeal of Ottawa’s House of Paint Festival. This year, the September 13 to 16 event will feature 60 visual artists from across North America, all working on a three-storey concrete canvas better known as the Dunbar Underpass. The festival started in 2003 as a celebration of the city opening its first legal graffiti wall but has since morphed into an event that showcases the hip-hop community, revealing a lesser-known side of the capital.
In Montréal, passersby have also had the chance to engage with graffiti artists. Take Our Lady of Grace, the eye-popping, neck-craning five-storey mural at the corner of Madison Avenue and Sherbrooke Street West in the west-end neighbourhood of NDG . The mural was created over 16 days last October by A’Shop, an art collective specializing in graffiti, as part of a beautification project sponsored by the city and Prevention CDN /NDG , a community organization. A’Shop will start work on another giant mural in late September, at the corner of Décarie Boulevard and Sherbrooke Street West.
“Part of the city’s purpose was to cover up graffiti tags,” says Fluke, A’Shop’s artistic director. “We said ‘You don’t have to eliminate graffiti entirely,’ so it was a win-win situation — we just wanted to paint a pretty picture.”