the other week, i was walking around downtown with a couple friends, when my friend started going off about how he hates street art and graffiti. my jaw hit the floor. i thought street art was one of those things that everyone – at least all young people – loves. like daft punk. or beer. i asked him why, and he careened off a list of (stupid) reasons, the most prominent one being banksy. just “banksy,” no explanation. and i mean, i understand. banksy has reached that cult status so much so that he shouldn’t even be considered “cult” anymore – he’s basically the urban outfitters of the graffiti world. don’t get me wrong. i’m one of those people that’s like “i loved banksy before everyone else loved banksy” (but i actually did love banksy before everyone else loved banksy) (seriously), and for me, it’s not about how popular he is, but about how much his art speaks to me. for me, street art will always be about giving soul to an urban landscape, sending a message, and using the streets as a canvas for something beautiful, thoughtful, funny, or poignant. how could anyone possibly find something to hate in all that. i was convinced he just didn’t know enough about montreal street art, and that if he did, he would love it.
one of the best things about living in montreal – i think – is watching the city come alive during the summer. it overflows with art, music, colours, spirit, dancing, singing, painting, loving. it’s (obviously) my favourite time of year to be a montrealer. next time you’re walking the streets of montreal, keep an eye out for these amazing artists, because their work definitely deserves a double take. here are ten montreal street artists you should know.
10 / EN MASSE
photo via lady and the sweatshop
the en masse project is one of montreal’s most recognizable urban art forms. conceived by artists jason botkin and tim barnard in 2009, en masse (from the french for “all together” or “as a whole”) is a collaborative, multi-artist art project that produces conceptual, intricate black-and-white murals. you’ve no doubt come across their murals in alleyways, restaurants, bars, and music venues – the stark, graphic yet decidedly organic nature of their work is hard to miss. the collective has worked with over 250 international and local artists to date. you can read my interview with en masse founder, jason botkin about his recent solo show, all kin, here.
09 / LABRONA
photo via art happy
labrona has been painting for over 15 years – his work is, like en masse’s, organic in its stylization. you might recognize his somewhat placid looking faces, or his intellectual use of colour and lines. a skateboarder, record collector, painter, and on-occasion house builder, labrona’s pieces are at once energetic and stoic. you can find his work on buildings, freight cars, skateboard decks, or the more traditional canvas.
08 / STARE
photo via bucharestbusiness
stare has been an integral part of montreal’s street art culture for years – in fact, he started way back in 1997, when his tag began appearing throughout the city. he’s renowned for his crisp, clean roller work, but his tag, which you’ve probably seen thrown up across the side of the highway or along a brick wall, is easily one of the most recognizable tags in the city. i’ve read that he’s also a bit of a prankster, taking art installations to the next level with fake (and, i’m told, hilarious) store signs. stare teamed up with fellow local street artist, scan (number 5 on this list), for an incredible show at gallery yves laroche last month.
07 / OMEN
photo via omen official
omen is perhaps less recognizable than the breadth of other artists i’ve outlined, only because his work is so versatile. active since the late 1990s, omen has been a leader in montreal’s street art community, creating large-scale murals that often feature dream-like faces, profiles and shapes that have an almost smokey appearance. a vocal supporter of the aerosol movement, omen’s main medium is spray cans, which give his art that distinctive wind-swept atmosphere.
06 / WHAT IS ADAM
photo via WIA official
what is adam (WIA) is one of my favourite street artists. his pieces are juxtapose symbols of canadian wildlife with urban details – deers become hookers, ducks become bachelors, bears become ballerinas. his wheatpastes and graffiti are a combination of quirky, weird, and ironic, a true subversion of canadian culture. perhaps his most iconic piece, and one of my personal favourites, is a maple ‘sizzurp’ can, which you’ve probably spotted pasted up in an alleyway, on a door, or across a brick wall in just about every corner of the city – or, if you’re lucky, you’ve had a taste of the famous sizzurp as part of his recent can-collab with old montreal hot spot le bremner. a part of the en masse extended family, WIA is also involved with cease art collective, and station 16.
05 / SCAN
photo via art goon
scan (aka scaner) has been a part of the street art scene since the late 1990s, when he first started tagging and painting walls in NDG. a member of the DA crew, scan also reps a number of other collectives, including KG, VC, JKR, TFB, TFO, and 156. a leader in the street-level art movement, scan’s inimitable tag is one of the most recognizable art-marks in the city. working with stickers, rollers, spray cans, and markers, scan’s tags are complex and colourful – look out for them, often alongside the work of friend and fellow artist, stare (mentioned above) with whom he collaborated on a show at yves laroche last month.
04 / EARTH CRUSHER
photo via earth crusher official
earth crusher (who also tags under the name DRE) has been painting the streets of montreal since the mid 2000s when he teamed up with locals hemp, himz, nus2 and hazeo, who got him into tagging and painting highway spots and freight trains. since, he’s become immersed in the scene, and is part of a number of crews in montreal (including FAM, TD, and DHS) – his years long love affair with art coming to fruition some very beautiful ways. his earth crusher moniker is a conceptualization of a “a multinational CEO bent on greed and brain washing” – look out for his scheming, faceless suit-wearing mastermind murals all around the city.
03 / WAXHEAD
photo via torontoist
street artist waxhead got his name when, five years ago, he painted a self-described weird creature with an ominous dripping head – simply put, a wax head. though he’s been an artist for most of his life, his career as an artist took off when he began painting as waxhead, dishing out otherworldly, bizarro creatures and figures that seem to come from another planet entirely. working with markers, oil sticks, and paint, waxhead’s work is powerfully comical, in a brian calvin sort of way (despite an at-times morose theme). you can find his work in the streets of toronto as well.
02 / STIKKI PEACHES
photo via stikki peaches official
stikki peaches is another one of my personal favourites in this list. stikki is easily one of montreal’s most prolific street artists, and it’s not hard to see why. his wheatpastes are mixed-media in more ways than one, often patchworking together different pop cultural references, colours, mediums, and ideas. his mantra, what if art ruled the world/et si l’art dominait le monde is a striking showcase of these ideas, asking viewers to question the very world they live in, and integrate the creative with the every day.
01 / MISS ME
photo via miss me official
miss me (obviously another personal favourite) is the only female voice on this list – but she is by no means soft-spoken. her style is really unmatchable in terms of not only the intricacy of her wheatpastes, but of the sheer badassness that is her mantra. her mostly black and white pastes often portray pop cultural references – disney characters, jazz icons, music heroines, cartoon characters – subverted into sexualised warrior goddesses, etched over with sly catchphrases. a feminist (and founding member of dessert for breakfast), jazz singer, and painter, miss me was born in geneva, and is now based out of montreal. you can read my interview with miss me here.
did you totally fall in love with street art after reading that? i know. i can be pretty convincing. if you liked what you saw, be sure to check out this summer’s muralfest (june 13-16) and under pressure festival (august 10-11).