For 10 days each summer, the Canadian city of Montreal becomes a mecca for street artists and public art enthusiasts as one of the main thoroughfares in the city, Boulevard Saint Laurent, is transformed into a festival of epic proportions. Montreal’s MURAL Festival took place from June 9-19 this year. Throughout the week, 29 artists in total from all over the world created beautiful murals, participated in exhibitions, and displayed installations on the famous boulevard. Visitors to the festival had the opportunity to witness artists making murals in real time, attend musical events and seminars, enjoy a variety of outdoor exhibitions and installations, plus indulge in the glory that is Canadian gastronomy, aka poutine, on every corner.
“We are the merging point of creative spirits. We are the festive and innovative soul of a city burning with artistry. MURAL opens a portal to new artistic dimensions and unites the community around an authentic vision.” – Montreal MURAL Festival Mission
Haley Carloni, one of our gallery assistants, got to experience the festival firsthand. Read on to see her impressions of the festival and how some of our Agora artists are contributing to the wonderful world of street and public art!
In my opinion, street art is the purest, most exciting and most diverse art form. It’s one of the few styles of art that the public can watch as the artist creates. Since the inception of graffiti back in the 1970s, when kids were trying to make a name for themselves on the sides of subway cars, street art has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. Artists use the street as a means of expression and also to make the world a little more beautiful in a way that is accessible to all, regardless of class or status. Anyone and everyone can observe and appreciate a mural or a public sculpture.
Luckily today, though “graffiti” is still illegal, commissioned murals and public art installations have become necessities for cities to become cultural hubs. Festivals like MURAL are popping up all over the world (see the end of this post for links to more street art festivals to check out!), and people love stumbling upon random art while walking around. That was one of the most wonderful things about Montreal. The MURAL Festival’s main purpose is to make art accessible for everyone and encourage all people to appreciate not only the art, but the artists and the efforts that go into creating such beautiful work. The entire city supports public art, and I was lucky enough to see some of it in person!
Street art is transient in nature. One day a mural or tag goes up and the next day it’s covered by something new. A unique thing about the festival was that murals from festivals past were still visible throughout the city, memorializing the artists’ work and the continuity of the young festival (only in its 4th edition this year!). Street artists seamlessly integrate art into the urban landscape. Jason Botkin (aka Robotkin) of Montreal creates incredibly intricate creatures, either on walls as murals or directly on sidewalks. This year, the artist created 9 different pieces scattered up and down Boulevard Saint-Laurent! These included a giant squid, a fish, a great blue heron, silly faces, and more!
One big issue in the art world today is the intersection of street art and fine art. Many artists who started out on the streets have begun showing prints, paintings, or sculptures in art galleries, which some artists consider the commercialization of street art and a downward spiral for the movement. Risk-taking and adventure are the most important elements of graffiti and street art, qualities that are lost when the art moves into the gallery. The question is, is it really considered “street art” if it’s not physically on the street or if it is legally commissioned?
Station 16 Gallery in Montreal focuses on contemporary urban art, influenced by illustration, design, pop culture, graffiti, and street art. To coincide with MURAL Festival, the gallery put on an exhibition of prominent French artists who specialize in murals, urban art and illustration, including Miss Van, Mr. Brainwash, Le Valet, Fafi, and several others. That show only goes until July 2, but the gallery doubles as a print shop and is definitely worth checking out if you’re visiting Montreal this summer!
Many (if not all) of the artists who participate in MURAL Festival also participate in gallery exhibitions. Faith 47 is an artist from South Africa whose murals grace the facades of buildings all over the world (including one in Williamsburg in Brooklyn). She also creates prints, paintings, and installations and is represented by Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York City, where she had a solo exhibition earlier this year. Meggs, an Australian artist working internationally, has had a similar career, painting incredible murals all over the world but also participating in gallery exhibitions.
We are lucky and proud at Agora Gallery to exhibit artists from around the world who are part of or inspired by street and public art. French artist Alexis de Moussac, who will be showing his work this month in an exhibition entitled The French Perspective, creates his art with markers and spray paint, the medium of choice for street artists. Moussac was an active member of the French street art scene as a teenager but, inspired by the work of Basquiat, Haring, and Taki 183, decided to bring his work from the street onto the canvas. He is a prime example of how art can transcend the streets to the gallery without losing its style or integrity.
“De Moussac’s preference for spray paint lies not just in his love of street art, but also in the fact that it gives his work a sense of spontaneity. Once he starts painting, it’s impossible to go back and ‘correct’ what’s been done.”
I do not think that an artist needs to be classified into a certain category, street artist or not. Selling artwork is just another way to spread their talent throughout the world and reach a wider audience. Though these artists’ prints and paintings may not physically be on the street, they evoke the style and excitability of public art because of the hand that created them. Though I understand where some artists are coming from. Street art started as a form of rebellion. It was not about the artistic side of it, but about the true spirit of freedom and raw energy. The best thing about it? Graffiti can’t be bought. It just exists for the sake of existence.
“Street art is considered rebellious in nature and illegal in practice, while public art is commissioned by cities or property owners and is considered culturally enriching and socially acceptable.”
-Jareen Imam, CNN
Adam Craemer is another Agora artist inspired by the street art movement. Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa and the UK with artist parents, as well as traveling the world, Adam was exposed to the graffiti culture throughout his life. Because of this, he incorporates spray painting into his works that are clearly street art-inspired. In the series that will be on view at Agora Gallery later this year, Adam paints outlines of female figures over abstract patterns of multiple colors to represent the different cultures of the world, which creates an air of mystery in his subjects.
So we have discussed street artists turning their talents towards the fine art sector. But what about the other way around? Fine artists are expanding their talents into the public realm. Public art is not only a way to expose the greater public to a variety of artistic styles, but it is also a wonderful way for artists to gain exposure and further their careers. For example, I first heard of the artist Nychos when I saw him working on a mural during the Bushwick Collective Block Party in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. I later found out that he is very famous and has been for a while, having a long list of international gallery exhibitions and public art installations on his CV. Ironically, I had only learned about him because of his participation in local public art, and now, of course, I see him everywhere! He recently had an installation in Flatiron in Manhattan called “The Dissection of Sigmund Freud”, created a mural for Coney Island Art Walls, and currently has a solo exhibition at Jonathan Levine Gallery through July 23.
Many of Agora Gallery’s artists have taken advantage of the various opportunities outside the gallery that are available to contemporary artists today.
Another artist represented by Agora Gallery is a sculptor named Julie Warren Conn, who not only creates smaller sculptures for interiors, but also makes monumental works for public display. Her abstract pieces are made from marble or alabaster, organic materials that she lovingly makes into one-of-a-kind works of art. By making pieces for gallery shows as well as outdoor installations, Julie expands her talents and gains wider exposure in the art world.
Artists, galleries, collectors, and others involved in the art market around the world have seen the influence of street and public art, and are now leading this monumental shift in the art world. Artists are able to experiment with new forms of self-expression and connect with art-lovers in a variety of places, and that is something which we can all appreciate. The question now for artists and art lovers is: what next?
Note: Sadly, I had to depart Montreal 5 days before many of the murals were complete, so most of my photos are in-progress shots. However, you can see all the finished murals and installations on MURAL Festival’s Instagram or Facebook page! You can also check out more of Agora Gallery’s street art inspired works on ARTmine. Enjoy!