Aside from the fact that they speak French and eat "pommes frites" covered in gravy and cheese curds (aka "poutine"), I didn't know much about our good friends to the North. And at less than an hour's plane ride from New York City, it was time for me to pop my Québécois "cerise" and explore all that Montréal has to offer.
Of course, my focus was on street art, and I was pleasantly surprised by not only the quantity, but also the quality, on offer. From pasteups to stickers to alleyways of graff, it is a veritable Wonka Factory for the senses. (Don't think I wasn't tempted to taste what appeared at first glance to be a poutine of "lickable wallpaper", but in fact, turned out to be wheatpaste-flavored papyrus with hints of urine. Needless to say, I wouldn't recommend tasting any walls there.)
And don't even get me started on the large-scale murals by the likes of world-renowned artists such as Faith XLVII, Pixel Pancho, D*Face, INTI, Rone and a plethora of others from around the globe. Many of the murals line the central thoroughfare of Rue Saint-Laurent, making even a short stroll around town a worthwhile excursion of art and beauty. And it isn't just the international artists that take center stage. The MURAL Festival, which takes place every year in June, hosts artistic talent, both foreign and domestic.
Clockwise: Stare, Opire, Mastrocola, Waxhead, Jest, sbuone
There's even love for part-timers like TurtleCaps, who spends some of his time in NYC and calls Montréal his second home. I spoke with him about how it has been living life as a pseudo-expat artist.
When he first explored the scene in 2010, there weren't a whole lot of artists doing pasteups, aside from Stikki Peaches and a few others, like Miss Me and Tava. But he teamed up with Futur Lasor Now, and they were putting up wheatpastes every weekend all summer long that first year. He continues to spend summers there putting up new work and taking on new projects. You can spot his work in many forms all over town.
Then came MURAL Festival, which began in 2012 as a "love letter to the world", and Montréal's street art scene hasn't stopped growing since. And now, I find myself wandering the streets soaking up all this Montréal magic.
Having previously traveled in France and fumbling with the language, I was worried that I would be snubbed by locals since my French is still not exactly up to par, but found the people to be exceedingly open to speaking English with me and were helpful in finding streets I was searching for. As a first-time visitor to Montréal looking for street art, it's a good idea to do a little forward planning, though.
Or... just makes friends with a local like I did.
I had the chance to meet up with street art aficionado and fellow photographer, Ann T. (aka RAnndomized), for the inside scoop on all the best that Montréal has to offer by way of street art. I've been following her travels (both in Montréal and abroad) on Instagram for the past year or so and jumped at the chance to meet up with such a valuable resource and get her input.
"I discovered street art and its different genres about four years ago. It came about pretty organically in that I was spending more time in the city, and started noticing the various forms of art scattered around - murals, graffiti, wheat pastes, etc. I've always been an amateur photographer, but when I started taking photos of art, it wasn't with the intention to do anything with the shots. I started posting on Instagram then decided to have street art be the focus of the account. In Montréal, I just try to keep up to date on what's going up while on a more global level, I try to incorporate a little art hunting during my travels. At the same time, I also try to connect with fellow hunters in their respective cities."
"My suggestion for non-locals is to pick up a Mural Festival map and focus on that area because the artwork is in a fairly compact area. This would be on St. Laurent, from René-Lévesque all the way up to about Mont-Royal, as well as the streets to the east and west of it (St. Laurent). There's also our version of graffiti alley between St. Laurent and Clark, starting around Prince Arthur."
Me and a wall by Ankh and Dodo One (Photo by @RAnndomined)
As I mentioned, in my wanderings, I was pleased to see a nice distribution of genres represented throughout the city. As with other locations, the best graff and "unsanctioned" art is often found in alleyways or shadows, outside of the immediate view of local law enforcement. Ann gave her me her take on this.
"I would say there's a fairly even split [of legal/illegal work]. Most of the big walls on homes or businesses were likely commissioned (or curated by MURAL or MUMTL). In some cases, it's possible that a home owner will let an artist (or group of artists) paint. A good example is a house on the corner of Mentana and Duluth, where apparently, it's going to be demolished (or rebuilt) and the owner told some artists to go to town.
As a first-time visitor to Montréal, who are the local and international artists that are must-sees?
"In terms of locals, Dodo Ose, Ankh, Fluke, Mateo. From an international POV, it's hard to be excited about just one artist, when we have the likes of ROA, Etam, Starfightera, Fintan and Bik Ismo gracing our walls!"
Walls by International Artists ROA, ETAM, Fintan Magee and Bikismo
In closing, I asked Ann to answer three final questions:
1) Best thing about Montréal's street art scene: "Something's always going on, even in winter."
2) Best place to try poutine: "Ha ha ha! Well, if you're going to try poutine, you need to stick to the basics - nothing fancy and none of that gourmet shit. La Belle Province or Valentine."
3) Thoughts on Montréal and its street art scene: "It rocks!"
So there you have it! I would have to agree. Montréal and its street art scene are pretty top-notch. And at just an hour away from New York City, what are YOU waiting for? I mean, you've got to try that poutine, don't you?