Tomorrow night, starting at 6pm, Station16 Gallery will be hosting a free 'Book Talk' with Anna Waclawek (author of the book 'Graffiti and Street Art'). This will be an awesome time to get a head full of Graffiti & Street Art info in a single night! We also had a chance to interview Anna before her Talk, as an introduction... We think you'll love her!
How did you become involved in researching street art?
While studying Art History and Sociology, I was taking a socio class called “Deviance” at the same as an art history seminar on “Public Art.” That year I attended the 2nd annual Under Pressure festival. While watching graffiti writers paint all day, I reflected on all of the theory I was studying in terms of public space and deviant behaviour and how it was coming into practice before my eyes. From that moment I became hooked on the culture of writing and how it functions in the urban sphere. My attraction to street art practices developed from my interest in sanctioned public art projects and how the work of guerilla urban painters falls somewhere in-between graff and official public art and is therefore able to do something pretty special.
What defines a street artist?
Anyone who puts up art, that’s visually and ideologically distinct from the signature graffiti writing movement, on city streets and doesn’t appreciate being lumped under this umbrella term, hahaha. It’s challenging to talk about hyper-varied art practices as part of one movement without stepping on some toes, but “urban painting” or “street art” have become naturalized terms that encompass diverse art practices that developed as an evolution of, rebellion against, or addition to graff writing.
Essentially the easiest way to define street artists is by comparing their work to that of writers. The greatest difference is of course visual. Instead of primarily aestheticizing and abstracting letters, street artists tend to explore more formal art techniques to create largely figurative narratives – from realistic portraiture to cartoonish characters – that aim to address the general public. What they create, where they do it, who they do it for, why they do it, and what materials/techniques/styles are used all differ from what writers do.
Do you have a favourite area in Montreal to go street art hunting?
These days all I do is walk out my front door….I don’t have to venture very far to encounter plenty of living walls on the plateau. What I like best though is bumping into the work of artists that I know while traveling - it makes you feel connected spatially in real time instead of virtually in computer time.
Social media being so prevalent, do you feel it has been a valuable tool in the dissemination of street art?
No doubt. I started doing graff research in the mid-1990s when the oil was just being poured into the Internet machine, so there were literally only handfuls of good sites. Now, forget about it – social media, and to a lesser extent documentaries and publications, are responsible for street art blowing up as a worldwide movement. Graffiti’s international spread in the 1980s as a result of travel, graffiti-laden trains, zines, movies, exhibitions, as well as popular and hip-hop culture was super impressive, given the lack of internet and social media. It also made the movement a lot more underground and exclusive. Today both writers and street artists benefit from international reputations thanks to our obsession with the snap’n’post (documenting & sharing).
There have been several debates regarding the evolution of street art. Critics have said that it has become more 'decorative' than 'social.' Must street art convey a social agenda?
Absolutely not. It “mustn’t” do anything, short of exist in my estimation. One of the greatest strengths of this movement is that it facilitates new avenues for expression and that it does so in a way that’s palatable, reflective, at times fun, sometimes political, but most of all, raw and free. Urban painting is not limited by style, content, context, message or media, which explains its popularity – as it’s sort of like a mixed bag with something for everyone. The very fact that graffiti and street art exist is already political because the bulk of the time, it’s unauthorized. Street art certainly has the potential, and very often does, outright address socio-political issues but that’s no more important than portraiture. Whatever form it takes, it reflects our cultural landscape, thus privileging one strain over another is simply short sighted…it’s like privileging mind over body and soul, losing sight of the fact that they’re all connected.
What is your opinion on the urban art scene in Montreal?
It’s alive and well and successfully communicates the dynamism, agency, and zeal the city has to offer.