Under Pressure Paints the Town

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Exhilarating, refreshing, welcoming. These are the words that I associate with the Under Pressure International Graffiti Convention, which took place on August 13 and 14, in Montreal. Hats off to Sterling Downy, the founder of this festival for creating this stimulating and safe venue for graffiti writers.

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I headed to the 16th edition of Under Pressure on Sunday evening. After a draining afternoon of dragging my consumer-weary feet over the black arrows that direct customers through a money-trapped maze, otherwise known as Ikea, I felt rejuvenated as I explored the back alleys of Les Foufounes Éléctriques on Saint-Catherine Street. The hiss of spray cans, the explosion of color on brick walls, the elegant and daring skateboarders, the captivating break-dancers and the uplifting backbeat provided by emcees and DJs jolted me out of shopper’s stupor.

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Since I caught the tail end of this event I could admire many finished pieces by graffiti artists from Montreal, Berlin, Paris and London.

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Axel Void

Axel Void’s work caught my eye for it’s sparse treatment and it’s dark emotional charge.

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Mostly, however, I was charmed to witness this block party where young people could practice their passions in peace. Some writers were applying finishing touches to their murals on their designated wall, delineated by scaffolding boards and frames. This quintessential contemporary urban scene somehow reminded me of prehistoric cave artists.

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Janie Belcourt

I visited the new two-story Pop-UP gallery across the street, housed in a historic building that once belonged to the French daily La Patrie. It features large open spaces in a state of semi-decay, which echos the interiors of abandoned buildings infiltrated by street art. The art at Pop-Up did not jump off the walls and ceilings. Most of it felt lifeless and confined without the interaction with urban elements and the buzz of street life. I was, however, pleased to discover the work of Janie Belcourt, who designs furniture from reclaimed skateboards. Her pieces work well in this setting, oscillating between chic and street smart.

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En Masse

My last stop was Les Foufounes Éléctriques, to check out the mural that is repainted with each new edition of Under Pressure. I was impressed by the medley of expressions peering from the black and white portraits created by the collective En Masse. It is a perfect backdrop for the nightlife that flows in and out of the club.

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No matter where one sits on the controversial graffiti fence, one cannot deny the existence of this vital form of expression. To see it celebrated in the context of the Under Pressure festival is eye-opening and reassuring. Self-run and funded through donations and fundraisers, UP consistently delivers a unique event that embellishes the city and demonstrates that graffiti is an art in its own right, that can be practiced in a harmonious setting.

Talleen Hacikyan

Photos by Talleen Hacikyan

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