Under Pressure 2012
This year's installment of Under Pressure took place recently, over the weekend of August 10th. The walls wrapping around de Buillon, de Boisbirand and Hotel-de-Ville were initially painted black, a dark sweep of urban canvas. They would later be sprayed with a riot of color, imparting the city with a kind of vibrancy that's usually forbidden.
In its 17th year running, Under Pressure is truly a one of a kind event, bringing together a diverse crowd of young and old.
"Our goal is to build and foster relations between community members, and to encourage dialogue," said festival co-founder Sterling Downey. "Under Pressure seeks to find positive solutions instead of focusing on negative attitudes. It's always been about working together."
Across the street from the live spraypainting, hip hop acts and breakdancing was a collection of street-style artwork held within a space called the Fresh Paint Gallery (180 St. Catherine East). According to the organizers, Fresh Paint is a temporary exhibition and event project presented by the Under Pressure Festival. Over two levels of the project showcases local and international artists as well as houses educational and cultural events.
During the festival, the Fresh Paint Gallery celebrated one year of providing free space to artists and fostering dialogue about street art. Unfortunately, it will be closing soon.
"The museum will be closing on September 9th," said Downey, who noted the pop-up museum was never intended to be a permanent space.
As I wandered the curling stretches of installation pieces, paintings on canvas and wheatpaste art, I noticed several familiar images.
The whimsical I Love Cheese pieces adorning the brick walls of my neighbourhood were transformed here into a full-scale ode to the dairy product's complexities. Notably expressed in a stream of impish poetry, "I love cheese so damn much! I love cheese as much as the Dutch! French people think they like cheese more than me, but they're wrong because every day I'm eating brie..."
There was also a large image of a cartoon bird I've seen perched on many a du Parc wall. The name sprayed beneath the piece was One Tame Bird.
Back outside, there was a section along St. Catherine street called the Kids' Area. The long sheets of paper that hung on the surrounding chain link fence read "Paint me." Picnic tables within the space also had sheets draped over them. Paint and markers were made available for the more curious children, who acquiesced to the blank paper that begged to be changed.
Meanwhile, the chosen walls were filled with old and new styles of graffiti. Seen among them: paint, chalk, wheatpaste, stenciling, lettering and images. Some artists jumped recklessly back and forth between scaffolding. Others crouched beneath the narrow platforms, momentarily sheltered from the sun.
Weaving around the surrounding streets and parking lots were people riding their vintage-inspired fixed gear bikes and skateboarders with decks boasting intricate art. The festival also featured live hip hop stage performances by Borden, K6A, Boom bap Cats, Rico Blox, and Slik Jack, among others.
I had the chance to interview a local graffiti artist who participated in this year's Under Pressure Festival. He goes by the alias Idea. Here are highlights from the interview's transcript:
1."Why did you want to participate in Under Pressure?"
-"I've seen the artwork that goes up every year. You get to have a piece on St. Catherine street and not get arrested for it."
2."How long have you been spraypainting?"
-"On and off for about 17 years."
3."Why do you like this medium?"
-"You can create really big pieces in small amounts of time. Also, it can be done outside where everybody can see it."
4."What inspires you?"
-"There's a difference between what inspires me and what I aspire to paint. I'm inspired by almost anything with some thought put into it, whether it's witty or technically beautiful. If I've seen something already however, I won't paint it. I try to keep my pieces original."
5."How would you describe your style?"
-"Lately, I do a lot more imagery as opposed to lettering. However, I'm a big fan of wild styles."
6."What challenges do you encounter?"
-"The elements, the wind, the condition of a wall. Normally, I prime a wall to prepare it. Spraypainting is one of the most difficult mediums to master. You're trying to create detail using paint that is literally shooting out of a can."
7."What direction would you like graffiti to take?"
-"I don't think it needs to take a new direction. I like that it's getting a lot more recognition. Slowly, but surely. I think there should be graffiti festivals every month."
8."Why is street art important?"
-"If it's important, it's because it's art you don't have to go to a gallery to see. You can see it while you're walking down the street. Art is about free expression and the freest expression is throwing art out there for people to look at, or to ignore."
Photograph of a wall at Under Pressure by yours truly. Idea's piece is in the bottom right corner.