A Siberian tiger curls at the feet of a shrouded Nina Simone – this is the unmissable wall mural adjacent to the Fresh Paint gallery on Ste. Catherine. Above the tiger flies a parrot, wings stretching to brush the masterfully shaded drapings that characterize street artist Miss Me’s inimitable artistic style. Flanked by two birds of paradise, a glowing Black Power fist protrudes from Simone’s chest. The artistically canonized ‘Saint of Soul’ towers over the gallery-goers with an inscrutable but unmistakably powerful gaze as they enter Miss Me’s exhibit of the same name.
The Nuit Blanche opening of “Saints of Soul” marked Miss Me’s transition out of the Montreal streets and into the formalized art world. Having previously worked primarily with paint and wheatpaste, a street art style named after the glue used to paste posters to surfaces, Miss Me has transferred her now-recognizable canon of saints onto mixed media for this exhibit. Instead of peering out from behind MTL Blog’s St. Laurent offices, Saint Pac – her portrait of legendary rapper Tupac – scrutinizes gallery-goers from singed planks of wood flecked with gold paint.
In each of the “Saints” featured in this exhibit, each a black musician that has shaped the history of art and song, Miss Me translates their music into a visual representation that is both strikingly beautiful and dauntingly powerful.
If Saint Simone and Saint Pac weren’t impressive enough, a giant Miles Davis bores holes into art enthusiasts, his presence looming above. Painted directly onto the gallery’s ceiling, Miles is vertically framed by two expertly shaded curtains. The immortalized jazz giant stares out from beneath furrowed brows with the fierce dignity that Miss Me depicts in all of her subjects. In each of the “Saints” featured in this exhibit, each a black musician that has shaped the history of art and song, Miss Me translates their music into a visual representation that is both strikingly beautiful and dauntingly powerful.
A small back room is separated from the main gallery space by a thick black curtain. Inside, two shrines to Nina Simone glow with the light of electric candles. The 2D wall mural at the entrance to the gallery pushes into three dimensions, with gold trim and saturated reds, blues, and greens to bring out the now-green fist emerging from Simone’s chest. The result is a beautifully-rendered homage to the artist and activist.
Miss Me recently made waves in the Montreal community with her Pussylluminati bus posters depicting herself as masked and defiantly flashing the viewer with a breast shaped as a unicorn. She subdues her rebellious feminism in these stately depictions of artistic icons, immortalizing them in the streets and, now, on the gallery wall. But in a world where influential black women rarely receive the recognition they deserve, this exhibit is in fact a powerful act of rebellion, elevating Nina Simone to a godly state, and indicating that Miss Me might soon become our next pop culture saint.
“Saints of Soul” is on at Fresh Paint gallery at 256 Ste. Catherine until March 25.