Graffiti: is it an art or a crime? This is a question which has, once more, sparked debate as Montreal’s boroughs renew their efforts to crack down on the medium. Said to have one of the richest graffiti communities in Canada, if not North America, Montreal has tried a number of different approaches to handling this touchy issue. From setting up legal graffiti walls to imposing stricter penalties for artists, nothing seems to have quite done the trick. The most recent tactic employed by some boroughs has been to impose heavier fines on both artists and property owners who do not remove graffiti within a certain amount of time. On September 9th, an artist who wished to remain anonymous shared his thoughts on the topic with The Daily.
The McGill Daily: What have your experiences been lately? Have you noticed any kind of crack-down?
Graffiti Artist: I haven’t had the impression that there’s really been a crack-down in Montreal recently. The media and the city often say that they’re going to do a clean-up, but in reality, those clean-ups only constitute buffing walls. For our part, we haven’t experienced any extra pressures, even though the city has ordered and carried out several events encouraging graffiti such as “Under Pressure” and “Can You Rock?” I believe they’re only using this technique to reassure people and in reality the areas that are really affected by graffiti aren’t the ones that are getting cleaned up. The budget for the crack-down is all going to go to areas like Ville Marie or the Old Port – areas where property owners are capable of buffing graffiti. But if you look at areas like Verdun and Pointe St. Charles, the main thing is that the budget is going into buffing graffiti and they don’t do that as much in those areas, so they won’t benefit from a crack-down.
MD: What would the effects of such a crack-down be?
GA: For a graffiti artist, the effects of a crack-down like this will only serve to open up new spots to paint again. They’ll go clean all the places that we’ve already tagged, so that graffiti artists will pass by and reclaim that newly-freed spot. If the graffiti that’s erased has been there for over a year, for example, and that spot suddenly becomes available, it’s certain that someone’s going to go repaint that spot in the hopes that their graffiti will also last for such a long time.
MD: Would something like this actually deter people from doing graffiti?
GA: Absolutely not. And, as I explained earlier, it could even encourage graffiti artists to paint more. A crack-down is just a way for the authorities to give the impression that they’re dealing with the problem, but I sincerely doubt that there will be any real improvement over the past few years, especially since graffiti has become more and more common on both the north and south shores. I don’t think the approaches they’re taking can actually help to solve the problem.
MD: Why do you think graffiti is an important form of expression?
GA: Graffiti is a form of expression, yes, but it is, above all, an artistic movement. For most young people who have some skill with a pencil, graffiti is the “cool” thing to do. It’s much more interesting for them to paint big, fat, colourful letters on their school than to do canvasses in their basement where no one will ever see them. Most emerging artists under the age of thirty will have been active in the graffiti world at some point. I think it’s going to become the most important art movement of our generation.
MD: Why do you think graffiti is such a big issue in Montreal right now?
GA: It’s not just now that graffiti’s a big deal in Montreal – it’s been like this since the late nineties. Montreal has one of the most important graffiti scenes around, after New York, where graffiti was born. Also, we have a lot of well-known artists here, as much for the artistic side as for the vandalism side. Lots of artists come here from the United States and are surprised by how this city doesn’t really take the problem seriously. In Montreal we have two stores that specialize in graffiti, the city provides legal walls, Montreal organizes two of the largest graffiti events in North America…all these elements create a scene that maintains the popularity of graffiti in Montreal.
MD: How would you get around a possible crack-down?
GA: For me, it doesn’t change anything. It’s an urban legend, a headline in the newspaper to reassure the public that everything is under control, but graffiti is impossible to control.