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Art on the block

A tour of graffitti & street art in Montreal

Quartier Des Spectacles +  Ste. Catherine East 

Quartier des Spectacles and the surrounding area is packed with graffiti-covered brick walls, most of them visible along Ste. Catherine on the way to Place des Arts and Metropolis from Phillips Square.

At the beginning of the expanse of Place des Arts, look out for a parking lot that is wedged between two brick buildings, located across the street from the Imperial Theatre on Bleury. The lot feels a bit like an exhibition for graffiti artists, the huge expanses of wall a haven for artistic spray painting. Walking down the street toward Metropolis, the same could be said for the buildings that line Clark. Look out for the top of a building with the heading “Screaming Eagle” and a blown-up realist portrayal of someone playing the harmonica.

Across the street from Metropolis, on St. Dominique, lies a gaping parking lot, topped off at one end by an amazing mural that seems to stick out of the mosque it is painted on. Painted in yellow and gold tones, it gives the viewer an intense sense of warmth. The mural itself depicts thousands of tiny people and camels sprawled across a great expanse of desert. Beautifully designed Quranic calligraphy crowns the sides and the top of the mural. Across the street from the mosque is a three-story brick building that is completely painted from top to bottom with portraits of jazz players in varying hues of purple, pink, bronze, and gold.

Keep walking down Ste. Catherine, past Metropolis, and you will stumble upon a horrific face trying to claw its way out of the side a book store and stationary supplies shop, Librairie Guérin.

At the intersection of Ste. Catherine and Bullion, a little alley presents itself as a huge collage of different types of graffiti. In wide variations of colour, style, and concept, the environment comes together into one huge explosion of artistic talent.

Further down, on the corner of Ste. Catherine and Ste. Elisabeth, you will find a three-story structure completely covered in different shapes and colours, the bottom half of which is reserved for the usual graffiti script and caricatures, where, in contrast, the top half is a near-realistic replication of a city skyline.

When you finally hit the Village, be sure to check out the public art installation at the corner of Wolfe and Ste. Catherine. From ground level, it resembles what might seem to be a multitude of illuminated letters attached to spikes of varying lengths. But, if seen from the viewing podium erected there for the purpose, it turns out to spell “Au village nous croyons que les différences doivent enrichir plutôt que diviser,” which roughly translates into “In the village, we think that our differences must enrich us rather than separate us.”

HLM Jeanne-Mance

The most prominent feature of this area (one of the city’s largest social housing projects, or habitation à loyer modique),  are the blurred-out neon murals of unidentified landscapes. Arranged along Maisonneuve between St. Laurent and Sanguinet, one is painted in shades of green and pink, the other in blue and purple. Enlivening the beige sides of depressingly bland complexes of social housing, they genuinely serve to brighten up the place.

Straying away from Maisonneuve, you will stumble upon an average-looking apartment building, which, upon closer inspection, is completely decorated with tiles of different colours forming swirling and geometrically designed mosaics.

the lower plateau

Walking up from Maisonneuve to the Plateau is tiring, but it sure is aesthetically rewarding. The first thing you see when you finally get to Prince Arthur is a mural covering an entire side of a house on the corner of Prince Arthur and Bullion. The mural itself is a cluster of overlapping pink and white swirls against a turquoise background, but after focusing on the painting for a few seconds you realize that the swirls are actually angels painted in hues of pink and orange, with yellow and white wings.

The street art in this area is exceptional, and blends in easily with the surrounding charm of the Lower Plateau. Upon arriving on Pine, walk over to the intersection with Saint Laurent. Against the backdrop of a red brick house, a giant collage of people and faces (characters from the neighbourhood’s past) mixed with drawings of houses, looks as though it were built along with the structure itself, and fuses in flawlessly.

Turn the corner onto St. Laurent and just walk to wherever your feet take you; this area is full of wonderful little bits of graffiti you won’t regret taking the time to see.

St. Henri + Little Burgundy

I was not familiar with this area before last Friday, when I learned that it contains a graffiti haven for local artists who want to let loose and freely express themselves away from the eyes of police. “The Graffiti Factory” (housed in what used to be the Babcock & Wilcox Boiler Plant) is basically three floors of spray paint. Though I heard that it lies somewhere along the south side of the Highway 20 in St. Henri, we were unfortunately unable to find it.

I decided to take a couple of friends with me to St. Henri in search of this mysterious warehouse. We took the green line metro toward Angrignon, and disembarked at Lionel-Groulx. The area itself is a huge contrast from the bustle of downtown Montreal. Atwater, which divides St. Henri and Little Burgundy, is lined with quaint little shops and cafes. Other than the beautiful old houses lined side by side, the area is full of small parks, narrow streets, and factories in various states of abandonment and redevelopment.

In our futile search for the Graffiti Factory, we stumbled upon another abandoned building that took us by surprise. The walls of the courtyard where we stood were completely covered with graffiti. Ominous faces and shapes cluttered the facade, along with all-seeing eyes, and mystical godlike representations of characters drawn to realistic proportions against a blue background. On an adjacent wall, one would think that someone just drew a simple light/dark concept landscape, but a comment by my close friend revealed that the mural was in fact the visual story of the first people of Israel, and their transition from Egypt to the Holy Land. Situated on the corner of Selby and Rose-de-Lima – under the highway – it’s worth the metro ride to ogle at the beauty of this masterpiece. When walking around the area, stop and relax at one of the parks that line Atwater; it’s worth taking some friends and discovering this pleasant area on the border of Little Burgundy and St. Henri.