Montreal is a city ornamented by creative and bizarre street art. Elaborate murals and graffiti can be found all over the place, oftentimes painted by artists acting slightly outside of the law. When presented with the pitch to interview one such obscure collective of painters, known as the WZRDS GNG, my imagination ran wild. A number of possible ideas swarmed my head as I conjured up images from groups of Hogwarts students with paintbrushes in their hands to a posse of black magic punk rockers. What I found after finally meeting with some of the crew’s members, however, was a mélange of talent and eccentricity that I could not have possibly predicted.
WZRDS GNG is a group of street artists, or “writers” as they call themselves, who mainly focus their artistic abilities on painting public murals and tagging. However, an important distinction between the WZRDS and other street crews is their participation in all forms of artistic expression. As crewmember Snail explained, “Our art permeates everything we do. WZRDS not only paint, but dance, rap, graffiti, and produce music. There is a creative lens when looking at everything.” At the opening party at Greenlight Gallery (3878 St. Laurent), some members played DJ sets while others breakdanced, demonstrating the kaleidoscopic diversity of the crew’s expressions.
The group formed after graffiti writers from Vancouver and Ottawa met and developed their shared vision and passion for street art. Due to their common appreciation for a rebellious style, Snail insists they were drawn together by a mysterious magic. “All of us being who we were […], it was just a matter of time before we got together. I had dreams about him before I ever met him,” Snail said, in reference to his fellow group member Frigr the Wigger. Eventually, more artists connected and began collaborations that soon would decorate the streets of Montreal.
Self-described outcasts, these “ADD art kids you knew from school” have a common ambition for their art. With subjects ranging from bloody images of Mickey Mouse to doll heads painted with the symbols of anarchy and Nazism, the WZRDS’ art is not meant to soothe or placate. The crew rather grandiosely sees their artistic role as a position of leadership and prophetic importance. As one member said, “We are here to show the way, [to] show what’s possible. People don’t know what they can get away with. It helps to have artists who will push the boundaries of what’s possible, what is tolerated, what can physically or mentally be done.”
An important theme I picked up on from my time with the crew was the power in their images to yield revelation, and to dissect society’s manipulations and lies. With a strongly antiestablishment ethos, the crew focuses on manipulating subject matter often diluted by corporations, religion, government, and media. The WZRDS push to uncover “truth from deception,” to challenge their audience, and provoke a sense of discomfort with the current social order.
In this vein, the WZRDS emphasize their self-declared ability to subliminally expose various conspiracies permeating society. The crew is also anti-consumerist, as they strive to use their artistry to subvert commercial influences. “Art can be like magic,” one told me, “a charm used to battle stuff around us, such as advertising.”
The stylistic differences among the writers are evident, although collaboratively, their pieces form a continuous oeuvre. The group appreciates the strengths of each member, but explains that most of their work is done as a crew, working together harmoniously to yield the final product.
So what’s next for this self-described group of oddballs? While the crew is about to wrap up a month-long exhibition at Greenlight Gallery, they hope to have more opportunities to share their talent, especially in art-deprived areas. Although their political philosophy of art and uncanny style may intimidate some, the group is seeking to reach out to other artists around Canada and abroad.
In some ways, reaching out has been the greatest challenge for the WZRDS GNG. They have struggled with a persistent lack of dialogue among street crews and freelance artists. The material has become old and uninteresting. The WZRDS don’t claim superiority to other street art, but want to encourage a greater collaboration of ideas, passion, and style in the community.
“We want to bring people into our world so we can share worlds. No more closed off circles, we are not elitist – not ‘underground.’ This crew is mission-based; we realize we are part of a movement that is bigger than us.” Just as each current WZRD has a shared vision of the impact their art might make, they believe this vision ought to be shared with other artistic movements. By diversifying, they will impact more people, the WZRDS say, and have already begun brainstorming possible ways to expand.
There seemed to be a hint of dissonance among group members when discussing this future plan of integration. While some members projected an enthusiastic desire to make WZRDS GNG a more public collective, others remarked on the allure they have cultivated by being so elusive. When I mentioned how difficult it was to research the artists online, a member replied, “But that’s what’s so cool: there is nothing about us.”
Another incongruity was mentioned by a female member of the crew, who complained of how difficult it has been for women writers to make a name for themselves in such a “macho sub culture.” Star Child Stela expressed her shared desire with other female artists to form their own subset of graffiti focused on de-marginalizing queer and female street art painters. Specifically, she mentioned their future plans of developing a sector of WZRD GNG artists who will focus their work on the femme queer community, which seems especially apt for a city with a large queer community.
Although most members have gathered in Montreal due to the liberal atmosphere of the city, there are “WZRDS across Canada,” as one artist put it. The group shares a global vision for their artwork, and hopes to spread the ethos of WZRDS GNG as far and wide as possible. The creative intensity of these individuals, and of the collective as a whole, continues to brighten the streets of Montreal, while they attempt to grow into a movement that transcends geography. Their confrontational, maniacally engaging style speaks to the well of inspiration this young collective has to draw on. As Frigr the Wigger tagged it, “Coast to coast, it’s the hocus pocus!”