The greatest thing about the Under Pressure skate/graffiti fest is that it definitely leaves a mark every year. Dozens of artists come together to tag designated walls down Ste Catherine Est between St. Laurent and St. Denis (approximatively), arranged on scaffolding while crowds of spectators watch. The result? A ton of fresh paint left up to be admired until the next edition of Under Pressure.
The outdoor exhibition is definitely worth a walk-through to catch all the pieces. In case you’re in a hurry but still want to see what UP is all about, here are a few “hotspots” to check out:
- The side and back of the free-standing La Cremière building right in front of Metropolis (Ste. Catherine, between St. Dominique and Berger).
- The side of Pho Thanh Long on the corner of De Bullion and Ste. Catherine.
- The side of Librairie Guérin (within Jardin des Arts), also on the corner of De Bullion.
- The corner of Ste. Catherine and Ste. Élisabeth, right beside Pub Ste. Élisabeth and Underworld skate shop.
Then there’s Fresh Paint Gallery; a street art gallery inaugurated last summer. Here, you can find pieces created by different street art crews as part of this past Friday’s “Fine Mess,” an art battle where the winning team, Tattoo New School & The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, got to tag the work of its opponents, underlining a competitive edge to graffiti lifestyle.
By itself, the Fresh Paint Gallery comes off as a regular institution, just as reputable as any other. You pay to get in, there is supervision, and everyone is respectful of the art on display. Out on the street, however, it would be seen as vandalism, the marks of rebellious and uselessly angered youth. Angry youth or not, Under Pressure attracts an eclectic mix: old and young, children included (who even had their own art corner in Jardin des Arts); varied backgrounds. It appears that skate culture has a wide following. Who knew.
But the contrast between art on sanctioned display as opposed to that of the street is illustrated by an installation by the crew K6A. Their work depicts the graffiti writer as a raccoon – a masked creature of the night both loved and hated – each of the 22 K6A members is depicted as a raccoon on a separate canvas. To top it off, the art is then placed in the trash, symbolizing how society views street art.
What’s most notable in the Fresh Paint Gallery right now is a collection of several large gorilla statues; one to stare you down as you enter, equipped with an anti-Chevy picket sign, another two crushing a sculpted Chevy, and miniature versions available in the gift shop. So what’s with the apes?
These pieces, created by Laurence Vallières, bring attention to an issue that the people behind Under Pressure have been causing a storm about for the past year. In Chevrolet Canada’s original ad campaign for the 2012 Sonic, the work of many street artists involved in the 2010 edition of Under Pressure was used without proper crediting or even permission. To this day, only one of the artists has received compensation for the use of his creative material. As a result, Under Pressure is fighting back. With two rooms of Fresh Paint devoted to this message, and anti-Chevy stencils graffiti’d repeatedly over the walls throughout UP territory, street artists are sending a message: their work is just as valuable as anyone else’s.
It is out of Fresh Paint and in the street, however, on the true threshold of graff lifestyle, that one can see this message translated most clearly.
As most of Under Pressure cleared out from the onslaught of rain on Saturday, the painters appeared unfazed; they continued to work. They remained, labouring over their wall in a state of relaxed concentration, as if nothing had changed, even as the rain poured and spectators left. Watching this happen in front confirmed a lot: despite all that comes with Under Pressure; the competitions, the street cred, the spectators, the attention and festival atmosphere, all it really comes down to is the painting itself, the art; the real passion behind any true artist’s creation.
“I do believe that the state of being lost in one’s creation is one of my favorite places to be.” So reads the description of “My Faded Memoirs & The Power of One,” an installation at Fresh Paint by Adi Khavous, aka Adida Fallen Angel. It continues: “and I will do whatever it takes to stay there.”