Every year, city officials decry the rising tide of graffiti that is washing over Montreal, vowing to drain it away with ever more haste. In April, $1 million was invested in a crackdown on graffiti, including $340,000 in the downtown area alone.
For the most part, they’re responding to the concerns of the general public, many of whom consider graffiti to be unsightly vandalism and a sign of civic disorder. The reality, however, is that street art—a catch-all term that refers to graffiti, stencils, stickers, posters and any other type of unregulated, unsolicited art found in city streets—is as varied and diverse as the people who create it.
Alex McLean, 27, who goes by the tag name Produkt, is one of those people. For nearly a decade he has wandered the streets, alleys and railyards of Montreal, covering walls and other surfaces with portraits and drawings that blend finely-detailed realism with cartoon fantasy. Whether they realize it or not, many Montrealers have seen his work, and some might recognize his recurring characters, such as an austere eagle or a man on all fours, dressed as a dog.
“I like to create stuff where the cartoon world and the real world interact. Because I’m painting on a lot of walls and surfaces and found objects, I also like working with stains and textures,” he explained, sitting in his airy St. Henri studio on a sunny afternoon.
“There’s something really liberating about it. It’s interacting with the real world. If you do a painting and hang it in the gallery, how many people are going to see it and how many lives is it going to affect? [Street art] is about communication. You want as many people to see it as possible.”
Several years ago, McLean studied art at Dawson College, but he dropped out when he realized that he was learning more from working in the streets than in the classroom. (“I never got into that whole art school mentality of doing a crappy painting and writing a 60-page paper about it,” he said.) His initial medium was spray paint, but after a run-in with the law—he was charged and fined for several thousand dollars—he switched to more discreet paintbrushes and markers, which had the added bonus of allowing him to craft more detailed paintings.
While McLean works around the city, he prefers the Plateau and Mile End, areas he considers to be more receptive to street art. There, his work tends to be left untouched, while it is often defaced or removed in other neighbourhoods, including the area around his home in St. Henri.
After all, not everyone is tolerant of street art, and many dislike it because it encroaches on private property. McLean defends it by arguing that it adds more to the city than it takes away.
“There’s obviously a thin line between destruction and creation. In my own way I find every little mark and stain beautiful. The world is a very crass and disruptive place and it bothers me that cities are always trying to hide that. There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed, like painting on somebody’s dog or window or car or whatever, but a lot of people are just trying to do more interesting and involving art.”
This article was originally published in the Montreal Gazette on July 5, 2008. Check out more of Produkt’s work at his online gallery. You can also see it in the music video for Patrick Watson’s “The Great Escape” as well as in an upcoming video for Martha Wainwright.
Tags: Graffiti, Montreal, Street Art