Wednesday, October 3, 2007


MONTREAL is one of the most painted cities in North America. As one of the World Capitals of Graffiti, more and more attention is being paid to the people behind the masks, the gas-masks we mean. The "writers" or "artists" are moving in to the mainstream, now that people like Banksy in the UK have become pop stars in their own right. Montreal, with its rows and rows of terraced houses, has proved to be an open playground for those beginning. Here we see a portion of Avenue Duluth, the spiritual heart of the Plateau Graffiti Movement. This is of course from where the, semi-famous, gang called the Crew Duluth sprang. More and more we are seeing throw-ups and tags (irrelevant squiggles that resemble a badly done signature) being painted on the sidewalks-- something the Crew Duluth has been advocating for many seasons.
All this talk of Graffiti in the mass media has lead to some pretty scruffy history written on the art form. I have read in one respectable journal that Graffiti was invented in New York in the 1960's. True-- the Sixties did have some major youth sub-cultures make huge marks and impressions on the established views of the day-- but to say it was invented in New York of all places, and only as recently as the Beatles would mean you were talking about the modernist movement in graffiti, such as the FDR-Style and Posi-negative Effects. New York (or Paris or London) can claim to be the birthplace of just about anything, while at the same time always be five years behind! Natural hubs are the first places new movements and human patterns arise or resisted-- (q.v. cultural diffusion in a decent encyclopedia) so no wonder the press is mistaking the tribal markings in the Bronx and Brooklyn as first blood of the Graf Nation.
But take this response from my favourite Mexican in New York's Village Voice (where most of my leads for stories originate) Somebody asked him why Mexicans are always writing graffiti. (Ok, so now it's Mexicans in New York who invented graffiti!) Here is his repsonse:

Graffiti is as old as the wheel but reached its classical apex during the age of Caesar. Archeologists have documented Latin graffiti everywhere from Pompeii to the Catacombs to latrines, the Coliseum, and Nero's estate. The lack of aerosol or freeway overpasses didn't stop the Romans from etching a fascinating array of drawings and rants: Great examples include caricatures of politicians, eloquent love letters, and the mysterious Miximus in lecto. Fateor, peccavimus, hospes. Si dices: Quare? Nulla fuit matella. (Google away!) For a historical analysis, consult Raffaele Garrucci's mid-19th-century classics, Il Crocifisso Graffito Nella Casa dei Cesari and Graffiti di Pompei. But if you just want to laugh, check out the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum for thousands of random rambles (typical entry: "Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men's behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!"). As for Mexicans using graffiti more than other ethnic groups—go ask Kilroy.

The rooftops of Montreal: ripe for Graf

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