Photos by Patrick O’Connor
Montreal has long been a hub of graffiti culture. The tags, throw-ups, fill-ins and murals on our walls are evidence of the dozens of artists the city’s scene has produced.
And few know that scene as well as Patrick O’Connor, who has been documenting it for almost two decades. His forthcoming documentary, Making a Name, nine years in the making itself, will chronicle some of the seminal names whose work adorns our buildings.
In advance of Under Pressure, the international graffiti festival held each summer behind Foufounes Électriques, we asked him to put together a list of five local writers that should be on every Montrealer’s radar. In compiling this list, he took a few factors into account: longevity, quality and quantity of work and the risks they’ve subjected themselves to in painting.
Here are five graffiti artists who continue to leave a mark on our city.
Scan began writing in the back alleys of NDG in 1996. A year later, he became one of Montreal’s major players, and remains so to this day. His ability to shift between colourful pieces, murals and well-executed so-called lower forms of graffiti, like tags, makes him one of the most versatile writers in the city.
Stare’s name began to appear in 1997. Within a few years, his work grew strikingly clean, and the city took note. He took rollers — that is, graffiti created with paint rollers rather than spray cans — to a new level, making them extra tidy and crisp. His installations were similarly innovative. He would post fake store signs, replacing the name of the establishment, usually one that had gone out of business, with his own. He continues to produce the high-quality work he’s known for to this day.
The NDG native known as the comedian of the Montreal graffiti world began writing in 1994, first as Ris. He went through half a dozen names before settling on the moniker you’ve likely seen: Castro. He was initially noticed for scaling highway signs and putting his name on the on their backs, first on Decarie, facing Monkland, then facing Sherbrooke. These tags — inspired by work he’d seen on a 1997 trip to Los Angeles — blew minds in Montreal. His name grew more widespread with well-placed graffiti, which landed him in newspaper headlines and on local and international news. Although he slowed down between 2000–06, his comeback remains among the most fierce the city has ever seen.
Sake got his start in 1994 and became one of the city’s biggest names by 1997. Like Castro, he is perhaps among the least artistic writers included in this article. Although he produces the occasional colourful piece, he specializes in tags, throw-ups and straight letters, which the public tend to see as lower forms of graffiti. But he continues to bomb consistently, and often paints with big names from other cities across North America.
Zeck has been around since 1993. One of Montreal’s old-school graffiti writers, he was already a big player in the game before the others on this list started making their names. He was very active illegally until 1995. Now, he continues to write, but focuses most of his energy into producing outstanding pieces, which still leave the graffiti community in awe. ■
Under Pressure takes place Saturday, Aug. 11 and Sunday, Aug. 12 behind Foufounes Électriques (87 Ste-Catherine E.)