33 comments

  1. I wish there wasn’t so much vandalism in Montreal. Everyone who comes here notices it and it doesn’t give a good image to the city (except for those decay-lovers, but that’s a very small minority). On the positive side, about this picture, I like the fact that it says something, unlike those ugly scrawls (tags), and that it was respectfully made over the painted wall so it can simply be painted over :)

  2. I love those little “I love you” graffitis. Would like to see them in French and other languages…

    Ti amo, ti amo, ti amo (cue schlocky music – c’mon it is fun!)

    Or bésame bésame MUCHO…!

    Although tags can indeed be vandalism (sometimes gang-related) and there are unfortunate graffiti on historic buildings and materials that are hard to paint over, graffiti can also be a poetic and political expression. It disfigures cities far less than some of the ugly advertising revealed on this site (thinking in particular of the ghastly green horror at the corner of Sherbrooke and St-Laurent). Surely there are ways of advertising a product or service without disfiguring the urban environment!

    Actually I have seen many cities with far more graffiti than Montréal.

  3. Montreal is hardly unique in having a lot of graffiti. In fact, it has far fewer tags than most European cities I’ve visited, and the proportion of random tags to actual pieces (murals, paste-ups, stencils — ie, actual art) is much lower than in Rome or Lisbon, where just about every empty surface is tagged.

    For me, graffiti is part of what makes the city a vital and interesting place. I’d much rather live in a city where every inch of the urban fabric seethes with creativity and individual expression than in a place like Singapore, where public life is strictly regimented.

  4. I like graffiti murals, as you call them, real art. I only don’t like illegal graffiti. I just think that if John Doe wants to have his place painted all red, nobody should violate his right by writing anything on it, no matter how beautiful people find it, or how ugly that red wall looks to some people. It feels really bad when your rights are violated, and even worst when that will cost you money and resources.

    My point of view on this matter used to be much more extreme than it is now. I have learned however that some illegal graffiti is actually made with artistic intentions, and executed so that it blends with the urban environment. Stencils are a good example. That kind of illegal graffiti doesn’t bother my eyes anymore, though I would still defend property owners’ rights if I had to stick to one side. What bothers me a lot is for example an unintelligible scrawl on a clean well maintained UQAM building, half of it on glass, half on brick, or a scratchitti on a beautiful storefront’s window. It seems to me taggers hate people’s eyes.

    The piece on this particular picture doesn’t bother me at all (thought it could bother the owner of this place), and it’s actually one of the most respectful illegal graffiti I have seen. I even like the way it looks there (this was hard to admit).

    Concerning vandalism in Montreal, I know there are other cities with many more (ugly) tags than Montreal, and on even more valuable architecture, such as Rome. But there is always room for improvement. One good way to reduce vandalism (or at least illegal graffiti) is to promote the creation of legal art works by local artists. However, as far as I have understood after talking with a few taggers, the fact that tagging is a crime is one of the most important motivations for them (most taggers are not gang members nor talented graffiti artists). So even if they are given the opportunity to create legal art, they will still continue creating illegal ugliness.

    Thanks for replying, I love this blog, keep the good work :)

  5. Maria: There are multiple “I love yous” en français throughout Mile End/Plateau. Usually in odd places – teeny tiny running long the bottom of a building, or way up high – on phone poles, edges of curbs, etc. Once you start seeing them, they are EVERYWHERE…. and of course, if you aren’t finding them, make them!!

  6. Les graffitis sont une forme d’expression d’art urbain. On peut souhaiter l’élevation de leurs qualités esthétiques mais pas leurs disparition, c’est le charme des grandes villes!

  7. Why should one person (a building owner), just because they have individual “property rights”, be able to dictate what everyone else has to see? That sounds a little bit fascist in my opinion.

    I would much rather have a city where every wall is a blank canvas available for anyone to express themselves on. If you don’t like what someone creates, you would have just as much right as anyone else to paint over it with something you find more suitable. This would create a much more interesting, dynamic, and artistic landscape and would ultimately be much more democratic than one property owner’s “rights” trumping everyone else’s.

  8. I do confess I was a mite annoyed to see multiple random graffiti (not hate graffiti as recently at a Mosque) on the little Bagg Street Synagogue – recently restored. That is a place of worship, after all.

    I haven’t seen any “je t’aime” graffitis in Mile-End – there is a wee “I love you” on the side of the Villa Nova lumberyard just north of the tunnel between Mile-End and Petite-Italie.

    Guess I’ll have to do some wee and artistic ones… Whoever does those seems to be just targeting old industrial buildings, not people’s homes or any lovely stone.

    I’d like to see some in non-Western languages and alphabets!

    I’m a wee bit old to be a tagger…

  9. Obviously, some of you have never had graffiti painted on something you’ve owned. You’ve never had that feeling of being violated, or had to incur the time and cost to clean it up.

    Some of the attitudes I am reading on this post are pretty naive. Buildings are not empty canvases for “artists” to express themselves on. They belong to someone, and that person should have a reasonable expectation that, however they choose to use it (including it’s appearance), will be respected.

    Talking about “property rights” (in quotes) as if it is some fascist concept is not helpful. Property rights are one of THE cornerstones of a democratic society. It is what deters people from stealing your bike, breaking your car windows, burning your house down or defacing a building you own. It seems like a pretty selfish attitude to suggest that an artist’s right “to an interesting, dynamic and artistic landscape” should trump someone’s right to their own property. Nothing is stopping an artist from buying their own property and creating something eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing on it’s walls. I promise I won’t paint over it, even if I think it’s hideous.

    Just because you see something you consider ugly doesn’t give you the right to change it to something you consider more appealing to the eye. Besides, the new creation is equally likely to offend someone else anyways. I see ugly things all the time; people, cloths, buildings, graffiti, ideas. Somehow, I’m able to get on with my day without thinking my “rights” are being violated.

  10. Chris Erb, you make an interesting point. But do you mean that I should be able to paint your clothes because it is more “democratic” than having to see you walking around dressing the way you like to dress? Or does your philosophy only apply to things that are static, like a house? Or things that are large enough so that it includes walls but not clothes or shoes or people’s laptops?

    Maybe it is difficult to understand since you evidently don’t own a property, but most probably the person who got that property had to work his a off to get it. Shouldn’t he then dictate the way it looks, the same way you dictate the way you dress or look?

    Explain me at which point does a property become public enough for everyone to have the right to paint it in the democratic world you are talking about. Explain the reasons why it should include walls and not clothes or people’s bags for example.

    I have thought about your argument, and even ignoring what I have said before, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ll explain you why…

    If the owner painted his wall brown with white stripes, then THAT is most probably the way he likes it right? It takes 5 seconds for someone to draw a penis on it, and as you said above, the owner has the right to repaint that area brown with white stripes. Now tell me, isn’t that a waste of resources? If you see it at large, it is a HORRIBLE waste of resources for a city. This waste of resources would have been avoided if the guy had told the owner “Hi, can I draw a penis on your wall?” to which the owner would have replied “No, sorry, I don’t like penises, I like walls brown with white stripes, so I will paint it over in the morning if you draw it” and the guy would have said “Oh ok, I guess I’ll find someone else who does want a penis on his wall, thanks :).”

    With the environmental and energetic crisis we live today, we cannot have the luxury to keep wasting resources like that. The best way is to make art that is not going to be removed, designate legal walls for random graffiti, make local artists available for mural works and agree with owners before doing art works on their walls.

    A nice idea for example is to allow property owners to designate their properties as blank canvases. For example, when you own a house (if you own one) you could designate your house as a free tagging canvas so anyone can write whatever their want on it without you removing it. But if a property owner wants his walls white, he will repaint them anyway, so why waste time and RESOURCES making random vandalism legal by default?

  11. Chris Erb, I had chosen to ignore the word “FASCIST” on your post but now that I see it again I am shocked at the way you confuse basic RESPECT with such a horrible political philosophy. It is a little offensive for those of us who chose to respect other people’s things, art and appearance. I don’t see how expecting a beautiful graffiti mural to remain as the artist made it is a fascist attitude for example. I would love you to explain that to all of us.

  12. Let’s wait till Chris gets a little older, settles down, gets married, has kids, sells out, like everyone seems to do — then lets TAG THE SHIT out of his place.

    What to you say, people? I’m up for it.

    Chris, leave a forwarding address.

  13. Je suis POUR les graffitis sur les églises, en tant qu’athée, bien sur. Ha Ha …

  14. Moi aussi je suis athée, jasmin. Mais souvent le fait de faire des graffitis sur des lieux de culte de religions minoritaires est une expression de haine. Par ailleurs je n’aime pas qu’on “tagge” des édifices de valeur historique.

    En passant, oui nous avons subi des graffiti, et je suis dans la cinquantaine.

    And I haven’t sold out.

    I see a big difference between graffiti on someone’s home and on some building in public use, even if it is “private property”. There is a difference between personal property (one’s house, one’s car or bicycle) and private property in general, which is anything but “democratic”. (Yes, I’m an evil socialist).

    And as for the house, governments (not just evil socialist ones) can and do pass laws and by-laws about what materials can be used, to prevent blight.

    Just as there are laws governing the way you can use your car and your bicycle, for safety reasons and for proper town planning.

  15. I’m up for tagging Chris Erb’s house! I will leave a tag half on wall, half on glass, that’ll feel so good and it will look beautiful!! :). Anyway, I will always defend the right of property. I still don’t understand why owning a laptop is fine but owning a building is fascist, but I would love someone to give me some arguments :), or at least try to destroy mine.

  16. Maria, I had not seen your reply when I wrote mine. I had understood that socialism was against ANY type of private property, but let’s accept your word that it is against land property but NOT against personal property ok? After all, there are no REAL socialists, you and I are both completely dependent from capitalism, and actively participate on it, though apparently both of us are more inclined towards the left.

    In any case… I assume you agree with Chris Erb that I can go to YOUR house and paint penises and vaginas on it without asking you whenever I want, only to find that you have painted it back in the morning? Please explain us how you justify that waste of resources, and please confirm that you will be happy if I tag your house :). Also leave an address ;).

    And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE people, stop saying “graffiti” when you are talking about tagging (vandalism). Graffiti is something beautiful (at least for me). Tags have NOTHING to do with art.

  17. I am reminded of a line from Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo:

    “A surface separates inside from out and belongs no less to one than the other.”

    Discuss…

  18. Your skin is a surface, to whom do you feel it belongs?

  19. The outside of your clothes are surfaces. Are they mine? Cool! :) Can you please contact me so you can leave your clothes at my home?

  20. I walked today around St Laurent Boulevard and I could not believe how many illegal tags there were on such beautiful facades. The Main has the potential to look even more beautiful than the Old Montreal, but I can’t help but notice the sense of decay on it. Many places look as if they were abandoned when they are not!

    I like graffiti, believe me, I think graffiti is a beautiful art, but illegal tagging does not contribute anything to it. It only makes more and more people hate real graffiti.

    I know enough taggers to support this: The great majority of them do not tag for artistic reasons. I still don’t understand why so many people defend them using phrases like “artistic expression” or “artist’s soul.” I wonder if these people know any tagger. Please read the comments here http://www.flickr.com/photos/blindswordsman/261618041/
    and you will know what tagging is mostly about.

    Anyway… I was looking for websites or organizations in Montreal that help the city on it’s fight against illegal tagging and promoting actual art. It turns out there is not even a community center that would contribute to fight vandalism (as there is in Toronto for example). This blog http://montrealvsdecay.wordpress.com/ is supposed to enable some constructive debate on vandalism issues in our great city. As I said, there is always room for improvement.

  21. Making the analogy between people and buildings is ridiculous! A person is a living breathing thing and a building is a pile of bricks, wood, and metal that is not alive. If I were to throw a rock at a person, I would receive a much heavier penalty than if I threw one at a building.

    I don’t subscribe to any political ideologies (Socialism, Capitalism, Communism, Anarchism, etc.) but I have my leanings and hold a value system that says that something built on this planet, which I own just as much as anyone else who inhabits it, is part of the commons and if the “land owner” has the right to alter the landscape, then I have the same right. I’m simplifying of course but I’m not going to get into an in depth political debate here. It isn’t the place and I haven’t the time. You don’t have to agree with me and I really don’t care if you do.

    If I do “sell out” and buy some property, I’ll be sure to let everyone know. Make sure to bring your paint!

    To get so outraged by this topic is pointless anyway. Graffiti isn’t going away and there are a myriad of opinions surrounding the topic. Some people here like all graffiti, others hate it all, others like some and dislike other kinds. It’s all a matter of opinion and getting outraged in the comments sections of blogs isn’t going to do anything. My absolute favourite piece of graffiti in Montreal (a SCAN piece on St-Antoine in the parking lot adjacent to Time Supper Club) would be derided as a “scrawl” by some of the commenters above. Who is to say which one of us is right?

  22. Also, ironically, if I look out my bedroom window, I can see a penis painted on the wall of the building next to mine. I don’t mind and the building owner doesn’t seem to care that much as well (despite the fact that he wasn’t asked if a penis could be painted on his wall) considering it’s been there since last September.

  23. Chris, maybe the owner doesn’t care (I cannot know for sure), but the reason why many (I know, not all) illegal scrawls remain, is because it costs a lot of time and money to remove one. The safest method is pressure and pressure machines are very expensive. Hiring someone to do it costs $200 per square meter.

    Of course we are not all expected to agree on one thing, that’s the beauty of debate :). I do care if people agree or not with me, however. I mean, if someone agrees with me, I feel I have support, it is nice. It makes me feel sad that you say you don’t care :(. Anyway, I have made my points and I maintain my ideas. I am against vandalism and against wasting resources, though I perfectly understand you and all the people that are for those things. I love graffiti. The one that is respectfully done on beautiful murals and walls after agreeing with the owner (so that everyone is happy, happiness is good). See, EVERYONE can be an owner too, it just takes a lot more effort and work to be one than to buy an spray can :).

    I will get a little more subjective in this paragraph (more?? hehe): Graffiti is an art, and as any art, it is not immune to criticism. I could say some piece is ugly or even that a whole artistic tendency is hideous. That said, I think we could all agree that most of the tags that litter our walls are incredibly ugly for the average eye. If you say “all graffiti is beautiful,” then you are getting political.

    As someone I read recently would say: “Well, but if you had given Picasso a spray can and told him ‘you have 5 seconds!’ it would be ugly too!” I agree, and that’s exactly why no one ever told that to Picasso :), and if he tried it himself, he probably threw away that painting.

    That is just my personal point of view and it’s not meant to prove any point.

    About the piece you like. If my spider-sense is right, I think that is a legal piece. Believe me, I don’t think ANY of the commenters here would see it as a “scrawl” (if someone would, please say it!). And besides, the beauty or meaning of pieces is not what has been discussed before, so there is no way to know if they would see it like that. We all know no one can be right about what looks good and what doesn’t. You are probably expecting people to be more grumpy than we really are. I particularly like the more realistic pieces, but some abstract pieces are also really nice ;).

    I didn’t mean to sound outraged so I’m sorry if I gave a wrong impression. I am just trying to understand this issue better through debate so I can do my best helping to tackle it. The “it will always be like that so **ck uff” argument has never worked on me. I’m such a dreamer :). As I see it, you guys are against owning property, which is something interesting to think about. That would be an interesting debate, but that would probably be too much off topic.

  24. Also: I just noticed I misinterpreted Maria’s comment above. I am sorry for that. She includes houses in personal properties which is a better definition in my opinion. Cheers!

  25. I don’t know if people are still following this chain, but speaking of public art vs. defacement, what do people think of the new Fringe festival posters around town? For people who haven’t seen them, it’s a huge photo of a hand flipping you off, middle finger raised (fingernail goth kid black, of course), in other words, a big Fuck You to the city.

    I think it’s enormously stupid, reducing the Fringe fest to a kind of surly posturing. Maybe they figure surly goth kids are their audience. Maybe they are.

    There is already so much hostility and incivility in the city. Bikers and pedestrians and drivers — we’re all flipping each other off and telling one another to fuck off, daily.

    Do we need this displayed on every bill board, too? Keep in mind this is an organization that receives public funding. We’re paying for the privilege of being told to fuck off by the Fringe.

  26. Thanks, Adolfo!

    Actually, I know of few contemporary socialists of any stripe who would ban private property – this site is about urban landscape, not political philosophy but I was afraid people would think I supported Pol Pot or some such horror. ùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùùù

    That was my cat’s contribution. He is definitely an anarchist, or even a nihilist.

  27. Shawn, I also don’t like the middle finger thing with the Fringe festival, but believe me, we are not the only ones who don’t like it. I’m sure the organizers have been bashed so much that they won’t think of doing that again. Writing an email to the city might be a good idea.

    In any case, it’s a matter of personal opinion, others might think that is a good political statement or something, and who knows, maybe they are right (the history of the Fringe festival could be associated with that poster, thought I still think it shows the organizers are a little childish).

    Concerning hostility in the city, I actually think people in Montreal are quite friendly compared to other metropolis, but I understand your point, few people make any effort to make it friendlier. I try to do my best :).

    Maria, I totally agree with your cat ;)

  28. Though this might be preaching to the converted, the onetime “Friendship Mural” on the site of the intended Native Friendship Centre of Montreal is an interesting example of tagging-as-defacement. The mural was painted during the Ste-Catherine street fair, lots of people just walking up and contributing whatever they felt like painting. It continued to evolve for some time, with people adding messages or little drawings, even engaging in dialogue with earlier postings- it was a dynamic piece of public art. Now most of that is obscured by massive tags.

  29. Thanks for your input Cat. Just another evidence that tags deserve no artistic merit whatsoever and don’t do any good to the urban environment. Another thing that I don’t understand is why the big companies don’t contribute to programs against urban defacement in Montreal as they do in other cities (Ottawa for example). I have also noticed the government doesn’t like when people get involved in those things. When some people in CDN/NDG decided to help tackling the vandalism issues using expensive pressure washing machines, the response from the local government was “well, as long as they don’t touch public property.” I understand graffiti removal is a delicate process, but that was probably the worst answer I would have thought of. I would be afraid to pick up the pile of garbage across the street or to try to remove a tag from my building because I might be violating some law.

  30. In Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful “The Tipping Point,” he revealed how graffiti (and other crime) only declined in NYC after a massive police crackdown on turnstile jumpers, of all things.

    Anyway, tagging will only go down in the foreseeable future as part of a massive crackdown on youth gangs, and gang wannabees. And the Mtl cops are stretched thin as it is. My neighbourhood used to be controlled by the Hells Angels and my landlord has told me there was much less vandalism back then. In the vacuum left by the Hells, youth gangs are marking turf.

    Anyway, I have one idea that I think could work: restrict sales of spray cans to minors. It wouldn’t stop the problem but would make a dent.

  31. I think property owners and the city of Montreal lack motivation to remove illegal graffiti. I have seen a very visible tag in a very commercial area stay for two years. One that could be removed with a cheap removal solution. Taggers are less motivated to tag if they know their signatures will be removed promptly.

    Montreal doesn’t have a problem as big as New York used to have, but property owners in New York’s most touristic and commercial districts have always been much more motivated to remove illegal graffiti from their properties than those in Montreal. I don’t want to bash the city, I think Montreal is one of the best cities in North America, but I have never seen anywhere little vandalism-related eyesores last so long as they do here. Maybe people and businesses are angry about the high taxes so they avoid helping their city. A guy who sweeps the front sidewalk of his small business makes local headlines!! How does this happen?? Doesn’t everyone do that in New York all the time??

    I have thought of going out one day with soap and a sponge, and remove some of these years-old tags, at least the ones on graffiti-proof paint, metal and glass around where I live, but with the mentality people have here, I would probably look like an idiot…

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