Monique Cousineau AUTHOR: Monique Cousineau | CATEGORY: Innovation

December 9, 2013

When the Road Becomes a Canvas


I enjoy writing about livable cities and the importance of beautifying your neighborhoods. Today I’m looking downwards to the street, the asphalt road, gritty and textured for all to walk, drive and bike on. For some street artists, the road becomes a canvas on which the city gets a beauty mark of sorts or a clever temporary tattoo. Humor and satire are sometimes used in street art to comment on today’s social issues and sometimes it is purely created to remove the grayness and take the ordinary out of the urban landscape. 

Although still considered vandalism, thoughtful, clever and attractive street art has been known to revive neighborhoods and give them character.

Let me introduce you to Montreal street artist Roadsworth, poet of the roads. Peter Gibson chose the name Roadsworth as a salute to Wordsworth, poet of the words. The street artist originally from Toronto is a music major who speaks French fluently and has become much loved by Montrealers. After being arrested a few times by the city of Montreal for his street art, the city has had a change of hearts and in a big turn of events, has now hired Roadsworth to leave his mark (legally) on the streets of this vibrant and artistic metropolis.

His artistic journey began in 2001 when this cycling enthusiast instigated a street art campaign to encourage the city of Montreal to build more bike lanes. Montreal has since become one of the most cyclist friendly cities in North America but his activism project served to ignite his passion for street art. He found his medium. The road became his canvas.

“As my personal artistic process evolved, political concerns were eclipsed by artistic ones and I often felt more inspired by the process than I did by the message I was trying to convey. Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote ‘the medium is the message’ is significant in this regard. The ubiquitousness of the asphalt road and the utilitarian sterility of the ‘language’ of road markings provided fertile ground for a form of subversion that I found irresistible. I was provoked by a desire to jolt the driver from his impassive and linear gaze and give the more slow-moving pedestrian pause for reflection. The humourlessness of the language of the road not to mention what I consider an absurd reverence for the road and ‘car culture’ in general made for an easy form of satire.”

When he started 12 years ago he didn’t even know there was a street art movement. His urban drawings or stenciling were quirky, sarcastic and mostly surprising since we didn’t know how they got there or why they were there. You would be walking around the city and boom there was a vine or a barbed wire painted along a crack on the street. The unexpected originality of the piece made us smile. Well most of us anyways.

My favorite piece is one of his latest creations and a reference to the terrible state of Montreal roads. It’s a tongue in cheek commentary on one of Montreal’s worst features “Nid de poule” meaning chicken nest the French expression for pot holes. Every spring, Montreal roads are full of dangerous pot holes which drivers complain about all the time. Roadworth’s spin on this problem is much more appealing.

Here are more examples of how this street artist has cleverly modified roads, sidewalks, parking lots and any other publicly visible asphalt surface in Montreal into a visual playground.

There is the fishbone crosswalk and the zipper at a popular intersection.

These dandalion’s in a parking lot will make you look twice. From what I can see it seems like a windy day. The fish hook is a great example of using existing urban infrastructure as inspiration.

In an interview, Roadsworth once said:

” I also like to transform a space by creating absurd situations and by introducing surreal and often over-sized imagery that’s completely out of place. Creating this kind of contrast has the unexpected effect of revealing and drawing attention to the space itself. ”

One of Roadsworth’s personal favorite is the shoeprint because the cross-walk was transformed with a minimum of interference on his part. He also likes the subliminal aspect of this kind of street art because at first glance, a pedestrian may not even notice that there’s anything out of the ordinary. There’s also the adrenaline rush he gets, as this piece was done  in a very high traffic area of the city which made it even more challenging for him.

His work can also be found on small town roads in the province of Quebec like these electical cords in a rural setting.

He has also left his mark in different countries as well.

For the annual Tour de France, Roadsworth painted birds flying in the same directions as the cyclists. The flock of birds being an allegory for the cyclists riding in a pack or peloton.

 In Amsterdam he transformed street markings into windmills.

Roadsworth says “the idea of creating art in an unsanctioned way in the street is still fresh to me and will probably remain so as long as there is public space. And outside of the internet, it still remains a relatively rare experience to behold exciting and unexpected art while walking down the street.”

What is your take on street art? Do you think it adds character to the streets of a city?

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