I have had the incredible good luck of meeting an interesting diversity of Montrealers since I started this blog in 2005 and there is no way I could discuss that in a single blog post, such is the regard I hold these people in, let alone the talents and accomplishments involved. But I will say the lists contains architects, urban planners, community organizers and activists, environmentalists, railroad historians, urban explorers par excellence, poets and artists of every stripe, documentary filmmakers, independent journalists, politicians( !?!), and hundreds of outrageously beautiful everyday citizens who are the heart and drive of all those intangible, and maybe even just a little bit crazy, things that make Montreal one of the best places there is on the planet.
And then you run into someone you already admired.
Last June on Wellington street in Verdun I had the pleasure of meeting Sterling Downey for the first time at the Projet Montreal booth during the sidewalk sale. He is running for City Councillor in the Desmarchais-Crawford district in Verdun. That would not normally be worthy of a blog post except, you see, Sterling Downey is Seaz.
Around 1994 I began to notice graffiti popping up around the city on my urban explorations around town, particularly in the South West Borough, which was not a borough in the those days but a series of districts that had the Lachine Canal as a common feature – Cote Saint Paul, Saint Henri, Point Saint Charles, and Griffintown (Little Burgundy would be added to the Borough). So, without any real plan, but a love of bicycling through these areas and an obsession with photographing stuff, I began photographing graffiti wherever I could find it, and that included some very obscure locations and abandoned factories (before the condos came). It was a very interesting period in Montreal .
It didn’t take very long to start recognizing “tags” and appreciating “pieces” and getting to know the various styles. There were a bunch of names that became familiar and I almost felt like I knew them, that I was somehow becoming connected to this community of interesting urban exploring artists. And of all of them, the two that stood out in terms of really getting it out there in good quality were Flow and Seaz – they were everywhere! I once cycled out to the junction of highways 20 and 13 to photograph Flow and Seaz on two boxcars that appeared to be permanently residing on the edge of the CN yards there (you had to be part nuts yourself to even consider that route) . Something was happening and I was pretty enthusiastic to just follow all along. Life was good.
I have to confess. I never did meet any of these graffiti artists that I admired. I have often seen people writing and tagging, even got to know that in some cases this was “toys” learning the ropes or realizing that maybe they didn’t have it, and there was definitely an experimental art school out there, but I never came across any of the “big names” at work. I’ve witnessed “cross out wars” and have been very disappointed to see some very nice work ruined by some punk’s arrogant gesture. There was all kinds of communication on the walls – KIlroy had been there and back a few times. I never tried to find out where these people hung out, I was strictly an on site kind of participant/documentarian preferring to record the relationships between the work and the locations.
It’s kind of weird to think that was happening twenty years ago. A lot of spray paint under the bridges you might say. And sometimes I wonder what happened to all those people and if they still write graffiti.
What I can tell you about Seaz is stuff I have stumbled upon over the years. I know he worked with Suzanne Gauthier (name?) who wrote her PHD thesis on Graffiti art in Montreal having read about it in the alternative papers, but also from seeing “Shout Outs” from Seaz to Suzanne on some walls in Saint Henri and maybe other places( though Google is giving me a hard time on that). He became a founder of the internationally renowned Under Pressure festival in Montreal. He is also involved in Fresh Paint! art space downtown. But perhaps most importantly, he dedicated himself to educating both the public and at risk youth about the importance of creativity as a tool for personal development and social responsibility. Seaz became an Educator – not too shabby for a kid from Verdun that became one of Montreal’s greatest street art legends!
So I am going to vote for Sterling Downey because he is, as people in the business community love to say, someone who gets the job done. It’s as simple as that. Please consider voting for Projet Montreal on November 3rd.