One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and for some that is the logic developing around street art and graffiti.
While it may be perceived as a nuisance, more often these days it is being taken for what it is — art. This weekend the Downtown Penticton Association hopes to open some eyes to that notion. Starting Friday, artists will rejuvenate the alleyways and exterior walls downtown in the third annual ReImagine Art Festival.
“Some people think street art is a negative thing to see, but in my opinion it isn’t. It can be a positive thing, it depends on how you look at it,” said Keremeos artist Jamie Cross, who will be painting on the Morpheus Graphics sponsored wall this weekend. “Penticton could be a great place for street art if we want it to be, but people on both sides of the argument have to come together and make compromises. I suppose that is what the Downtown Penticton Association are trying to do by bringing that fresh opinion on it.”
But it’s not a new debate, Cross reminded. Graffiti started picking up steam in the ‘70s and more recently has pushed to the mainstream with pseudonymous artists like the U.K.’s Banksy and the Academy Award nominated documentary (criticized by some to actually be a mockumentary) Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Cross, who less than a year ago was living in the hustle and bustle of the U.K. as a tattoo artist and piercer, now is a garlic farmer in Keremeos having moved to the area with his wife who is a Canadian. In the U.K., Cross was very much a part of the graffiti sub-culture. He goes by the tag name Zafe, and formed a group with veteran graffiti writers to promote the positive aspects of the art.
“We had progressed from criminal activity of graffiti into street art. We formed the group and started to work with the local council, police force, schools, colleges to make a little money out of it and push the more positive image of street art to make it more acceptable,” said Cross.
The artist said although he isn’t a fan of what Banksy has done, it has changed public perception of street art to a large degree. Banksy’s pieces that are for sale have been bringing in serious money.
“If galleries are making money off of it, the public generally buys into it. All of a sudden it’s art and it has an inherent value. What Banksy was doing wasn’t considered art for a long time,” said Cross. “Globally the idea of graffiti is changing. I think a lot more people are accepting the kind of aesthetic beauty of it. The debate of is it art of isn’t it art doesn’t even really matter if people like it. Generally we line up a space that is normally grey and the public will see it as being better than what was there.”
With two sketch books constantly within arm’s reach, Cross said he had been developing his technique by working on and creating new fonts for years. His process to create a mural starts with rough sketches, but he struggles to put the process into words. Mainly Cross’s goal is to develop something aesthetically pleasing and the reactions he gets from people who stop to watch is all part of his creative development.
“What makes it unique to any other art form in the world is that once you finish a piece and you walk away from it, it’s gone. Someone could come the next day and paint over it. In that respect it has no monetary value. There is a lot of corruption in the art world where it is all about money as opposed to being about art. To me, why I enjoy it, I put the work up and walk away from it. It sounds funny, but it’s like the people in those spaces inherit the work after I am done. It stops being mine and more theirs. I like that element of it,” said Cross.
From noon to dusk on Friday, muralists will start working on their creations in the downtown core. Maps can be picked up from the Downtown Penticton Association office so the public may explore and watch the artists work. On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the artists will put finishing touches on their murals and then judging begins. Awards will be handed out at Cue’s Restaurant starting at 5:30 p.m. in the categories of mural style, classic street art and artist’s choice.
“I think the festival is getting a real reputation for these great murals in the back alleys. A lot of the kids who tag have great artistic talent behind them and just need an outlet to do it. I think it’s also a fantastic opportunity for the public to see how the creative process evolves,” said Riley Gettens, marketing director for the DPA.
For more info on ReImagine Art Festival or the Downtown Penticton Association visit www.downtownpenticton.org.