Last year, the holiday season was set ablaze by France’s Pompiers Sans Frontières (Firefighters Without Borders) and their sizzling, stripped-down calendar. Shot for a good cause by renowned Paris-based fashion photographer Fred Goudon, the risqué calendar proved to be a popular Christmas gift—both in France and abroad. In keeping with tradition, Goudon has photographed a new crop of au naturel pin-up models for his 2018 edition: French farmers.
For 16 days straight, from dawn to dusk, five highly determined Montreal-based artists (who make up the artist run collective A’shop) worked on a graffiti mural of a Mother Nature-esque Madonna or a modern-day version of “Our Lady of Grace.” Inspired by Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha, the crew created this breathtakingly beautiful five story mural using 500 cans of spray paint in over 50 different colors.
"We been doing graffiti for a long time but this is our first large project involving the whole team," Fluke of A’shop told The Montreal Gazette. "We're always busy with other projects so we've never really had time to let [the reactions to] them sink in. But this mural was just so big and also our last of the season. It was challenge, took us out of our comfort zone. We wanted to try something more classic."
The city gave the group complete control of the project and, luckily, the public ended up loving it. "The main thing that struck us was the public's reaction while we were painting the mural. Some people gave us the cold shoulder at first, thinking we were painting an ad. Then when they realized we were reviving an old wall with a mural, they were came back to see us everyday. That really fueled us. Within days we had the whole community involved. People invited us for lunch and the Jamaicans at the local barber shop were giving us high-fives!"
Fluke said that he hopes this project will encourage other city boroughs to consider murals of their own. "Our city has way too much gray. So I hope this [mural] kickstarts a mural campaign.”
To really appreciate the time and effort that went into this massive mural, here are some progress shots that were taken over the 16 day period.
Update #1: We got in touch with Kris Wilk at A’shop to ask him some more questions. Read that Q&A, below.
Update #2: Love huge murals? See 15 massive ones here.
What is the idea behind this piece? What does it represent?
The idea was to step out of our comfort zone and show the public what graffiti artists can be capable of. There is an amazing amount of quality work being produced within Montreal's graffiti scene. Unfortunately, bad press and political strategies often only show the "negative" side of it, creating unneeded friction between citizens and our culture. Graffiti as a form of visual language can be hard to comprehend for most. We thought it would be interesting to paint this mural in a more common language, using imagery that anyone can understand, initiating dialogue and building bridges. For this, we chose to inspire ourselves from Alphonse Mucha, father of Art Nouveau (1860-1939), a style of art that most people know or have seen before. Of course, we gave it our own flavor and used N.D.G as the main theme. The end product being our take on "La Notre-Dame-de-Grce" or “Our Lady of Grace."
How did you decide on the “Lady of Grace” subject?
"Our Lady of Grace" English for "Notre-Dame-de-Grce" (N.D.G) is the name of a residential neighborhood of Montreal located in the city’s west-end, where the mural was painted. We decided to bring this fictional character to life so that this borough could have an iconic symbol of its own.
How much work went into prepping for this mural?
We spent a few weeks figuring out the concept, planning the layout , collecting sponsors and gathering references that represent the neighborhood.
How did you get permission from the city to do this?
Through Help from the City of Montreal and the borough, Prevention N.D.G. – a local not-for-profit that works with the community – the city came up with a budget that was meant to be used in the context of beautifying an area and, though that can be done in many ways, we decided to propose this mural as a means to bringing some color to a gray part of town. After many months of negotiation and preparation, we finally got the ok on our project and got to work.
How do you think the mural turned out? Were you all happy with it?
We're all very happy with the end result. The crazy part is that we're more motivated now than ever and realize that this is only the tip of the iceberg for what we have planned for future projects.
Have you participated in any similar projects in Montreal or elsewhere?
We have been painting murals for a long time and most of them for free. Nowadays, we generally get commissioned by the commercial and private sectors. We've done similar projects in Europe and in different parts of Canada but this is the first time that we've had the opportunity to work on a community project in our own city that allowed us full control over our creation.
Do you think the city should finance more projects like the one in N.D.G? Why?
Absolutely, because it's a gain for everyone. What better way to regain dead space.
Although graffiti communities are close knit and we often share similar values, the reasons why we do graffiti in the first place are not always the same. Some want their name out there and have little need for the artistic side of it. For others, there is a creative process. If we don't acknowledge it and support it, we are preventing these people form potentially doing great things as artists.