The Colours of Edmonton

by Zosia Czarnecka

A good friend once told me that the only rule of graffiti is that whatever you paint has to be more beautiful than what was already there. As I wandered around Edmonton, exploring the new murals painted in the Rust Magic Festival, those words echoed around my head. Unfortunately, if you look up any definition of graffiti, almost every version contains the word “illicit”. Graffiti in itself is an art, a form of expression – a medium. However, society has blurred the line between graffiti and vandalism to a point of synonymy, and I worry, a point of no return.

In a city like ours, that can often appear gloomy and grey in winter, street art brightens up the streets. It adds character and it tells a message. In Edmonton, where people still spend so much time driving everywhere and hiding inside to avoid the cold, the character and culture of Edmontonians can be hard to perceive. While I once believed that the life of Edmonton revolved around Whyte Ave and the Old Strathcona area, I’ve come to realize that that culture is one of hopeless romantics, trying to escape for a night, imagining themselves in Europe, and walking up and down one street as though that avenue is the heart and soul of Edmonton. Instead, the heartbeat of the city pounds downtown – across the river, along the winding Jasper Ave and up and down the streets of innovation, StartUp, and festivals that aren’t worried that no one will stop by. Because they know people will come – downtown Edmonton is a mirage of dreamers building a city they know deserves a spot on the map. For those people, graffiti and street art only contributes to their cause. It splashes colors on the grey concrete and dismal hidden parking lots. In many ways, it makes the city smaller. With murals, you no longer worry about that “three block walk to the restaurant” because you begin to believe that you will enjoy your walk. It’s no longer a sketchy dark neighbourhood, but instead an inspiring gallery.

Rust Magic is not Edmonton’s first taste of legal paint. In 2002, the City of Edmonton, tired of hunting artists who were just begging to paint and express themselves, set up the Living Wall and Writer’s Block – two beautiful creative spaces for legal graffiti. This is where I was first introduced to the art. They called it painting, not graffiti. We called it a get together, not vandalism. It was fun to walk around and recognize artists’ tags. Artists who felt they couldn’t be public with their identities but wanted to mark their work and tucked little symbols and initials into the corners of their masterpieces. But they never took themselves too seriously. I fell in love with the community of artists because of what they stood for. I loved their passion for expressing their voices, their confidence to publicly display their work and their eagerness to experiment with technique.

There are those that argue that these Picassos should stay at home and paint on canvas. But that’s as good of an argument as telling Monet he should have used pastel instead of watercolour. The medium is the message and graffiti does not belong on a canvas tucked away in a museum. Graffiti and street art are the voice of the city; echoes from the streets painted on the walls, and they really would not convey the same magnitude of message in any other form.

Unfortunately, as much as the city will argue that they support Edmonton art and that their “wall contributions” are changing the face of Edmonton, Rust Magic is testimony to the taboo that still shrouds graffiti. The contribution of eighteen walls by private business owners proves that people are curious about street art and that they know their buildings lack color but that they are hesitant to publicly admit it. As we drove around Edmonton looking for the murals, we were disappointed to see that they were all tucked away from public view. Driving down Jasper Ave you wouldn’t know that the Blue Wall is now an awe-striking exposition of DEMER’s oil stain technique, or that behind Top Draw is Edmonton’s first whale sighting (painted by the well-known Steve Estevez). Nevertheless, painting eighteen walls is an incredible feat and Annaliza and Trevor have much to be proud of after organizing this festival – the first of its kind in Canada. I only hope that this festival is just a taste of what is to come, and that at the very least, these murals will brighten up the boring corners of Edmonton and inspire locals to take a walk, rather than drive to their next meeting.

If you are interested in checking out the new murals from the Rust Magic Festival, their locations can be found here!

Zosia Czarnecka | Editor-in-Chief

Illustration courtesy of Moh Mahfouz

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