Montréal Murals 101

Isa Tousignant

To get a street-level view of Montréal’s rich arts culture, all you’ve got to do is walk around! Street art has become one of Montréal’s core visual identities over the last couple of decades, thanks to the marks left all over the city by intrepid artists like Omen, Bonar, Zïlon, Roadsworth, Chris Dyer, Kevin Ledo, Jason Botkin, the HVW8 and En Masse collectives and so many more. Now with two annual graffiti festivals, one of international renown, there’s something to see on virtually every block.

Here’s an overview of the Montréal mural scene.

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Full-colour festivals

Montréal has been honing its status as “mural city” for quite some time. First came the Under Pressure annual graffiti festival, which in 2017 celebrated its 22nd anniversary – making it the longest-running event of its kind in North America! Under Pressure takes over Quartier Latin every summer with a graffiti festival that focuses on community development, artist empowerment and positive youth development, and gives a chance to Montréal artists to express themselves large-scale (and legally). It rallies its crowds together with live painting sessions, skateboarding, talks and music.

In 2012, MURAL festival joined the scene with the mission of democratizing urban art. MURAL has grown into a huge, unique international celebration of the arts that gathers a crowd of millions every year, with a stellar international portfolio of artists who’ve created over 80 murals and installations around the central strip of Saint-Laurent Boulevard. During the festival, visitors can see that year’s crop of artists paint live over three days of celebration, including dance parties, food truck gatherings and fun in the street, which is closed off to traffic for the occasion.

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More mural projects

In addition to the art leftover from the festivals and the public graffiti works that may or may not be legal, there’s a slew of stunning murals that were fully sanctioned by the city. Montréal has a handful of publicly funded beautification initiatives that include mural works, MU being the most famous. You can credit MU for the stunning portrait of Leonard Cohen painted downtown by artists Gene Pendon and El Mac, as well as works everywhere else around the city, from Sainte-Marie to Little Burgundy. All were created in keeping with MU’s goal to transform Montréal into an open-air “MUseum.” The city also launched its own public art programme in 2015, funding five new permanent murals every year, to which you can add neighbourhood-specific programmes like the Plateau’s Muralité project – result? Art, art everywheeeere.

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Street art galleries

The street-art HQ in Montréal is arguably Station 16, an art gallery on Saint-Laurent Boulevard founded by the organizers of MURAL – an art promotion organization called LNDMRK – where during the festival and all year-long, you can see wall art produced by famous names from the international street arts scene. Past exhibitors include Stikki Peaches, Kashink and Chris Dyer. Also on Saint-Laurent but northward, in Little Italy, Galerie C.O.A shows a variety of art that touches upon street traditions and represents Montreal artists who also create street art, such as MissMe. Nearby Galerie Yves Laroche exhibits art that includes some famous street artists too, including OTHER, Ron English and Jason Botkin. In Old Montréal, Matthew Namour sells art rooted in traditions of graffiti, tattooing, comics and pop art, including names like Van Arno, Jonathan Bergeron, Miss Van and Pose. And up in Rosemont, in a beautiful big space that also comprises a clothing shop, Artgang shows art by street artists including Sentwo, Étienne Chartrand and Crash.

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Walking tours and more

Saint-Laurent Boulevard is a great place to start a stroll to see murals by the millions, because it’s the central stretch for MURAL. But there are beauts all over the city, from NDG to downtown. One good option for a guided tour is the Official Montréal MURAL tour, led by the knowledgeable experts at Spade & Palacio. Plus, MURAL has an app you can download for a digital guided tour! Graffiti bloggers Wall2Wall Montreal have also created a cool walking tour (just print the map and start walking). Interested in more kinds of public art? You’re in the right city. Start here!

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant, blogger

Isa Tousignant is an art and lifestyle writer based out of Montréal’s eclectic Park Ex neighbourhood. She is Contributing Editor for Canadian Art magazine and freelances full-time for a wide variety of magazines and brands. She’s also a jewellery designer and passionate about animal costumes and their role in contemporary art.