Graffiti festival turns bleak Edmonton walls into art

Graffiti festival turns bleak Edmonton walls into art
From CBC - July 29, 2017

In his mid-teens AJ Louden began expressing himself with cans of spray paint,illicitly leaving his mark around Edmonton. But one person's vandalism is another person's art, and Louden shows few regrets about the nature of those early days in his artistic pursuits.

"I found that graffiti and street art spoke to me in a way that other art forms that I'd been exposed at that time did not really."

Today Louden, who goes by the artist name AJA,is a sought-after artist whose work legally adorns walls in Prague, Barcelona, Florence and his hometown Edmonton. He's also part of a unique festival that brings other one-time graffiti artists together to turn spray cans to barren walls and create massive pieces of art.

Edmonton's public art festival began last year in the most ad hoc of ways. Artists Annaliza Toledo and Trevor Peters were jazzed by the public art they'd seen around the world, and they thought Alberta's capital could use an injection of style.

They looked to Europe, where festivals like Croatia's Graffiti na gradele are changing the urban landscape. Similar events were drawing visual artists to Copenhagen, London and Stockholm. Montreal had launched a mural festival four years earlier, so Toledo and Peters thought Edmonton should be next.

They had a big idea but little money. Fortunately Edmonton has an abundance of bleak cinder block walls and a handful of building owners willing to risk setting a stranger loose with a spray can. So they set out to find a group of artists willing to work for free.

"We kind of started reaching out to some of our favourite artists in the world and just decided to put a message in a bottle and see if we got anything back," explains Peters.

Pushing creative boundaries

Fourteen artists signed up in the first year. Several from around the world answeredthe online appeal, along with a few homegrown talents like Louden. They were drawn together by the idea of pushing their creative boundaries while hanging out with fellow artists,many of whom once dodged police while plying their talents.

The festival's name, Rust Magic, is taken from the illicit graffiti lexicon. Rust-Oleum spray paint was a favourite in the North American subculture of graffiti art. In an awkward twist, this year's festival is co-sponsored by Montana Cans, a European competitor of Rust-Oleum.

Many sponsors have stepped up, building owners are donating to the festival and offering their walls, and some big names from around the world are in Edmonton for Rust Magic 2017. This year 23 artists are working on 20 walls.

Toledo says Rust Magic is unique among the world's art festivals because of its emphasis on graffiti art. "It's often misunderstood and has a negative connotation attached to it, so we just want to promote it and show it as a viable form of beautiful artwork."

A purple puma with chopsticks

The magic of spray paint


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