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2005 12 05
Taking the City Personally: The Art of Francisco Garcia
Corner of St-Laurent and des Pins, photograph: Emily Raine.
By Emily Raine.
Interviews by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet.
“I’m tired of glamour… we get bombarded with large glamorous ads, so I said, fuck that, I’ll put my own people up,” writes Francisco Garcia. “His people” have thus far been a collection of “family, friends and freaks,” meticulously recreated in colossal proportions from black and white photos, then pasted high up on outdoor walls. In less than a year of painting, he has slowly worked his way through his family, then his friends and has begun to depict and celebrate the hordes of characters in his own neighbourhood, the pedestrians and coffee drinkers, the weirdos and laundromat-leaners, the nameless individuals who people our own little worlds. He says that, instead “of working in a soup kitchen, I do this. This is my way to help people, and when I can guarantee some smiles, then I’m doing just that. The Plateau has gotten very businessy. That’s why I use real people, and the concept of family, too. Trying to bring back some of the warmth.”
He describes one painting in particular, an image of an old man displayed in the Mile End, which he placed adjacent to the subject’s home. The man in question is a local character, someone who everybody in the neighbourhood knows of, but nobody knows, and this piece enunciates Garcia’s desire to give expression to the anonymous-yet-ubiquitous of the city: “I chose him because I knew it would be really funny for the people that recognize him to see him in that piece. Like someone took the time to care about someone who looks like he needs attention, but probably has no family, just weirdo friends. I don’t actually know his personal story, but I got a photo of him in front of the painting.” Elaborating further, he adds, “I’m into underdogs.”
St. Viateur, photograph by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet.
Like the images themselves, Francisco Garcia’s motivations for doing street art are intensely personal, even therapeutic. He toyed around with traditional graffiti many years ago, when he went through a phase of spray painting skulls, “goofy” characters and fake tags—in short, nothing particularly genre-blowing. He quickly abandoned the practice, until his friend Roadsworth convinced him to try his hand again last year, almost a decade later. This time, his pieces stood out immediately, even in a city like Montreal where there is a strong local penchant for portraiture. His paintings are remarkable for their restrained composition and muted grayscale shading, as well as for their honest depiction of what is, as images of unstylized, unadorned people. But the paintings also evince something personal, a sensation that is explained in his orientation toward his work.
Garcia sees street art as a means of bringing art to the people, and not merely putting the people into art. Planting his paintings outside ensures a wide and varied audience, creating an open-air gallery that is available to all. While he mostly tries to situate his works where he himself can see them in his quotidian ramblings, he adds that “it’s fun to add art to poorer neighbourhoods. You know, these people don’t go to galleries, and can stand to use a little art in their lives. And if you bring smiles to people’s faces…” This, he says, is another of his principal motivations for creating art in the streets, because, “nowadays, nothing’s for free, so I’m happy to offer something that is.”
Clarke below des Pins, photograph by the author.
Garcia’s work is eminently of and for the city. His depiction of colourful local characters give something tangible and accessible to the images, which are themselves a gift back to the people who have inspired them. He is attentive to location, often basing an image on its would-be site, sometimes scouting ahead and measuring out available spaces. He tends to his images as lovingly as he does to their subjects, keeping them close so he can observe them with the watchful eye of a father. Once in place, he returns to photograph his beauties, inspects them occasionally and mends them when they start to wear or fall down “prematurely.” His work is a means of being in the city, of establishing the links between himself and those around him. “It’s like you’re adding yourself to the environment,” he claims. “Whenever you go out you, see something of yourself. It makes you feel safe, familiar, it warms things up.”
You can read the interviewer's blog here.
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