When I first moved back to Montreal in 2002, I was living in Little Burgundy by the Turcotte Expressway, and started seeing these really unusual drawings on the walls in the area, all painterly faces and stuff… I was used to seeing marker and spray paint, but some guy was actually drawing using oilstick – and not the standard hip-hop imagery and wild style lettering, but actually drawing stuff, with an uncharacteristically rough-hewn tag, “PRODUKT” or in this case, a tag that was actually a legit signature.
I kept my eyes open and kept seeing work by this Produkt character in side streets, alleys, and industrial spaces all over town, from the Plateau to Saint-Henri, often working within KOPS crew.
One day I saw an online article talking about some guy doing live painting on Saint-Laurent (2008, maybe?) and I recognized the artist as Produkt – I wrote to the author of article who had the sense to have an email address attached to his article and thusly ended up meeting Alex for the first time.
He has been one of my absolute favourite Montreal street artists since I first saw his work, and I have made a point of keeping my eyes open for new oilstick drawing, wheat pastes, or anything else of his I could find. Imagine my excitement when he mentioned on the Book of Faces that he was launching a show! No, really, I was super excited. The show, “End Orphans” opened last Friday in the old Bedo space on Saint-Laurent right next to Bifteck.
Here’s the artist’s statement for the show, conveniently arranged on the wall right by the door:
“For over a decade he has wandered the streets and train tracks of Montreal covering walls and other surfaces with portraits and drawings that blend finely-detailed realism with cartoon fantasy. Whether they realize it or not, many Montrealers have seen his work and some might recognize his recurring characters, such as an austere eagle or a man on all fours dressed as a dog”
Well, it’s been well over decade since I’ve seen his work on the walls of the city, but whatever. He did get busted at one point under the stupid graffiti laws so maybe he’s trying to keep his history on the down low, but all the old stuff is mostly gone so whatever.
Now, I’ll be honest with you – most of the time artist’s statements are a load of horseshit, but this one really does sum up Alex’s work pretty well. His work consists of a cycle of re-occurring thematic elements. Sometimes he adds some in, sometimes he drops some out. It doesn’t talk about his motivations or the meaning of his work, but it makes sense within his body of work. I think that because I first got used to seeing his work on the streets instead of a gallery, I didn’t expect any explanation, I was just pleasantly surprised to see reoccurring elements and accepted it at that. The pieces do have titles at the show, but you’ll have to go there to find that out for yourself. Context, right?
Here are a few samples from the show:
The thing I like best about Alex’s work is that he switches between media and focus very fluently. His work is always figurative, representational drawing & painting, but sometimes it is very much in the tradition of representational realism, and sometimes it is very cartoony. Sometimes he draws scratchy, blunt ciphers, and sometimes he renders line and shadow carefully. Sometimes he paints like he is drawing, and sometimes he draws like he is painting. Sometimes he will slash across a canvas with a loose calligraphic mark, sometimes he will spray a random fog of paint across the surface, and sometimes he will draw a tiny green heart in pen on top of a carefully rendered oilstick form. It’s really quite exquisite, but never precious. If Alex wants his work to look like pen, he uses a pen. If he wants it to look like he’s painting with a brush, that’s what he does. He doesn’t play trompe l’oeil tricks or give in to pure abstraction, but he is still a real painter’s painter and then some.
Alex Produkt is not just an artist that artists will enjoy, by any means. The recurrent themes throughout his work remind me of the way that Mozart or Beethoven would construct a symphony. You see a thematic element, you see it evolve, you see new elements added in, you see them interact, and you see them resolve. It’s not just elements, though, you also see him interpret those elements in different media, like how in a symphony a theme will carry through the woodwinds, the brass, and the strings, showing a different side to the idea each time. In many way I look at Alex’s work as very musical, but through art media.
Anyhow, the show is fantastic and you really ought to go see it of you are in Montreal. I’ll be dead honest, I’m not sure when it’s on until, so you really need to get up off your couch and go check out the first major art show by one of the few Montreal street artists that has figured out how to combine the fine art tradition with street art/graffiti and be totally legit in both contexts.
The show is at 3706 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, just south of Pine on the west side, right next to Biftek.
If you want to keep up to date with is latest endeavours, Alex Produkt has a Facebook page.
Alex was also involved with this year’s Mural Arts festival in Montreal. Here he is, hard at work making awesome things.