Kops Crew releases the city's art scene from its state of arrested development
We all know the guys from Kops Crew one way or another. Whether we’ve hung out with them, partied at their blowout New Year’s bashes or lived unwittingly with the omnipresent colour markings the graffiti collective have left somewhere on a neighbourhood wall, they are entrenched in our city streets.
But since the fall, the Crew has opened a door for itself to show some of its inside art too. Up in Mile End, next to the Green Room and across from a chichi furniture store, stands an art space they can call their own: the Massive Riot Gallery.
"The philosophy of the space is there’s no guideline, boundary or strict regimen, really," says Comos, one of the Crew’s central six members, alongside Ill_relevance, Produkt, Specter, Giver and Kathleen Weldon. Comos is the one who manages the art space, though he insists, "It’s not just me. I couldn’t do it alone, I wouldn’t do it alone. Ill_relevance and the other core members of the artistic section of the crew are, like, very much a part of it."
"It’s a space that’s interested in emerging artists," Ill_relevance adds. "And not so much in decorative arts, which is what it seems to me is what most painting galleries have become."
The space opened on November 3 with Massive Riot, an exhibition of art by Crew members only, at a time in the Montreal arts scene when a new trend was burgeoning. In the past six months a slew of new commercial galleries have opened in the city (including La Fabriq and Cru); all of the owners are young and fuelled by the desire to "do something different."
"For us, it became frustrating to wait for other people," explains Ill_relevance, "and that attitude is being seen a lot."
"We’re just going to do it," adds Comos. "It’s graff mentality, you know – let’s say you find a beautiful wall, and you’re just like, ‘I’ve gotta paint that!’ You can ask the owner and track them down and try and convince them, or you can just go ahead a do it. And that’s basically how we look at everything. ‘If you want it, take it,’ that’s kind of how we function.
"Well, you know we don’t ‘take it’ take it," he thinks a little, and then laughs. "We make our own."
In the Kops Crew’s case, they have typically fought two restrictions: the tendency in the so-called fine arts to not take graffiti art seriously, and on the flipside, the tendency to take it so seriously that when graff artists expand their art practices outside the bomb, by working on canvas or in other media, they are accused of losing their cred.
"We’re totally beyond that," Comos says, brushing it off. "We still have our street cred because we still pump, but it’s like we’re totally beyond that mentality of ‘keeping it real.’ We’re keeping it way too real, you know? We’re becoming really, really real. And we’re going somewhere new, which is basically it, we’re not regurgitating as a matter of fashion, or a cool thing. We’re really pushing and pumping."
The Kops Crew collective came to be in the late ’90s, when, says Ill_relevance, "it started as a graffiti crew, definitely. It was really about street bombing for a couple years, and our natural desire to get attention and be creative just kept growing and growing and growing, so we started to involve musicians and DJs, trying to create a foundation for us to work off of, use the natural resources that were there for us to work with. And so it became about multimedia events at that point, in the form of one-off parties where we’d do full installations and live music, and live painting, site-specific artwork…"
"Big visual presentations," adds Comos, with a snicker. "’Atmospheric designers,’ we’ve named ourselves."
Proof of their investment on that front is in the mural the crew painted the night of the interview in the space on De Gaspé where their New Year’s party will take place, which you can see on Hour’s cover (check their website for more details closer to the date). It’s only the first artistic installation the Crew are working on for the big night, which they’re presenting with the generous assistance of the Coop St-Laurent des Arts. "I mean, that’s kind of the point," says Ill_relevance. "The party’s for the people, but for us it’s like, the visuals are really important as documentation and for building a catalogue, and more and more exposure."
As of yet working outside the grant system, the collective carries the onus for the success of the space completely within itself. "I got a short-term lease that sort of fit my allotted… loss," laughs Comos, but it’s only half a joke. The Crew is known for its charity events and community involvement, in the form of live graffiti painting sessions and the like, but to pay the St-Laurent rent, it’s paintings it has to sell.
"We’ve got to draw people who want the art," Comos says. "And people should want this art. We’re not showing paintings that are $5,000 for this artist with the big name; it’ more about the piece than the artist. I can personally tell you about everyone here, but I’m not going to sit here with artists’ bios and try to sell you a person. I’m not going to sell you a bio."
The exhibition on now, until January 3, is Variable 3, a group exhibition that includes artists like Allison Katz, Paul Zacharias, Other, Luc Paradis, Christophe Ramirez-Lussier and Hour familiars Dstrbo and Liam Maloney. It’s a varied show, appropriately, but somehow there’s a coherence amongst the works, whether it’s photography, metal scratching, silkscreen or representational painting. The things that unite the works more than anything are undoubtedly their quality and freshness.
"We’re excited by new people," Ill_relevance concludes. "It’s really important for us to help nurture and start the scene. Whatever it is we can do for that, to just make it better – because we’re not going to make it if the city’s not making it, that’s basically how it works. We need to create the interest on a larger scale."
Massive Riot Gallery: 5392 St-Laurent
Wednesday to Sunday, 1-5 p.m., later on Fridays