It’s Not a Fluke

Local Artist Helps Legitimize Graffiti in Montreal

The mural is of a woman in a white button-up holding a letter with a glass of wine to her side. The model’s name is Natalia. Photo Brandon Johnston

The corner dep was half an hour from closing.

While St. Laurent Blvd. warmed up for a standard Thursday night, St. Dominique St. quietly awaited the aftermath.

In a parking lot between these two streets stood a man and woman, two stories high. Local artist Fluke—no surname—worked atop a hydraulic platform, applying the finishing touches to a mural on the side of a building.  

He and a two-man team had been working on it for 10 days.

“A regular day of work is eight hours,” says Zek, another surname-less artist collaborating on the project. “Except for Fluke, I think he was here for like 12 hours every day.”  

The mural is of a woman in a white button-up holding a letter with a glass of wine to her side. The model’s name is Natalia. Fluke describes her as his college sweetheart, saying they met on their first day at Dawson.

It’s hard to tell at a glance, but the mural is advertising a new wine bottle from Verona that is soon debuting at local liquor stores. It’s this type of commissioned work that Fluke’s company, A’shop, has seen rise in their five year existence based in Montreal.   

“This is not street art,” he says, gesturing in the wall’s direction. “It’s just cool to say the phrase ‘street art.’ This is just straight up art.”

A’shop employs six or seven artists a year, many of whom, including Zek, have backgrounds as graffiti artists. Fluke, the founder, says many of these guys met in abandoned factories or on playgrounds in the 90s around LaSalle and Montreal’s east end, illegally tagging and marking exteriors.         

“Even though this is contemporary art, it does have that flavour that can’t be done with a brush,” Fluke says, paying homage to the tagger’s classic can of spray paint.

New standards

Murals on buildings are widespread and celebrated within modern Montreal culture. Before, maybe 10 years ago, trepidatious business owners had to think twice about having wall art, which could portentially devalue their property. Now, Fluke says perceptions have changed, as the average passerby views murals and tagging as legitimate artistic endeavours.

“People are coming to this not-necessarily-attractive parking lot to look at these murals,” he says.

Balancing the commercialized and trendy nature of modern murals with urban graffiti is not difficult for the veteran artist.

“When I go outside and do something illegally, that’s when I call myself a graffiti writer,” Fluke says. “When I do this stuff, I consider them just really goddamn good murals.”

Zek says he never could’ve imagined as a kid that he’d be where he is. He has three children and supports them through his art. Up-and-coming millennials seek out members of

A’shop for life and career advice. While the next generation of street artists in Montreal has individuals to model after, guys like Fluke and Zek had to find their own space, create their own paths.

“There are so many skilled people now,” Zek says. “A long time ago, there were only a few kids who were good. People used to think Montreal was the North Pole with nothing going on.”

Without the internet in the 90s, Fluke says they sought inspiration from magazines and VHS tapes documenting the blossoming New York graffiti scene.

Street art’s trendiness is cyclical. It hasn’t climaxed yet and is on the upward swing right now, Fluke says. There is even an oversaturation of artists, he believes.

In five years, will it be dying?

“If it does die down, guys like us who have been doing it since before it was cool, we will still be around,” he says. “It’s what we do.”   

New kids on the block

Tristan Wright, 21, is part of this next generation. Fluke and Zek even played a direct role influencing the young graffiti artist to take up the craft. Wright recalls being 8 when Zek was commissioned to paint five or six murals in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood. He remembers the intoxicating smell of the paint.

When Wright was 13, Fluke came to his school, Westmount High School, to do a mural of kids playing basketball in the gymnasium.

“I was fascinated by how he could use a can of paint to mix and match all these colours together,” Wright says nostalgically. “How you can get such a precise line out of something that is so unpredictable.”      

He bought his first paint soon after—he never steals supplies like some artists—and progressed from getting driven home by the police to an angry mother, to having photos of tags near rooftops or under highway passes get more than 50 likes on Instagram. Once, Wright tracked the journey of his tag on a freight train heading to California, through photos and blog posts online.  

To Wright and many of his peers, A’shop is the top of the street art hierarchy. There’s respect and admiration, despite tension between muralists—especially those from out-of-town—and the local street guys.

“I’m torn between murals,” he says. “I’m more street-oriented than the corporatized stuff, but it’s not like [Fluke] didn’t put in any work before he got to this point.”

The territorial nature of the scene leads to some murals being tagged over. The city’s only untouched murals are those of former or current graffiti artists, Wright says.

“Some people want to stay vandals, but for me I’d love to be part of [A’shop] to have an opportunity to do a mural,” he says.

A’shop is still very active within the scene, Fluke says. They attend events and maintain a dialogue.

“They help out the newer kids,” Wright says. “They’ll go out and paint with the next generation.”  

But for Fluke coming up, a place like A’shop wasn’t in existence to aspire to. There was no college class to learn graffiti or an internship in which one could practice under the guidance of a pro.

“I created a business for myself,” Fluke says. “I wanted to be able to live off this.”

“I created a business for myself. I wanted to be able to live off this.” —Fluke

Earning legal status

Graffiti is illegal. Sometimes it can be dangerous. Wright knew the three artists who were killed by an incoming train from Toronto, while working on walls alongside tracks, on Halloween night in 2010.

While his crew is peaceful, he says others are more interested in committing crime rather than honing their art.

The graffiti scene is also intensely male-dominated.

“There are really good female taggers, but it’s hard for them to get in the inner circles without getting hated on,” he says. “Graffiti is every man for themselves.”

The transition from dodging cop cars and scaling rooftops as kids, to working in broad daylight on the city’s busiest streets was a gradual and natural one, says Zek.

In the past, if Montreal police caught Fluke working on a wall, he probably would’ve run away. Officers, who may have once viewed him as a pest, now stop to admire his work during patrols through St. Laurent Blvd. on a weekend night.

“Doing [murals] and still being a graffiti artist has allowed me to have a better dialogue with the city and the cops,” he says.

Correction: A previous iteration stated that Tristan Wright’s three friends were killed in Toronto, but the accident happened in Montreal. The Link regrets the error.