Graffiti Artist Naïmo Dupéré is Smiling from Wall to Wall

203 Crew Member Talks European Tagging, Beer Labels and Artistic Inspiration

  • Naïmo Dupéré’s colourful graffiti can be spotted throughout Plateau-Mont-Royal. Photo James Betz-Gray

Murals, tattoos, drawing, painting and hip-hop—these are all progressive forms of art that stem from a forbidden fruit: Illegal graffiti.

This article has been updated.

Naïmo Dupéré, 27, is a working freelance artist, muralist, painter, and part-time cook. He grew up in the small rural village of Saint-Casimir, an hour West of Quebec City. Moving to Quebec City at age 17 for CEGEP, Dupéré began dabbling in studios while completing a DEC in fine arts.

After meeting members of the graffiti crew 203 at an IAM rap show in Quebec City, he decided to make the move to Montreal, where the crew settled after graduation.

His unconventional style of lettering and colour schemes gained attention in the underground art scene through exhibitions, contracts, and murals. And as the 203 artist collective celebrates their ten-year anniversary, Dupéré intends on pushing the limits of his work again by creating murals without prejudice.

Naïmo chose to use his artist and first name interchangeably, noting that his mother gave him a unique name that won’t get lost in a saturated social network feed.

“It’s a name nobody has, it’s my real name, and it’s also the name I want my art to be known for,” said Dupéré.

Currently living in the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie borough, Dupéré’s walls can be spotted in the back alleyways throughout surrounding areas, and is overwhelmingly present in the Plateau-Mont-Royal, a renowned artist sanctuary.

Dupéré acknowledged that while legal contracts advertise his artwork, critics still undermine the legal aspects of graffiti. “[Working] legally pushes your technical style more, because you have time. It’s not about the spot,” he said. “It’s more about how far you can push the style.”

Naturally, hip-hop and graffiti went hand in hand in Dupéré’s adolescence. Intrigued by the variety of forms in a culture initially created by rappers, DJs, and breakdancers, he too took up breakdancing. It completed the culture for him. Benefitting from graffiti networking, he learned that many writers were also rappers, DJs, and bboys. Collaboration between artists then flowed through live painting events such as the Under Pressure International Graffiti Festival held in Montreal every summer.

Last winter, Dupéré was contracted to draw labels for Les Grands Bois microbrewery. Also from Saint-Casimir, the beer was founded by five people he went to highschool with. They contacted him for a first label, then a second, and clearly pleased with the results, they’ve asked him to do a third: the new Hully Gully Sour Pale Ale beer that they released this summer. Their beers are distributed across the province. When asked if he’d tried the beer, he responded that it was good, but preferred the Gros Tigre Session IPA—a beer for which he also designed the label.

Les Grands Bois Black IPA label designed by street artist Naïmo Dupéré. Photo James Betz-Gray

For Dupéré and the 203, it’s no longer about representing the crew as one vandal ideology.

“We don’t need to name it as one thing, like bikers or whatever,” said Dupéré. “We can be different and still be in a crew.”

The 203 crew was started by Arnold and Boris—pseudonyms—in Sherbrooke, Que. At the time, graffiti didn’t have a much of a presence in Sherbrooke. Later on, the pair began developing absurd and unstructured forms of street art that stood out from the typical “classic school of graffiti,” Dupéré explained.

The artistic abstract direction that the crew was known for changed however, when they initiated a handful of Montreal graffiti writers who were active in the streets. The original minds behind 203 have moved on to other creative avenues such as tattooing, legal murals, and drawing professionally.

“We don’t have a rule code or a way of being an artist. We respect each form of art,” explained Dupéré. “It’s about the acceptance of variety, you know? The crew is a platform to push each other in their different forms of art.”

The persona of this eclectic crew is, explicitly, a rubber band of artistic inspiration. Its community members bounces off one another.

Lyfer, another graff artist who’s a part of the 203 crew, said that first and foremost, “it’s a family.”

“It really is about being good friends,” said Lyfer. “I mean, we have members who don’t even write. Some play music, some tattoo, some simply draw, and others just drink beer. Professionally though, I must admit that [Dupéré] has been, and still is, a great graff coach,” said Lyfer, laughing.

Dupéré used to be obsessed with his creative process, over-thinking the implications of art history. He came to the realization that the pure fun factor of graffiti enabled his creativity to be fluent.

Lyfer suggests Dupéré’s creative process is influenced by his lifestyle—graffiti, comics and chilling. “The particular style he is developing influences the figurative elements of his work,” added Lyfer.

For Dupéré, the process of production is always about having fun—discovering your influences and styles come with growth. He gracefully accepts that there is art in everything, and as a result his inspiration comes from abstract objects and colours. The environment of his era is what fuels his artistic initiative more than a museum ever could, he explains. “I’ve been more influenced by The Simpsons and Dragon Ball Z than I’ve been influenced by Picasso in my life,” laughed Dupéré.

It took him five years to appreciate art the way he does graffiti.

According to Dupéré, the institutional brainwashing that he faced in art school constrained him within historical styles, and consequently, his work from CEGEP reminds him of a painting from your grandmother’s living room. With a deep inhale and puff off his rolled Parisian cigarette Dupéré exhaled, “I came back to what I did more intuitively before school.”

Recounting his first big art trip to Europe, he brought up an interesting concept: the unwritten rules of legal walls in France, also known as chill spots.

“They call them ‘walls of fame.’ It’s not everybody that can hit those spots,” he said. “If you’re not fresh enough, you just don’t paint there.”

Pushing his levels of style was all part of the experience, making the transition from vandalism to art galleries.

Dupéré explained the old school mentality of graffiti that he grew up with was to dip your feet in all of its forms—which are all equally important, he added.

And even though he’s not regularly doing throwups anymore—those bubble-letter words that make up the basis of any writer’s repertoire—these days, he tries to keep in practice.

“As a graffiti artist, if I don’t have a good throwup, it’s a shame for me!” Dupéré exclaimed.

Arriving in Sicily about three years ago, Dupéré travelled throughout Italy, meeting other graffiti writers to paint with. From Naples in the south to Venice, and Treviso in the north, after meeting a few French writers who were painting trains in Italy, he decided to link up with them. Arriving in France, Dupéré’s walls began cropping up in Montpellier. He went to Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin, and then settled back in Nante, France over a two-month period.

The style complexity of the walls there was mind-blowing according to the impressionable artist on spray-cation.

“The level of graffiti there is crazy, man,” said Dupéré. “I’m really shy when I paint there, for real.”

Dupéré has short term goals that are, admittedly, subject to change a year from now. His current objectives are to sell as many contract paintings as possible here in Canada, then use that money to fund his travels for painting murals abroad.

He talked about the benefits of the long and isolating Canadian winters, since artists can produce a large amount of work while they’re “snowed in.” Like everything in life, good balance avoids walking the thin line of sanity. For Dupéré, that balance relies on producing art, travelling and having fun throughout.

Correction: A previous iteration of this article misstated that Les Grands Bois was founded by two individuals, and that founders of 203 crew no longer do graffiti. The Link regrets the error.

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