Exit through HJ&B

(Tamara Gravelle/AQ)
Jason Wilcox does graffiti at the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival (Tamara Gravelle/AQ)

Jason Willcox says he’s too old to be running around in the dark with spray paint.

But the 28 year old doesn’t look it. His long arms and legs make him look like he could give the cops a run for their money, but that’s not his style.

“I was never really one for vandalizing other people’s property,” Willcox said.

Sporting a utility belt filled with different coloured spray cans and a baseball cap that has his tag “Rant 42” written on it, Willcox stands on the grass in front of the Sports Hall of Fame, painting street art for the Harvest Jazz and Blues festival. He’s been doing this for four years now after partnering with police to bring together business and social service agencies to deal with the issues with graffiti.

The group first sponsored a major art project during Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in 2010. Then in 2011, he launched a new project in partnership with Downtown Fredericton Inc. to create free graffiti downtown where artists can legally express themselves.

All of which has been great for the community, but raises the question of whether graffiti loses its edge when done in the daylight. I mean, would Banksy, the notorious graffiti prankster behind the movie Exit though the Gift Shop, approve?

“For me it’s a little more about the art I guess than the rush anymore,” Willcox said. “I get a different thrill out of this.”

Before seeing the piece I was expecting something similar to his piece from last year that focused on jazz musicians. Staring at the work in progress, I realize I’m looking at hockey player Willie O’Ree, and not the rapper Drake, in a vintage Bruins jersey.

The canvas is long with a black background. He has painted Willie O’Ree on the left and will paint Matt Stairs on the right with stadium lights shining behind them. The work is focused on New Brunswick’s contribution to sports culture and will be donated to the Sports Hall of Fame once completed.

However, on Saturday night Wilcox brought out the cans once again and pleased passersby with another colorful jazz mural.

The tall, thin artist has been painting graffiti for 12 years now although for the last eight, he has kept his art strictly legal. Even when he first started spray painting, he would paint under bridges or at skate parks away from the public eye. When he sees people vandalizing public property, he has mixed feelings. “It’s mainly disappointment.”

He understands the adrenaline rush that comes with painting graffiti illegally, and he has had to run from trouble before, but he also knows a lot of the business owners downtown and would rather be part of the solution. Willcox appreciates graffiti in all its forms, legal or not, but would like to see the kids who are running around with markers or spray paint do something more constructive with their art.

“It’s become something different for me I guess, being able to be public and get feedback while I’m painting. It really allows me to give back to the community.”

Despite it being illegal, Willcox does have to admit Meep the Cat – the graffiti motif that’s turned up all over the downtown in recent months – is pretty adorable.

“If I didn’t start doing stuff like that, I’d never be doing stuff like this.”

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