Temporary at best: Street art in Fredericton
Jason Willcox answers the door to his basement apartment after the tenth knock. Instead of offering an invitation into the house, he steps outside and lights a cigarette.
“Take a seat,” he says, slouching into a faded green lawn chair in the middle of the driveway. His posture is open and relaxed, his bright eyes lacking the “tortured artist” look one might expect.
Willcox is one of the few remaining graffiti artists in Fredericton – a dying breed. Limited space for painting, fewer artists and fading popularity have led to a decline in the art. In a place like Fredericton, it’s harder to carve out a name and presence without staying motivated and hopeful – plus, your stuff has to be good.
He’s painted murals for the Charlotte Street Art Centre and participated a live painting event during downtown Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival for three years.
Willcox began creating art when he started public school; his first memorable work was a hand print turkey made in kindergarten. It wasn’t until his mid-teens that he started experimenting with spray paint.
“I skateboarded a lot when I was younger, and looking through the magazines you’d see parks that would have crazy walls and really cool murals. …It felt like it was a part of the niche that I was in at the time I guess,” Willcox said.
Willcox said East coast artists prominent in the ’90s have influenced his art today. The pillars of the Princess Margaret Bridge were once covered in artwork dating back to 1992, but it was all wiped out when the bridge was repainted. The only remaining local “old school” graffiti is in the pool room of the Howard Johnson Hotel.
Modern graffiti is also scarce within Fredericton’s city limits. Pieces that go beyond the casual “Jimmy was here” are usually confined to small skateboard parks.
“They get painted over quite frequently. I mean, there’s not a lot of graffiti artists in the city, but there’s a very limited amount of space in the city so we just kind of take turns going over each other,” said
Because of the shared painting space, there is an unwritten rule among artists: if you can’t paint something better than what’s already there, don’t paint over it.
“I’ve had a couple times where I’ve painted something and it didn’t last long, and you know you feel kind of disappointed, but graffiti as an art form is temporary at best so you can’t really be upset if it doesn’t last,” he said.
Recently Willcox took part in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s renovation party in January. He smiles warmly remembering the event.
“I basically sketched out big colouring book pages. I did the big sketch of the gallery with the words ‘Off the Walls’ written above it. That was there for kids to play with paint markers a bit and it was really a blast – I couldn’t stop smiling for like two hours.”
He hopes to lay down some paint at the Kimble skate park in the spring, something he and his buddies used to do every season, but let fall through the cracks the past couple of years.
Despite the dwindling amount of street artists in Fredericton, Willcox doesn’t think the art form will die out completely.
“People have been writing on walls since they had the mental capacity to take pigment and leave their mark. It’s just one of those things that’s kind of inherent in humanity to say ‘Look, I was here,'” Willcox said.
“Whether it’s the artistic form of graffiti that people have kind of grown to love or just marker scrawls on a mailboxes and stop signs, I don’t think it’s ever really going to go away.”