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The writing on the wall

Exploring the rise of street culture at World Ski and Snowboard Festival's State of the Art



A tiny resort town by the mountains is not the first place that comes to mind when you think about street art.

For decades, the subculture was relegated to the urban environs from which it was birthed: the dusty back alleys, highway overpasses and battered subway cars that have become synonymous with graffiti.

But as the modern metropolis evolved through the end of the 20th century, so too did the types of art adorning its landscape. Street art began to encompass a wide swath of mediums and influences, and graffiti, along with its closest cultural relative, hip hop, moved from the underground to the mainstream, with big name artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy fetching millions of dollars selling their work at contemporary galleries and auctions around the globe.

With that in mind, it starts to make a little bit more sense how the influence of urban art has even reached a scenic mountain town like Whistler, reflected this year in the programming of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival's State of the ART, which counts a number of exciting events with street art at its core.

"We are a ski and snowboard festival, but we extend that sort of attitude and personality to encompass all parts of surf culture, street culture and anything that is that same sort of creative feel," says State of the ART curator Kevani Macdonald. "I find that artists from more traditional street art backgrounds are mixing with snow-sports photographers and everyone else. It's a coming together of all sorts of creative styles inspired by some of the greats who've gone before us."

Of course, no discussion about street art in Whistler is complete without mentioning Kris Kupskay, whose vividly coloured pieces are splashed across too many local landmarks to count, including the iconic site of a decades-old train wreck near the Cheakamus River that the municipality has just announced will soon be accessed by a new pedestrian bridge to allow for easier viewing.

"I do my best to paint everything I can in Whistler with a spray can, so it was one of my goals to bring a street art community here, and for me, (aerosol) being one of my strongest mediums, I'm hoping I had something to do with that," Kups says.

The 31-year-old artist, whose work graces Pique's cover this week, will be keeping plenty busy throughout the festival's 10 days, doing a live indoor painting session at the conference centre on April 18, and an outdoor graffiti demo in Skier's Plaza ahead of the Big Air contest the following day. He's also the odds on favourite out of the eight participating artists taking part in a live digital graffiti battle at State of the ART's opening gala Friday, April 11 at 9:30 p.m., also at the conference centre.

The innovative technology was designed by Vancouver's Tangible Interaction, who first brought a digital graffiti wall to the festival two years ago. This time around, two projector screens will be placed side by side, with artists wielding a digital "smart can" that uses infrared technology to emulate an aerosol spray. Each pair of artists will have five minutes to battle head to head, with spectators using their smart phones to vote in real time for their favourite piece.

"We've been doing this since 2007, and it just doesn't get old," says Tangible Interactions founder Alex Beim. "What is cool is that you usually have a guy playing on the screen and then you have like 40 people behind the screen looking and lining up to use it. Based on that experience, what we wanted to do is push this a little bit more, and we were thinking about how we could make the whole audience participate in the experience."

Another theme emerging this year, says Macdonald, is the prevalence of "mash-up culture," with a number of participating artists refusing to relegate themselves to just one style or medium, like local designer Stacey Bodnaruk, who blends photography with metalwork, or The Incredible Amoeba, who draws from pop culture to create 3D collages and sculptures with tremendous physicality.

"People are starting to apply different techniques, mixing things together and getting interesting results," Macdonald says. "I've been seeing in the work; people are finding new ways to create. Just when you think every type of art must've been explored, there's something new."

For more information on State of the ART and all of the participating artists, visit www.wssf.com/event/state-art. Art is also available for purchase at www.artsore.wssf.com