In his mid-teens AJ Louden began expressing himself with cans of spray paint, illicitly leaving his mark around Edmonton. But one person’s vandalism is another person’s art, and Louden shows few regrets about the nature of those early days in his artistic pursuits.
“I found that graffiti and street art spoke to me in a way that other art forms that I’d been exposed at that time didn’t really.”
Today Louden, who goes by the artist name AJA,is a sought-after artist whose work legally adorns walls in Prague, Barcelona, Florence and his hometown Edmonton. He’s also part of a unique festival that brings other one-time graffiti artists together to turn spray cans to barren walls and create massive pieces of art.
Edmonton’s public art festival began last year in the most ad hoc of ways. Artists Annaliza Toledo and Trevor Peters were jazzed by the public art they’d seen around the world, and they thought Alberta’s capital could use an injection of style.
They looked to Europe, where festivals like Croatia’s Graffiti na gradele are changing the urban landscape. Similar events were drawing visual artists to Copenhagen, London and Stockholm. Montreal had launched a mural festival four years earlier, so Toledo and Peters thought Edmonton should be next.
They had a big idea but little money. Fortunately Edmonton has an abundance of bleak cinder block walls and a handful of building owners willing to risk setting a stranger loose with a spray can. So they set out to find a group of artists willing to work for free.
“We kind of started reaching out to some of our favourite artists in the world and just decided to put a message in a bottle and see if we got anything back,” explains Peters.
Pushing creative boundaries
Fourteen artists signed up in the first year….