Big Words for a Vandal (Roadsworth)

Big words for a vandal.  That’s what I think, at least.  Urban prankster Peter Gibson, also known as “Roadsworth,” takes the relationship between philosophy and art to a whole new level.  Often coined as Canada’s answer to Banksy, this established activist has been causing visually appealing mischief since 2001.

Initially motivated by a desire for more bike paths in Montreal, Roadsworth developed a language around street markings and other elements of the urban landscape with an original stencil-based technique. In the fall of 2004, Roadsworth was arrested for his nocturnal activities, but, as is generally the case with most street art counterparts, a run-in with the law only fueled his fire. Literally.

For a long time, Roadsworth had taken issue with the ill effects of a culture dependent on oil and bent on over-consumption. He harped on an apparent social inability to confront such pressing issues, and, as many of my favorite artists do, he took his opinions to the streets.

Whatever the reasons, I came to the depressing conclusion that, at least as far as Canadians were concerned, nothing short of a cataclysm — be it in the form of a hurricane or, more likely, the cancellation of the outdoor hockey season due to insufficient ice — would have the power to bring about a change in consciousness. [Through street art] I felt empowered. Instead of feeling like a helpless passenger on a train headed for disaster, I felt that I had created a voice for myself amid the noise of the city.

Today, despite his obvious antagonism towards “car culture,” Roadsworth admits that a complete renunciation of the automobile would be unrealistic. Kudos to him, as far as I’m concerned. I’m a Texas girl at heart, and there are few places that I find more peaceful than behind the wheel of an automobile in a green, wide open road.

My quarrel is not so much with the car itself as it is with the attitude that it engenders. It is a metaphor for a culture bent on speed, convenience, consumption and hyper-individualism. Where having a job and owning a car are the determining characteristics of the productive member of society whose economy is based on the ability of its citizens to consume.

Whatever your political inclination, your affinity towards street art, or your attitude towards car culture,  it is difficult to dispute Roadsworth’s outright creative talent. For a man who paints electrical plugs on highways, he is incredibly insightful — and brave, at that.

The fact of being able to cover large distances at a rapid pace with the flex of one‘s foot while surrounded by steel and in the comfort of ones own personalized environment has created a disembodied culture with a false sense of invisibility, self-sufficiency and a general sense of impatience. This is a dangerous psychological precedent in a world where community and sustainability is needed more than ever.

I highly recommend taking a look at Peter Gibson’s website.  Admittedly, his work is more jolting in person. But I believe the extent to which he stands behind — and openly explains  — the impetus behind his pieces is a nice departure from the tendencies of most artists in his genre.

Despite my cynicism, I feel that whether motivated through a sense of self-preservation or that of future generations, there is nevertheless a growing recognition that an industrial-age mentality is no longer adequate to the challenges that humanity is faced with. Though maybe not purely altruistic, there is an awareness that the interest of others could also be in ones own interest. Big words for a vandal.

About the author

Yolanda Muchnik is the Founder of Aliveasart. A working professional with a passion for the visual and performing arts, she's got a soft spot for all things creative. In addition to ten years of formal dance training, Yolanda has experience as a graphic artist, a management and strategy consultant, and digital marketer.

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