WINNIPEG (CityNews) – The smell of aerosol paint fills the air in an empty space underneath the city’s Bridge of Old Forts, but at 4 a.m. on a Thursday morning, there’s no passersby to question the smell or its source.
Several feet below the city’s sidewalks and roads, still sleepy, quiet and free of commuters, a masked figure guides a can of spray paint across the wall with expert ease and accuracy. Every line and touch of paint, applied with purpose by the graffiti artist known as ‘Bater’.
Visible in many parts of the city, Bater says the pandemic has presented a new challenge for him, as busy streets and crowds he was once able to blend into, have essentially disappeared.
However, despite the challenge, he continues his art, speaking to CityNews as he works through a piece completely blanketing a city wall in Central Winnipeg.
Knowledge passed down
He says while the world of graffiti may look chaotic for those on the outside, the community is actually one of hierarchy and respect, where older writers try to influence future generations to focus on graffiti as an art form.
“These kids aren’t always met with positive output,” said Bater, who CityNews agreed not to name. “They’re not being taught. They’re just being ridiculed.”
Officials from the Winnipeg Police Service say it’s difficult to determine whether or not there has been an increase in reported graffiti in the city during the pandemic, as reports can be filed with both the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Police Service.
Police also noted numerous factors are at play when it comes to a decrease or increase in graffiti in a city, noting the arrest, relocation or retirement of a single artist can have an effect on a city as a whole.
City set to weigh in
Derek Resch, the City of Winnipeg’s Supervisor of Public Service Operations, who is in charge of graffiti control in the city, was not available for an interview for this article, but CityNews will be speaking with him about the effect graffiti has on the wider community.
As a writer who is becoming more established in the city, Bater says he feels he has a part to play in helping to foster another generation of graffiti artists, saying it’s not uncommon for him to seek these writers out to help, either online or on the wall, if they’re exhibiting problematic behaviour.
“I usually reach out to them if I see them doing something wrong, I’ll let them know the proper way to do it,” he said.
“If a writer in Winnipeg is doing something that they’re not supposed to, I already know about it, because I’m walking around looking at the walls, and there’s a good chance I have them on Instagram already.”
He says graffiti artists, those who are part of the community, follow a strict set of rules as to where they can apply their art that includes no churches, no private vehicles and no private residences.
Equipped with a first-aid kit and first-aid training, Bater also stresses that as he ventures into the night and into spaces others may not, he’s prepared to help if he finds someone in need along the way, as his art sometimes takes him into spaces that may be overlooked.
Graffiti artist says hateful vandalism has no place on Winnipeg walls
Alongside using graffiti as a visual and artistic outlet, Bater also has a rule of his own, that if he sees hateful or discriminatory vandalism in the city, he’ll go over it immediately, even if it means operating out in the open.
“I don’t care if there’s people walking by,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I’ll cover it and I’ll let them know exactly what I’m doing. It’s pretty nice covering that kind of stuff up.”
Bater says even though his art is not hanging on a gallery wall, he does get feedback from art patrons, saying it’s not uncommon for people to reach out with compliments about his work, and he says the interaction is important.
“It kind of means the world to me to hear that there’s people that think graffiti’s awesome, and it’s not just a negative thing, because it’s never been a negative for me,” he said, noting later while some may see his art as just vandalism, he sees it as a critical part of the urban landscape.
“A city without graffiti would be like a forest without trees,” Bater says with a quiet laugh. “I think you need graffiti in a city for it to be, say, a city.”