This is the second installment in a three-part series exploring the art and culture of Winnipeg’s underground graffiti scene.
The art inside 431 Urban StreetWear jumps off the wall.
Vibrant pinks, blues and greens poke out from behind racks of clothing, much of it custom made, and when you step inside the shop, it’s obvious you’re not inside a typical retail store.
Behind the counter, cans of spray paint and miniature trains don pieces of hand-painted graffiti and dot shelves across the shop.
Sean McRae, one of the partners behind 431, has been involved in the graffiti scene in Winnipeg for more than 20 years.
A well-known expert in the art, McRae says Winnipeg was missing a space where members of the graffiti and hip-hop community could gather — and restock — so he and long-time friend Mark Greentree decided to fill the gap.
“I wanted to give back to the art community, because when I was growing up, we never really had places like that,” he said.
Words like “Astro Fat Cap,” “Rusto Fat” and “German Thin Cap” are written on jars containing dozens and dozens of small spray-paint nozzles used by artists to fatten or thin their stream of spray paint.
All artists welcome
McRae says when people come into the store, they quickly realize they’re entering a space for creatives, with many interested in the complexity and intricate nature of the art. He says the shop is a safe place for everyone, veteran artist or not.
“We don’t look at anybody different,” he said. “You’re an artist, I’m an artist. We’ll sit down and chat. Your name’s your name, my name’s my name and we’ll go from there.
“We’re not here to judge people in any way.”
Graffiti and the tools required to do it are ever present at the shop. But according to Greentree, the store is not just a source of specialty art supplies, it’s an avenue of exposure for those living and working in the Winnipeg scene.
“We support the local and that’s the main deal,” said Greentree. “Local artists and local rappers. I mean if you’ve got gear, come down, bring it, and we’ll put it on our rack and sell it for you. It’s just to get the locals out there and get them known.”
Shop avenue to national scene
Greentree says the store does have deep roots in the community across the country and with such a wide-variety of talent in the city, it’s important to help those artists make those connections to the scene beyond the borders of Manitoba.
“There’s a lot of talented people in Winnipeg that don’t want to show their talent — or can — but nobody will help,” he said, noting they want to provide access to a national stage.
Later this summer, 431 will be celebrating its first year in business, bringing in an assortment of graffiti and hip-hop community members from Winnipeg and across the company, with all aspects of the artform on display.
McRae says he hopes the event will showcase local talent and the technical side of the work, challenging those who feel graffiti is not an artform, but vandalism, to see first-hand the skill required.
“Actually come with me and maybe I can change your mind,” he said. “Just see the respect that I get and the work that I put into my art.”
The store’s first-year anniversary celebration is set to take place on Aug. 14, 2021.
WATCH: Inside Winnipeg’s world of graffiti art