If you’ve strolled along St. Laurent in the Plateau this past week, you’ve surely seen the sensational array of murals taking shape. As part of the Montreal MURAL festival, the city has been home to a series of internationally-renowned muralists, including the insanely talented Alexis Diaz, whose elaborate creations grace walls the world over, from Wynwood Miami to London, Paris and Vienna. Notable caught up with Alexis as he put the finishing touches on his Montreal masterpiece.
Your designs are really intricate. Do you work off a sketch?
I never make a sketch – I always start on the wall. A sketch keeps you set on one idea. I prefer to come to the wall each day with a fresh perspective. A mural is a conversation with the environment; I paint for the people, not for me. As I meet new people and have new experiences, it influences the art.
What about Montreal influenced this mural?
I chose this deer because in Montreal there are deer heads on the walls everywhere. It’s really not something I understand. Why are you killing animals and putting it on the wall?
So is this mural is a message about our culture?
No. It’s not a message, it’s the inspiration. Murals are like books. Each person who comes into contact with it takes away a different experience, a unique perspective. I don’t like my art to have a clear message. I try to balance it – dark subject with bright colors, for example – so that it’s not so clear for people. It confuses them.
But this is pretty dark. You’re really not trying to say anything?
Why is this dark? It’s just a drawing! The heads on the wall are dark – those were live animals!
How long does it take to paint a mural this intricate?
So far, about 40 hours. But I never feel like it’s finished. Each wall I paint has to be better than the one before.
Do you have a favourite?
The London mural seems to be people’s favourite but it’s hard for me to choose. My experience painting a wall in the Arizona desert makes it a memorable one for me. I stayed in a house of a native doctor for a week. I drove around the desert for four hours searching for a place to paint. I finally found this billboard and painted a mural of a crow because its a spiritual animal for the natives. When I finished, an old woman, who owns the billboard, came out with a picture in her hand. It was almost identical to the mural. So that was pretty crazy.
Aside from the desert, what is your favourite environment to paint in?
I like places where I am connected to nature, like in Australia. When I painted there, I stayed in a tent and jumped off a tree into a lagoon each morning before going to the wall.
You only paint a few canvases a year. Why not more?
For me, art is for all people. Today, galleries are better, but when I started painting in Puerto Rico, galleries were for rich people – they were the only ones who could buy my art and once they did, they were the only ones who got to see it. I used to go to the gallery in my painting jeans and people buying my work would look at me and be like, ‘why is he here?’
You use ink, not paint. What’s the story there?
When I went to paint my first mural, I didn’t have paint, so I took damaged printer ink and used that to paint the walls inside my house. I liked how it felt.
You painted the walls inside your house? Cool.
Yeah, I painted all of them. Then I had to move outside. Actually, in Puerto Rico, people don’t really support mural art. When I was painting one of my first murals, this policeman came over and told me to stop. “Go paint inside your house!” he told me. So I looked at him and said, “I already painted my whole house.” I showed him some pictures and he laughed and let me continue painting.
Do you use a special ink now?
Not at all. It’s waterproof but it’s nothing special. People think that to be a professional you have to use the best paint and the most expensive brushes. My brushes are three dollars each.
Talk to me about your tattoo.
It says, ‘Hoy es el primer día del resto de mi vida. Today is the first day of the rest of my life.’ It’s from American Beauty, you remember? When Kevin Spacey sells everything and starts over. I used to do branding for a clothing company but I left to paint murals. Every day, I told myself, “Go paint, f*ck everything else.” For one year, I painted murals every single day and my family thought I was crazy.
Does your family still think you’re crazy?
No. They are really proud. My family is my biggest inspiration.
Was there ever a moment that made you feel you’ve made it?
The best moments are when artists I idolize come over and compliment my work. Once, Kanye West wanted a picture with me in front of my wall. He was like, “man this is awesome.” But when I went to put my hand on his shoulder for the picture, he hit it away. That was pretty funny.
Where are you off to after Montreal?
Rochester for a big mural festival, then Brooklyn, London, Austria, Vienna, Turkey. Then home to Puerto Rico for a week.
That sounds exhausting. Do you ever get tired of this?
I love what I do. I would do it for free. I feel really lucky. I feel blessed.
#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)