Wild Heart & Rebel Souls
Words by BILL BROWNSTEIN, MONTREAL GAZETTE Updated: June 26, 2017
Images by Stikki Peaches
Few know what he looks like, and he wants to keep it that way. He is not like most other artists. Hell, he is not like most other people.
He is a fast emerging Montreal artist, but he refuses to use his real name. He goes under the curious pseudonym of Stikki Peaches.
He doesn’t even show up for his own vernissages, as was the case for his latest at Galerie LeRoyer in Old Montreal. Few know what he looks like, since he has never been photographed without a mask.
Stikki’s canvasses — striking post-modern pastiches with his unique, signature graffiti style — sell in the five-figure range. His LeRoyer show, Beautanika: Wild Heart, Rebel Souls, running till July 6, is an homage to female icons — from Brigitte Bardot to Kate Moss — and is being gobbled up by collectors.
On the subject of contemporary female icons, Lady Gaga is evidently among those to have been smitten by and to have purchased his work. Not surprisingly, Stikki is rather circumspect about his buyers; nor is he much impressed by their stature — or anyone else’s, for that matter.
But his commercial art tells only part of his story. Stikki is a street artist at the core. He still gets up in the middle of the night, mounts scaffolds around town and creates murals on the sides of buildings mostly around the Main. He has been a contributor to the ongoing Mural International Public Art Festival since its start. Nor does he confine himself to these parts; his murals can be caught around Europe and South America as well.
“I get paid for the commercial art, which puts food on the table. The street art actually costs me a fair amount. But that’s the way I like it, because I feel art has to be accessible to everybody,” says Stikki in his cluttered north-end studio.
His next major public art show will be more like guerrilla theatre, in which he gets to express his frustration with never-ending street construction. Soon to drop on streets around town will be a few installations he calls “road-construction takeover,” an array of orange cones, no-parking and detour signs re-configured in rather subversive yet amusing fashion.
“I’m mostly mellow, but I’ve developed road rage in this orange-coned city. So this is my way of dealing with it, without causing any more traffic woes or delays.”
All of which might explain Stikki Peaches’s penchant for anonymity. Regardless, in the ever-competitive, ever-demanding, ever-volatile world of art, most practitioners would still do just about anything to get their mugs and names plastered about the media.
“I just want my work to speak for itself, rather than having a face attached to the work,” he says. “Who am I has no relevance to what my art is about. Besides, I like my private life.”
As for his pseudonym, all he allows is that it came about during a time in his life when he was “blind-sided by a major health issue.”
What’s remarkable about his work is that he doesn’t rely on more traditional components. His art features all manner of recycled street material, from posters to burlap coffee-bean bags to crumbling chunks from a wall.
“My work is often a reproduction or reflection of what’s happening on the street by using a piece that has been left behind,” he notes. “I will use anything that can adhere to or be tacked on to a canvas. There’s a lot of surreal mash-ups, layering and experimental stuff as well to the work. I like to think of it all as beautifully controlled chaos.”
Though his art is unorthodox, his background is not. His dad was a tailor and his mother a seamstress, and he got his start following in the footsteps of his parents in the fashion industry as a designer. Surrounded by sketches and drafting designs, he would not only collect them but also transform them, with paint and pencils, into influential figures from his youth, be they political leaders, cultural icons or comic-book characters. Not surprising, therefore, that he would later come out with canvasses featuring such disparate folk as Batman, Elvis and Mozart.
“My art is a kind of a tribute to my past life — meshed with the Stikki factor — and a lot of the figures I use today, like Kate Moss, have been my muses. I’ve always had this yearning and appetite for anything nostalgic. I grew up with parents who were creative in their own manner. They watched certain movies and listened to certain music, and so I remember vividly the James Deans, Steve McQueens, Marlon Brandos, Liz Taylors and Elvis. It seemed to me to be a time when things were simple and people seemed happier.”
In spite of his anonymity, his work has also caught on in New York, which, doubtless, is the reason that American celebs, like Lady Gaga, have been among his fans.
“Quite honestly, it happens more often than not,” he says, in reference to his celeb sales. “Let’s just say that I’ve had certain people reach out. But it’s really not something I get swell-headed about. I’m not really fazed by that, and this is not the reason that I paint. Art to me is an escape, a therapy to bring you somewhere else.”
Stikki is quick to point out that he is not an overnight success. “Until I really believed in my work and the direction it was going in, it took me years to be able to pierce the market and to maintain this as a full-time gig.
“I started as a street artist about 10 years ago. I would go out with some gung-ho friends in the middle of the night who also enjoyed doing mischievous things. In those days, many thought of street art as vandalism or street pollution. But that has changed by leaps and bounds today, especially in Montreal, and is now well accepted.”
His wife and young daughter are accustomed to his nighttime excursions. His neighbours “somewhere in the suburbs,” on the other hand, have no clue about what he does.
“I come home with dirty pants and they probably think I paint condos or bridges. And that suits me just fine.”