John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Paint them with fish, skeletons, and optical illusions, as is the M.O. of urban trickster Roadsworth.
Sure, crosswalks have their uses: marking corners, indicating stop signs, saving, you know, human lives. But when was the last time they wowed, delighted, or engaged?
Canadian artist Roadsworth believes street crossings should be more than asphalt safety keyboards. So for years he's traveled around his native Montreal, as well as the world, transforming these pedestrian passages into eye-grabbing spectacles: a school of colorful fish, a skein of yarn, a skeleton, a row of large-caliber bullets.
The career of the 40-year-old Roadsworth, whose normal-person name is Peter Gibson, has been long and sometimes bumpy. The artist explains:
Roadsworth began painting the streets of Montreal in the fall of 2001. Initially motivated by a desire for more bike paths in the city and a questioning of "car culture" in general, he continued to develop a language around street markings and other elements of the urban landscape using a primarily stencil based technique. In the fall of 2004, Roadsworth was arrested for his nocturnal activities and charged with 53 counts of mischief. Despite the threat of heavy fines and a criminal record he received a relatively lenient sentence which he attributes in part to the public support he received subsequent to his arrest. Since that time, Roadsworth has received various commissions for his work and continues to be active in both visual art and music.
These artworks have frequently slipped out from the rigid confines of crosswalks and invaded the larger streetscape. Drivers in Montreal had the pleasure of sharing the road with a V of Canadian geese painted on the pavement. Strange things have happened to double-yellow dividing lines, like when they got sucked down a sink drain in the street or sprouted electric plugs and a fish hook. Once, a traffic arrow moonlighted as a blue whale.
The artist recently participated in Santiago's urban-intervention festival Hecho en Casa. Here's a taste of his reinventive works from that event as well as earlier years: