The Confessional: Sterling Downey
Sterling Downey, Montreal | Sure, you’ll first notice the imposing body art but Sterling Downey is before anything else, a pioneer who’s brought cool to Montreal with his Under Pressure Festival, exhibits, magazine & merchandise. The man who should be played by Anderson Cooper should a movie on his life be made, enters The Confessional. Smart, Sexy, Sterling.
1. What hurts more? Getting tattooed or entering The Confessional? Well both can be pretty painful, the tattoo all depends on where you get it and in some way the same can be said about the confessional… (well depending on the priest and his admiration for young men). Was that out of line? Was that sacrilegious?
2. I would call you a “Maverick” but Sarah Palin and John McCain have totally tarnished the word. How did you experience last November’s U.S. Elections? A Maverick, eh? Hmm, maybe I’m more of Wolverine. I was actually working as a youth worker at the Jamaican Association of Montreal for 18 to 25 years-old troubled men during the whole election process. The experience was very interesting considering I was the only Caucasian working there. I could definitely appreciate being able to watch history unfold before my eyes, I think it’s great that our generation witnessed it. It has definitely been inspirational, not only for the Black community but for the entire world. It shows that anything is possible and change is inevitable no matter who tries to stop it. FYI, I was soon fired from the association, it was insinuated it was because I was White and that the young men couldn’t related to me… lol go figure!
3. I’ve once attended one of your events and you were swarmed by girls, literally. You realize that, because of the tattoos, incarnate the bad boy image, right? And all this time I thought it was because of the grey hair and the grey beard they were swarming me… I do get that a lot though, it seems like people think that because you have your whole body tattooed you must be a bad boy but I swear those years are far behind me (or are they?) lol… it’s funny because I don’t drink alcohol at all, I don’t smoke and I don’t do any drugs. I guess because of the tattoos people always expect the opposite and when they find out I am really focused and passionate about my work they feel they can get the best of both worlds… I wonder what image I am going to incarnate at 67 years of age with all the tattoos?
4. Montreal is now, more than ever, trying to position itself as a Cultural Metropolis. What is it doing right and what is it doing wrong? Well that’s a good question do you mean in terms of the arts?… Montreal seems to have positioned itself as a cultural metropolis in terms of music, I would agree, especially with all the festivals we have like the Jazz Festival, Francofolies and Pop Montreal and also in other arts as well with Juste Pour Rire and The Fringe Festival. Now in terms of the visual arts, I am not really sure. I mean there aren’t a lot of visual arts festivals going on in the city and the ones that are seem to be pretty controversial still (well definitely our event the UNDER PRESSURE international graffiti convention) even after 13 years. We have been lucky though facing years and years of repression and confrontation from the City and politicians in the early years and now over the past 6 years having minimal but there support none the less. I guess Montreal is really trying to be more trendy and cool and appeal to a younger demographic, maybe it’s because they are fed up with young people leaving the city to move to places like New York and Europe to get more of an injection of culture into their blood streams. I don’t know if Montreal is at the point yet of being able to consider itself a Cultural Metropolis, just yet. I think we have a very long way to go and that we need to get rid of a lot of old mentalities still before we can actually embrace Culture.
Now in terms of Culture as ethnicity, I think we definitely have a beautiful mix of cultures here and that’s what makes Montreal is soooooo amazing to live in, however there is still a lot of segregation I feel between different communities and i think that language still plays a pretty big role in that which is a real shame because we have so much to learn from each other. I feel that cities like Toronto, Vancouver and even Ottawa have done better jobs, maybe it’s because instead of trying to preserve one language they are more focused on promoting all languages. this definitely makes different cultural minorities feel as if they have a place and a voice in their cities and aren’t being forced into a whole other culture all together other than their own and in turn they end up embracing their city and feel encouraged to share and educate people about their own culture since there is a real interest.
5. How has Urban Art progressed here and abroad in the past decade? Urban art has kinda plateaued. I feel to be quite honest in terms of work being produced all over the world, it is really hard to find anything truly unique or forward thinking anymore. it seems like most stuff that appears these days is just stuff that is being rehashed and spit out using the works or ideas of other urban artists as the foundation of new work, however you are suppose to build upwards on foundation in my opinion and instead it seems like everyone is going kinda sideways in a sense. don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some ground breaking artists out there who set themselves apart but i don’t think that the scene is booming like it did in the early and mid 90′s when there was a sea of new work out there that was pushing new limits. I just feel like now we have a generation of people who are just trying to pump out generic work to make quick money and to hit people right in their faces due to a major fear of ideas and concepts going right over people heads and not being marketable. K.I.S.S. “Keep It Simple Stupid” seems to be the way to go… oh yeah and use lots of Cyan and Magenta…
6. What is your take on the TV shows Miami Ink, LA Ink & on Kat Von D? Lol! That is a funny question. Kinda hard for me to take a real position on that one. I am actually working on the Montreal edition of the new series that the founders of Miami Ink are producing right now called LOVE HATE and I am also working on their new bar opening here in Montreal under the same name. I definitely feel that both shows have exposed a way larger audience to the world and culture of tattooing and in some way has dumped a lot of the meaning behind the whole culture down in doing so. However, it is kinda necessary to do that I guess in order to educate the masses about a very often misunderstood and misrepresented movement. Today, people match their tattoos with the colors of clothes they like to wear it seems. I see a lot of kids getting stuff done that they will end up regretting later on in there lives because it’s trendy or simply cool in their eyes. I guess the same applied to my generation as well. We had the horrible TRIBAL tattoo era, that was a real mess, lots of us regret having ever done that to our bodies, lol! Luckily, for some of us (like myself) we have very good contacts in the tattoo community and we were able to get rid of all the “bad work” that was done on us throughout the early 90′s (thanks Pierre Chaplan Tattoo Mania).
7. You are the man and the brains behind daring Montreal’s “Under Pressure” festival & Magazine. Graffiti, in its truest form, needs a PR campaign. What misconceptions need to be cleared up? Well, the first thing that probably needs to be cleared up is that every graffiti writer has a different reason for doing what they do however it is all about FAME in the end. You can’t compare the motivation of a 15 year-old to the same as that of a 21-year old or even a 28-year old. With age, you become way more calculated in your actions and they are no longer simple cries for attention or even simply ways to rebel. With age, you develop an ethos, different ethics and codes of conduct in the execution of your work. The more you do graffiti, the closer you become with your city, the architecture and the public who live within it. It slowly becomes a way bigger picture than just something about you as an individual and your form of expression. Also, you can never beat it: graffiti can be produced faster than it can be cleaned off the walls, if you are going to wage a war against it you better be prepared to lose! The only people who can police or somewhat control graffiti are graffiti writers themselves if they so choose to. You can quote me on that!
8. What is your favourite curse word? I can’t be “ARSED”. I love the word “ARSED” very British, very much my upbringing… but i also really enjoy the word “OESTIE” and “CALISSE” even though I am born Anglophone, I still love swearing in French… nothing sounds better or more pissed off than swearing in French if you are English!!! But you have to be able to do it well and in the proper accent.
9. If you were granted a superpower, what would it be? Hmmmmmm? The power to make everyone polite and courteous. I hate people who don’t have manners, it drives me nuts. I think I would make a great vigilante, if you didn’t say thank you, I would swoop down and slap you in the back of the head… or maybe right in your face just to be a prick. Lol!
10. You are on stage in front of 50 000 screaming fans at Wembley Stadium. What song are you belting out? Au clair de la lune… ok maybe God save the queen… lol
11. Name the group/singer you absolutely want us to check out in 2009. ELSIANE http://www.elsiane.com
12. What are the three music albums you want to be buried with?
Beastie Boys (Paul’s Boutique)
Circle Jerks (Wild In The Streets)
13. Name the three sexiest women in the Arts.
Krista Bursey (MTAF)
Danny Portieous (DANNYGIRL PHOTO)
Leah Archambault (UTI)
14. What will the Almighty tell you once you arrive at the gates of Heaven? “Sorry, you’re not on the guest list, this is a private party”
15. When will I see you next? In the morning as soon as you open your eyes! Creepy eh? Or maybe if you look out your window right now…
See more: www.underpressure.ca
Photos by JF Mailhot (www.cruxco.tv)