The pleasure of being asked by Roadsworth to write the introduction to the first book chronicling his work was only outdone by seeing the Roadsworth book itself when it arrived in the mail recently.
I’ve followed Roadsworth’s work with great interest and appreciation over the years. His sense of play and imagination in his reworking of the most functional elements of the urban ephemera – its pavement markings and signage – have drawn the sustained interest of street art lovers (and authorities) and made him one of a handful of artists who have moved the goal posts of street art and have changed public perceptions of the form.
Famously, when Roadsworth was arrested in Montreal in 2004 and brought up on 53 different charges for his work, the local authorities went big with the story. Radio shows hosted public call-ins to ask the public what the city should do with Roadsworth now that they caught him. The public response caught many by surprise. As one caller said, “What should the city do with Roadsworth? Leave him alone.” The divide between authoritative and public perceptions of street art was on full display.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Roadsworth on several occasions, and getting to know him personally over time. So when he asked me to write the introduction to what is thus far the definitive book of his work, it was an honor and a privilege. As I write in the introduction:
Roadsworth’s work plays with more than the visual language of the city; it plays with our relationship with the city. It returns us to the moment in our youth when the streets and sidewalks could hold moments of our play and humanity, before we learned that they were the domain of structure and order. His work asks questions in a streetscape of absolute instructions, and invites double-takes and smiles in areas where you’re supposed to be quiet and fall in line.
You can get a copy of Roadsworth from Amazon. Resisting the temptation to write an entire second overview of his work here, I’ll close as I close my introduction:
When first discovering his early work, I once joked that looking at images of his reworked street markings made me wonder if there was a supplement to my driver’s instruction manual that I had missed when I was learning the language of the street. As his work has expanded over the years to encompass so much more of the urban ephemera and our relationship with it, that missing manual would now include a vastly expanded range of images, objects and relationships that we need to learn in the city. This book could be that manual.
My thanks to Roadsworth for the invitation to contribute to the book, and to all who read and enjoy it.