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Roadsworth: Crossing the Line (Alan Kohl)


Roadsworth: Crossing the Line (Alan Kohl)

The films on graffiti are numerous. They typically take us down the historical path, some doing better job than others, of graffiti’s origins; the cities and culture where it was born and evolved, and what makes these artistic anarchists do what they do.

“Roadsworth: Crossing the Line,” directed by Alan Kohl, stands apart from past films through its focus on a sole character, the namesake known as Peter Gibson. Kohl enables us to travel with Roadsworth on his journey from midnight street re-craftsmen, to arrested and accused, to international artist-for-hire.

Maybe it was destiny or the universe intervening, but Kohl was originally going in the direction of having Roadsworth appear as just one artist within a collection of other street art stories. And timing is everything, so when Roadsworth was arrested soon after they started filming, the total focus shifted to the one guy in front of the camera.

I’m one of those film geeks that gets off on unique and odd opening credits (the opening for the film “7” still sticks in my mind), and Kohl has obviously taken the subject matter to heart to jumpstart the film, throwing a name up on a brick wall as a women in an apartment stands near her window, oblivious. It’s also a hint of what’s to come in Roadsworth’s story.

Kohl also taps into Roadsworth to craft to create a similar style through film, bringing the art on the streets to life as candles spark along a crosswalk, birds fly up and around a group of Tour de France cyclists, or a woman walking on top a painted owl as she crosses the street, and through animation, the owl turns his head to look at her as she passes.

My favorite use was how Kohl superimposed a clip of a Montreal city representative onto an unplugged television. It’s placed ironically in front of a large, colorful mural as she states quite frankly, that the city’s space in Montreal belongs to the city, not the so-called artists that spread their works on the streets for all to see. Brilliant.

Diving into this first-hand account of Gibson’s story, that use of irony pops up again and again, adding color and comedy to the film, which is in a sense, also emulating Gibson’s character and works. It is Gibson’s take on how he sees his surroundings, and then letting his imagination turn the mundane into magnificence, which is showcased over and over again as the story unfolds.

It is this intimate access that allows us to better understand one artist’s internal struggles and simultaneous inspirations. For Roadsworth, he was fueled by the “language of the street…technical, functional, clear, I want people to think that maybe, just maybe, the city decided to put an ‘ON’ switch in a parking lot.”

We also learn that his core inspiration came from another artist, Andy Goldsworthy, who never quite grew out of his childhood love of playing with nature, taking any element—a group of flowers, twigs, rocks or even ice—and making it into something completely different. Roadsworth’s goal was to do something similar by creating and presenting the unexpected, but in an urban setting with urban tools of the trade.

The reality of his acts does catch up with him, resulting in 85 counts of public mischief and fines of up to $250.00 for each one. What Roadsworth didn’t anticipate is the almost immediate stardom that came from that, now that everyone knew who was responsible for the zipper painted on the street. His double life became exposed.

Through this exposure came support from the art community within Montreal, another surprise, as many came to his side to defend his acts and his talent.

Having held a graffiti related event in the past, I’ve experience first-hand how heated the conversation can be when it comes to graffiti, but it’s interesting to see almost identical conversations/arguments taking place in cities in other countries.

For Roadsworth, his story arose in the papers and on radio in regards to public mischief – AND – the discussion of what is considered art and what is considered vandalism.

It also brought to light that Montreal’s city government didn’t know how to curate street art, which raise the repeating and ultimate question of who really controls public space (which is also one of the main questions in the film, “Bomb It”).

When it comes to the argument of billboards, advertising, and the sale of public space, Kohl was wise to turn to Ron English (, the king of transcending these huge sales canvases in a 180 with a political message that hits an ethical and political nerve.

Reflecting on the arrest of Roadsworth, English not only appreciated and respected the works of this Montreal artist, he was reminded of himself in his early years, “I wasn’t real until I got arrested. I think people who do this don’t understand what the consequences are. When I crossed the line and was involved in the actual consequences of my actions, that showed the world that I’m really committed.”

The story continues as Roadsworth, through the publicity garnered by his arrest, begins to win acclaim not only in his own city but in cities across the globe. The first project came about through an authorized temporary art project where Roadsworth is legally able to create an artistic bike path, which is an adjustment for him. Now painting in the light of day, he feels a bit awkward but wishing that a cop would drive by so he can flash the legal permit in a “gotcha” fashion.

His celebrity status continued to grow. As with most people who are thrown into the public mix, he reveled in it but with certain reservations, even wincing at the title of “artist.” Through this transition, he also finds himself making the adjustment of lone guy with ideas put to stencil and spray can, to the on-the-spot commissioned artist within Trouville, a city in France.

But now it’s not artistic freedom, it’s work, and the creative juices run in a different direction. Stenciling in this foreign city seemed awkward, chaotic, so he chose to hit the streets at night, more comfortable with the quietness and lack of population.

“Roadsworth: Crossing the Line” uses animation to make the cartoon aspect of his work come alive, providing a spark in the story. And for those who appreciate street art, you get an eye full of some fabulous pieces, smart pieces that use the light shining a certain way at a certain time of the day to also bring his pieces to life.

This next phase of private time expression to business and transactions brought even more questions. His disillusion is replaced by a better knowing of himself, being comfortable in this next phase of his life, and drawing the same rush he felt at the beginning through the act and potential result instead of the legal consequences.

“Roadsworth: Crossing the Line,” as with other graf related films, reminds us of the democracy street art provides any citizen; the ability to appreciate and experience art outside of museums or gallery. Political statements are made strictly through the act, no matter what’s said in words and visuals.

The film’s character emulated that of its subject matter—Roadsworth—a bit quirky at times, surprising one with unexpected comedic moments, and a bit ironic times in a way that bring a grin while sparking a number of questions and enabling the viewer to decide what’s what.


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