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North End

By Whitney Cruikshank

Dumpsters don’t discriminate – and neither should you

On 12, Feb 2013 | No Comments | In Artist news, North End | By Whitney Cruikshank blogger Whitney Cruikshank chats with local street artist Jei Jei Steeves about stray cats and the art of telling stories in your city. Photos by Christian Aires.

Jei Jei Steeves is in an exceptional love triangle with the city of Halifax and some grumpy cats.

It had all started with a childhood craze of kitty doodling.

“I think the first thing I said I wanted to be when I grew up was a cat,” the 27-year-old cheery street artist recalls, from her cozy apartment.

And although that didn’t quite pan out the way she imagined, Steeves is working on the next best thing – making curious art and taking advantage of her feline sense of exploration. On any given day, you can find her splashing poles, signs and various other nooks and crannies of the city with her kitty sticker art.

As it turns out, the Antigonish native has it bad for city life.

“It seems to happen with every one I visit. It’s weird and disarming to leave my heart in every city I live in,” Steeves says, of her fondness for the places she’s been. Along with taking with her some awesome memories, she’s left some pieces of hers behind all throughout the country, the United States, and even in western Europe.

“I think it’s the complexities of really close living, the intense concentration of people living on top of each other,” she says of her love affair with city dwelling.

Today Steeves holds down a small studio downtown, where she illustrates, among other things, comic style cat stickers with speech bubbles.  Some speak about porn, others about loneliness, there are some speaking of her war stance, and then ideas about alternative lifestyles. All depends on her mood.

“I want people to try to take a moment,” she says of her art. The fun for her is in knowing unassuming eyes can share a similar experience. Through the use of a sharpie marker, she’s found her voice, which, as a shy cat crazed lady, was not always something she could do so publicly.

“Trying to tell stories became who I had to be,” Steeves says.  “It wasn’t something I had set out to do, but it was the only opportunity I had to fit in,” she says.

Although many may think her choice of street art unconventional, she wants to steer clear of middle of the road artistry.

“It’s a totally different place out there. Art galleries are still important but it’s time to recognize different kinds of art,” she says.

Whether you’re an average citizen and you wear your art on your t-shirt, or whether as a professional you make your mark on a wall, she believes it is all valid.

“Art is critical because without a narrative you’re not starting a dialogue with your city.”

As Steeves reflects on her decade of artsy contributions, she is more certain about the importance for every one, everywhere, to find a voice and use it.

“My art used to be more just coming from the heart, whereas now I’m trying to understand the balance of power in our lives,” she says, as she explains her goal to better understand Canadian politics.

“We need to speak publicly on it so we can end up with a country we’re proud of.”

And so, Steeves will continue to roam back alleys and give power poles a passing graze. And although chances have it that any one particular piece of art may be covered up, taken down or rained upon soon after its arrival, you can’t mess with feline fervor.

That cat will come back … and it may just be the very next day. So the next time you’re roaming the streets, keep your eyes peeled for unexpected scraps of artistry on unexpected venues. Because hey, dumpsters don’t discriminate, and neither should you.

Photos by Christian Aires

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