Montana spray paint has nothing to do with the U.S. state of Montana. It has nothing to do with grizzlies, gun-stroking paranoids, or wild expanses of rural landscape both beautiful and sublime as far as the eye can drink.
Montana spray paint is about concrete and brick reclaimed from urban montony by vibrant dream-image. It's about wild style, tagging, stenciled murals of poignant socio-political critique. Montana spray paint is about graffiti.
The cans vary in size from 100ml to 750ml. Labeling is diverse due to evolving product lines (Black, Alien, Hardcore, Gold, etc.) and other factors, but all Montana cans are distinguished by their replaceable plastic nozzle system, which allows writers to easily switch spray widths on the same can.
Part of the labeling diversity is attributed to the fact that there are two contending houses of Montana, referred to by artists as "Spanish Montana" and "German Montana." The origin myth of these two companies is a tale full of betrayal, power-lust, and corporate greed, like most stories of global expansion.
Spanish Montana came first. The paint was conceived and developed by graffiti writers, and as such is viewed by the more hardcore writers as the "true" Montana.
There's some truth to this.
Back in 1993 two Barcelona writers known as Moockie and Kapi approached Jordi Rubio, the commercial manager of an aerosol canning factory, with the idea of crafting a line of spray paint specifically designed for graffiti writers.
Why do graffiti writers need their own spray paint? What's wrong with good old Krylon or Rust-Oleum?
Commercial paint lacks the color range desired by artists. With more colors available, painting can be more detailed, subtle, and vibrant. Commercial paints also lack spray control. The stuff just shoots out. Writers desired a way to adjust spray width, narrowing the release for detailed work or widening it to fill large spaces (especially useful for muralists or large wild style letters). Additionally, they wanted to forumlate the paint to be resistant to dripping. Commercial paints tend to run all over the place, and while bleeding is an integral element of the graffiti style, artists wanted more control over how their work bled, especially since many writers drop their images illegally and thus with great haste. They don't have time to control crappy paint from running like water.
While Jordi Rubio was convinced of the viability of the graffiti market (i.e. there was money to be made), the owner of the canning factory wasn't. So Jordi went off on his own with Moocki and Kapi and founded Spanish Montana.
The line debuted in 1994 at an event organized by Moockie and Kapi called "Aerosol Art." News of the paint's cheap price and high quality quickly spread through the underground and soon Spanish Montana was shipping all over the continent.
This, of course, attracted moneyed interests.
By 1997 Spanish Montana's reputation as the primo spray paint in the graffiti world was firmly established. Moockie, Kapi and Jordi's company was pushing 50 employees and the trio were wary of overexpansion. All the paint was still homemade at their Barcelona facility and they feared what branching out would do to product integrity. They did not want Montana to become McMontana.
So they began licensing foreign distributors to help meet demand.
One of these was the fledgling German company L&G, founded in 1996 as a "garage salesroom" by Ruediger Latz and Tim Lati. In 1997 Latz and Lati convinced Spainsh Montana to give them exclusive distribution rights for Montana paint in Germany.
Then a number of shady deals took place (cue the betrayal, power-lust, and corporate greed) -
L&G does such a good job at distributing Montana paint through Germany, that Spanish Montana gives them distribution rights throughout much of Europe.
At the same time, L&G secretly conspires with the multinational corporation Dupli-Color (known as "Motip Dupli" in Europe) to manufacture and label Montana cans throughout Europe for L&G, not Spanish Montana.
Dupli-Color then secretly tries to acquire Spanish Montana in effort to manufacture Montana paint without L&G. They approached Jordi Rubio and offered to buy the company. His response can be neatly summed up as "fuck you" (or more accurately: "jódete!").
Stymied by Spanish Montana, Dupli-Color runs back to L&G and makes the deal. Soon the two are manufacturing duplicate cans of Montana paint on their own called "Montana Hardcore" and targeting it to Spanish Montana's customers.
Reports surface in the graffiti world that the duo of Dupli-Color and L&G, now called Montana Cans or German Montana, have been spreading rumors that Spanish Montana's paint is tainted, poisonous, and contains illegal amounts of lead. They even arrange for inspectors to show up at the Barcelona factory to make a very public inspection of the facilities, further fueling the rumors.
German Montana makes a very lame attempt to gain rights to the Montana brand by claiming that the former business relationship between Spanish Montana and L&G established equal claim to the Montana name. The law laughs at this. Spanish Montana retains sole rights over the Montana name.
In 2001 German Montana finds a way around the branding problem. They find a company in Switzerland that already has the rights to the name "Montana" registered throughout Europe. They offer to pay them royalties for the Montana name. The company accepts.
In 2003 German Montana releases their main line: Montana Gold, which despite the sleazy corporate history behind it, is actually a very high quality spray paint admired by artists.
In 2004, after being frustrated and outmaneuvered by German Montana, Spanish Montana begins labeling their paint "MTN" to clear up confusion between the two brands.
To date there has been no resolution to the brand conflict. It seems both Montanas will continue to exist, though German Montana's distribution and manufacturing power makes it much easier to acquire in most non-European markets, such as the United States.
Spanish Montana's Official Website
German Montana's Official Website
Additional sources for this write-up:
"The Two Montanas"
Myths and stories circulated among artists and the graffiti underground.