Toronto is a vibrant, culturally diverse, and immensely creative city, with a strong arts community. Graffiti culture started growing in the 80’s, with the most notable artist being Ren, who is still considered a pioneer in our city and beyond. Since then, Graffiti has been a visible and established part of Toronto. For as long as I can remember, Rush Lane aka Graff Alley has always been comprised of blocks of walls coated in paint, full of new and exciting pieces to find.
In 2010 when Rob Ford was voted in as mayor, one of his first mandates was to eradicate all graffiti. He launched a campaign to “clean up the city”, even going so far as to dispatch plainclothes Toronto police officers to a graffiti art party/exhibit. This declaration of war on street art was met with an impressive response; Graffiti fought back. More legal and illegal walls popped up, and Ford became the target of angry artists. One well known bomber, Spud, launched a full scale attack, pasting up Ford’s face all over the city, sometimes with various ‘bodies’, sometimes not. Most recently, our mayor was allegedly shown in a video to be smoking a crack pipe, providing fresh arsenal for Spud’s onslaught.
But before Rob Ford incited writers to bomb hard, there were plenty of characters making appearances all over the city. Just a few of my favourites are: Poser Rabbit, Radcliff the Raccoon by Kizmet, Anser‘s Mysterious Date, and the Uber (5000’s) chicken.
Many legal walls have become local landmarks, located along transit lines, and seen by thousands of people on a daily basis. Starting in the east end of Toronto in Scarborough, is the East Side Mural located just outside the Lawrence East SRT (Scarborough Rapid Transit) station.
It is unknown exactly when it was painted by the Graffiti Knights crew, but has been around since the late 80’s. Correction: The mural was painted by Sady (a member of the Graffiti Knights crew) in ’95.
Another iconic mural is Keele Wall located along Toronto’s subway line, clearly visible from passing trains. The giant wall sits across a parking lot by Keele station, and has been repainted by the HSA crew a few times. Previously featuring a wilderness theme, the latest repaint went down at the end of 2012, and boasts pieces by prominent Toronto writers: Art Child, Kwest, Bacon, Rons, Skam, Young Jarus, Sight, & Sensr.
The biggest and most visible mural has to be the Reclamation Wall, situated alongside a railway corridor used by thousands of commuters traveling throughout Toronto and its surround regions. Measuring 1000ft (300m) long, and standing 20ft (6m) high, it’s believed to be the largest graffiti mural in Canada. Commissioned by Urbancorp, the property development company tired of battling constant graffiti on its sound barrier; the project was completed at the end of Summer 2012 and saw 65 artists from across Canada come into town to contribute. Each artist/s was given a letter to fill in, spelling out ‘Toronto’ and ‘Liberty Village’, ‘Parkdale’ & ‘West Queen West’; the neighbourhoods surrounding the intersection of Dufferin & Queen, where the Reclamation Project took place.
Toronto is a hotspot for many talented artists; there’s always new work to spot by one of our local writers, or one of the many renowned artists passing through to bless the walls. I am truly thankful to reside in a city that nurtures and embraces graffiti so enthusiastically.
Photos by Karolina K