Urban art or misguided youth? What do you think?
I had the pleasure of joining Jason on his Tour Guys Graffiti Tour in downtown Toronto (an activity on my TBEX Bucket List). It was an eye opening experience – I had no idea there was so much more to the scribblings and scenes painted on walls, trains and highway underpasses. There is an entire sub culture that has its own strict etiquette and guidelines – a moral code amongst artists if you will. In some instances, graffiti artists work together to create some of the most incredible urban art and are often commissioned by building owners to create these colourful and highly visually appealing displays!
Jason introduced us to examples of urban art by some of the most popular, and sometimes controversial artists in Toronto, sharing the history behind the works and giving us a peek into the world of what is often a very private group of people. He showed us how to read the work, pointing out the styles of the various artists and how they sign their work.
There really is so much more to it than meets the eye. The hidden messages are not always so apparent. Take, for example, the HUG ME tree. Like so many before and so many after, I had my photo taken hugging the tree that stands boldly on Queen St West. Beautified by Elicser Elliott in 1999, the graffitied stump’s art continues to be tended to by Elliott and the HUG is always replaced. While tourists and locals alike get their photos taken hugging Elliott’s work, I wonder how many actually know that the H.U.G. stands for his crew: History Unleashes Genius. The “ME” was added by Elliott in a move to soften the blow of tagging a tree! Given the notoriety of this particular tree, I would have to say he was successful.
I have never understood the value of the scribbled tags people leave behind. I get it – you were here, but does everyone really need to know about it? Especially when the tag defaces historical buildings or private property. I do not believe that that kind of scrawl is appropriate, but as the art of graffiti has evolved, with far more stylized “wild” style graffiti or the bubble lettered “throw-up” style, I do see the statement that can be made through such an art form. It is an interesting line of thought to consider that cave drawings, prized and protected now, are in fact graffiti of a time long ago. The Aboriginals in Australia, the Native Indians in North America, and cultures throughout history have used graffiti to tell their stories. Is the work of modern day graffiti artists much different? There is generally a story or a message behind the various works that Jason pointed out to us as we walked the streets of Toronto. Today’s graffiti art may be more transient than the “historical” graffiti, but they too are the stories of our generation. It makes for a fascinating anthropological study of our times.
Interestingly, the city of Toronto, at one stage, tried to outlaw graffiti artists. Largely unsuccessful, the city now embraces the skills of the true artists, allowing their messages to be shared through the City of Toronto’s Graffiti Management Plan. In an effort to eliminate graffiti vandalism which can have a detrimental impact on property owners and neighbourhoods, the plan has added vibrancy to the streets through art – something I believe has been successful. While scribbles of graffiti still do appear throughout the city, the etiquette of the craft maintains the integrity among these urban artists and retaliation is evident when the defacing of an established graffiti artists occurs.
So, what is the difference? According to the city management plan:
Graffiti Art is defined as markings made or affixed to properties that are approved by the property owner or occupant, where the markings aesthetically enhance the surface they cover and the general surroundings, having regard to the community character and standards.
Graffiti Vandalism is defined as any deliberate markings made or affixed on property that is not currently exempted or regularized by the Graffiti Panel, Executive Director or Council and: was made or affixed without permission of the owner; is considered to be a tag; for which there are reasonable grounds to believe that it may incite hatred or violence against any person or identifiable group; or contains profane vulgar or offensive language.
What do you think – Graffiti – is there more to it than meets the eye?
Jason Kucherawy started Tour Guys in 2009 with Steve Woodall, offering quality city walking tours to locals and visitors. They began with free public walking tours in Toronto and Vancouver before successfully branching out into specialty tours. Tour Guys as a business was born. Tour Guys Toronto runs tours including history, beer, ghosts, culture, rock & roll, bacon the fantastic graffiti tour that I had the privilege of taking courtesy of Toronto Tourism and Tour Guys. This tour was offered through the TBEX travel bloggers conference I attended. As always, opinions remain my own.
- Photo essay from the Tour Guys Toronto Graffiti Tour
- Art Crimes: The Culture and Politics of Graffiti Art
- Graffiti Message in Toronto
- The Hug Me tree returns to its roots
- Post Flood: Art and Memory along the Bow River, Calgary