Youth Grafitti Artists still treated as criminals

tagged!

tagged!

Grafitti – a fact of life in most urban areas, has always been a topic of much controversy. Some see it as art and expression, while others see it as vandalism, and a barometer of criminal gang activities. All municipalities have laws prohibiting grafitti to varying degrees and by far the majority of grafitti and “tagging” is created by youth. [ all photos with the article by ACoats 2007]

Reported last week on the CBC – “Manitoba man arrested after posting graffiti on Facebook“. [note – the man was a youth under 17 when posting the tags – A tag is the unique, stylized signature of the person who created the graffiti]

And my comments posted with the cbc.ca article:

Grafitti: nuisance and crime? or, art and free speech? The majority flows from the spray cans and brushes of our youth – as was this “creator”. Is it vandalism, or expression? Which is more visually disturbing – a taggers signature, or a giant 50% OFF SALE sign? Which is more depressing to see plastered all over the city – grafitti artists’ tags and names or public signage in bold black and red, “NO LOITERING”, “NO SHIRTS, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE”? Note to business owners – you want attention? Engage a tagger to liven up that blank concrete wall or make your window display more relevant. Note to Selkirk and St. Clements’ councils and the RCMP – treating grafitti as crime will never end it. You need to support community initiatives which give youth alternatives to gangs. You have far worse problems in your midst than tagging. The Five Man Electrical Band’s anthem, “Signs” is still worth a listen…

Living and working on the streets of Toronto, I see my share of grafitti and I feel it falls into four categories: street art, social commentary, tagging and lastly destructive defacement. You can see from the photo below, that this tag has a destructive element in blocking a store window. You should also know that the storefront was empty for months, and the only view it offered to the street was peeling, yellowed newspaper taped in place.

window grafitti on SpadinaIt could have been worse – in this area, taggers have taken to using glass cutters on windows to carve their grafitti right into the window, causing shopowners to replace the whole window at a very high cost. This is destructive tagging as protest and defacement.

So Hip It Hurts mural

So Hip It Hurts mural

Here, on Queen Street West in Toronto, a clothing store commissioned a large grafitti mural on a second floor sidewall of their store. Normally, I find these murals remain untouched, but this one has been defaced by other street artists and taggers alike.

City of Angels muralAlso on Queen West, the City of Angels store mural has remained untouched by taggers for years, and Grossman’s Tavern, a blues club, has had it’s beautiful yellow facade left untouched until only recently.

Grossmans Tavern or Big Yellow

Grossmans Tavern or Big Yellow

apple iPod grafitti :: Compare street artists, taggers and other grafitti to    the  corporate grafitti and other “approved” legal signage and banners around the city. Which is more pleasing to the eye? Apple’s iPod campaign at the left or the literally thousands of signs that compete for space in the same Chinatown district so plagued by grafitti. Maybe taggers  are reacting to the senseless commercial sign pollution of their neighbourhoods.

Is Toronto's sign bylaw being obeyed?

Is Toronto's sign bylaw being obeyed?

Then there’s the famous “Hug me tree” on Queen West. The photo below is as it appeared a couple of years ago, but then a turf war broke out between the original street artist, who’d cared for it for years, and a newcomer who thought the space deserved a change.  They’ve repainted and sculpted it back and forth and it now stands in disrepair. Perhaps the spring weather will bring it new life.

Hug Me TreeIn the following three photos compare the street art graffiti  to bland booze ads or blank crumbling brick.  Is the painted over brick better esthetically than the tag it covered?

Contrast - which is more appealing?

Contrast - which is more appealing?

Street Artist depicts Toronto homeless

I was contacted by a family friend last week,  Dan Bergeron. Dan has been commissioned by the ROM – the ROM is holding an exhibition over the next few months to showcase street art that depicts the lives of the street homeless, the struggle for affordable housing and to commemorate Toronto’s Tent City. The project, called Housepaint2, first grew out of a Luminato installation on the site of the former Tent City on Toronto’s port lands down by the harbour. In the summer of 2008, Luminato sponsored the Housepaint installation which consisted of canvas houses on which street artists were invited to portray the homeless and issues connected to the lack of housing.

Tent city was a squat on abandoned property just south of the Gardiner overpass, east of Jarvis, which grew slowly in the 90s until it housed over a hundred homeless people in tents, shacks constructed of scrap and the inevitable cardboard shelters. I first visited Tent City in 1999 during a week of homeless outreach and delivered bottled water to the residents there. In 2002, Home Depot, which owned the vacant land, hired private security guards, evicted almost one hundred homeless squatters and bulldozed the tents and shacks. Many of the former residents ended up back out on the streets of Toronto where project417 staff and volunteers still see them today.

Dan Bergeron is a rising young Toronto photographer and street artist who runs Fauxreel Studios. He’s perhaps best known for guerilla style billboard “interventions” – [another billboard here of Donald Trump] and poster art mounted throughout Toronto. Dan has been commissioned by the ROM as one of the new artists to contribute to the evolving Housepaint exhibition. As the display was moved indoors in the ROM there was a disconnect with the homeless it is to portray, and Dan hopes to bridge that gap through art that focuses on our homeless friends and raises awareness about their place in our community.

Inez - by Dan Bergeron / fauxreel

This might be through similar methods to two of his recent projects – the first was also for Luminato and was based in Regent Park last summer – where large portraits of people living in Regent Park were applied to the sides of buildings slated for demolition. Regent Park is Canada’s largest social housing project – most of it is being torn down and re-developed by the city into mixed use dwellings including market value homes and condos, not just social housing – resulting in a massive relocation of hundreds of low income families. According to Dan, in that way the community has a face. The second recent installations last summer and fall were for the AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario’s youth council  titled Shiftchange – it similarly was lifesized posters throughout Toronto, and then the hoarding walls around the AGO renovations itself.

Shiftchange poster - fauxreel.ca

Shiftchange poster - fauxreel.ca

Over the next months,  I’ll be working with Dan through our Project417 outreach programs, like the sandwich runs and community dinners, to connect him to our homeless and under-housed, street involved friends. Hopefully the result will be a series of portraits with the active involvement of the subjects to depict their real-life struggles with homelessness and inadequate housing solutions and a connection to their hopes and future aspirations of careers and life. Dan’s hope and mine is that there is ongoing follow-up with these homeless friends  to contribute to them in a real way. We look forward to the installation at the ROM when it is ready – based on Dan’s past works it is bound to raise community awareness about the homeless and make a real difference.

You can see more about Dan Bergeron’s work and the ROM Housepaint exhibition at fauxreel.ca.  Find out how to volunteer for Project417 or contribute to our homeless outreach programs at project417.com

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