Art

Graffiti, it can be a wonderful thing

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When we hear the word graffiti, what comes to mind? For many, thoughts of delinquent teens and adults defacing storefronts and buildings may be an initial reaction. What if graffiti was done in a respectful, meaningful approach then perhaps some mindsets would change.

Photo of SKAM work

Respect vs. Disrespectful Graffiti

Commonly, vacant and abandoned storefronts become instant and easy targets for unwanted tags. Opportunists, alongside some graffiti artists, jump at the chance to leave their mark on these spaces. What is left are distasteful, sometimes disrespectful and deterring images. Communities do not want this, as it can project a negative and grungy vibe. In fact, the City of Toronto has a bylaw under Chapter 485 that notes, “the owner or occupant of property shall maintain the property free of graffiti or vandalism”. If the owner or occupant does not comply, they can face a fine.

Many communities, neighbourhoods and property owners have taken matters into their hands by hiring artists to create murals and art pieces on surfaces that would otherwise be tagged. The City of Toronto has a program called StreetARToronto. They are described as, “…a proactive program that treats streets as vital public space and aims to develop, support and increase awareness of street art and its indispensable role in generating social and economic benefits, adding beauty and character to Toronto’s communities and counteracting the negative effects of graffiti vandalism.”

SKAM – A Graffiti Legend

Photo credit: Meg Marshall

Meet SKAM; He has encountered almost every perspective people have with this artform. Yes, we said artform because when executed in some ways, it is certainly a work of art. He started spraying the streets of Toronto in 1992. With a naturally creative and artistic aptitude and with love for hip-hop culture, his love for graffiti was born. Considered one of Toronto’s original graffiti artists, he has certainly paid his respects, earned enormous credibility and has helped to beautify hundreds of walls throughout the city.
SKAM went to school at George Brown and studied graphic design. He has a great eye for colour and the composition that equally compliments his colour combination choices. Bright, bold, energetic and vibrant are keywords used to describe his pieces. What is very admirable about his work is that he has consistently maintained the traditional elements of graffiti. Using a New York style, certain types of icons and shapes are found in his work like arrows, swirls and glow streaks. Most recently, SKAM completed a two-story mural in the neighbourhood of Bloordale, helping to showcase the lifestyle of the area.

SKAM has been able to turn his passion and art form into a sustainable full-time career. He has worked with big name clients like Beanfield Metroconnect, Louis Vuitton, Google, and Cineplex just to name a few. Also, he has done many commissioned pieces for individuals to enjoy in their homes.

About six years ago, he opened a graffiti supply store called Homebase, where artists from around the city and beyond come to visit, share stories and of course grab paint for their personal projects.

Photo by: Meg Marshall

He is also proud that artful graffiti is becoming much more respected, accepted and appreciated. This spring, SKAM had the honour of being the first ever featured graffiti artist to have a showcase at Waddington’s (Canada’s oldest and renowned art auction house). It was a very successful event with eight pieces sold to private buyers to have in their spaces.

Photo credit: Waddingtons – Patrick Cummins

History of Graffiti Alley

Toronto is very lucky and fortunate to have Graffiti Alley (initially referred to as The Queen Alley), just south of Queen Street West from Spadina to Portland. Wall to wall, top to bottom on the backside of buildings are walls filled with legitimate graffiti. SKAM was one of the original artists and shared with us the true and unknown history of the creation of the alley.

Photo of SKAM work, Bloordale Piece

An artist by the name of REN had the first piece dating back to the early 1980s, but the culture did not pick up until the mid-1990s. More pieces accumulated over time. Where the Starbucks at the corner of Richmond and Spadina now is, was originally a bridal store and FX Prom Dresses. That location was the longest and largest wall in the alleys where consecutive pieces could be painted side by side and an artist by the name of WYSPER was the person who sought out the permission for this wall. For about half a decade, SKAM and his crew would be found painting and be freshening up the wall on a weekly basis. A lot of international graffiti artists were invited to paint on this wall when they were in town, and this helped the Toronto graffiti scene flourish and gain attention as fans would not be given the opportunity otherwise to see artwork from these artists.

Visitors from across Ontario and beyond started to flock to Graffiti Alley to see the ever-changing artwork and hotspot. The alley grew longer as more property owners accepted the graffiti art form and would ask the artists to come and paint their walls. The FX Prom Dresses wall had a huge influence on the culture of graffiti for the City of Toronto. Graffiti Alley has gained significant attention, as Rick Mercer has been using it for years as part of his This Hour Has 22 Minute segments. Hollywood movie productions, commercials, print ads and fashion bloggers use these alleys as backdrops every day now. What needs to be reflected is the respect and credit given to the artists that helped create and have contemporary pieces there.

If Interested in learning more about graffiti or trying the art, follow SKAM on Instagram or visit Homebase Toronto at 11 Camden Street, Toronto.

 

416 Photo Series: Novice photojournalist Ankur Bhojane’s Graffiti Alley

 

Meg Marshall

Meg is a fashion enthusiast, loves checking out Toronto restaurants, is a horse mom, and loves the community of Liberty Village. When not in Toronto, she can often be found in Chicago, another favourite city of hers. Check out her personal blog at chirontolife.com

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