41

Rob “Eraserman” Ford, hold your fire! All graffiti is not evil!

Street art has earned its place in the urban wilderness


 

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford attacks graffiti with a power washer. Photo: Tara Walton/Toronto Star

If I can step off the film beat for a moment, I like to take a look at a local blockbuster superhero: Eraserman. I’m talking about Rob Ford and his recent foray into performance art. Last week, the Toronto mayor hit the street with a high-pressure spray gun to deface graffiti for the cameras. With this stunt, worthy of a Gotham comic book, Ford is painting himself as a boots-on-the-ground crusader out to purge our  abused walls of graphic crime. All that’s missing is the cape.

For a politician, graffiti is as easy target. A lot of it is ugly, offensive or simply banal. But hey, that’s also true of a lot of art, even the pricey stuff that hangs in corporate boardrooms. To tar all graffiti with one brush, or nozzle, is bone-headed. There are all kinds of graffiti, ranging from puerile vandalism to high art. Taking spray cans to the street is one of most dynamic movements to hit modern art in years, producing stars from Basquiat to Banksy. It’s also public art of the most democratic kind. Free, chaotic and ever-changing, it’s urban cave painting, a zoo of individual gestures that form a fluid collage of  collective expression.  Whether or not graffiti should be erased by public officials is not a black-and-white issue. Whether it should survive depends what it’s like, where it is and the spirit in which it’s created.

It’s one thing to recklessly deface a tidy piece of public or private property.  Any artist who’s into that kind of mischief has to know he’s an outlaw working in a highly impermanent medium. But it’s something else to lavish some spray paint on a derelict alley wall, a strip of industrial wasteland—or a bridge abutment in a ravine.

I’ve been photographing graffiti in Toronto’s ravines for years. Bisected by highways, rail lines, bridges and industrial blight, these are wild urban spaces. The lyrical tags adorning slabs of concrete and rusting steel connect these  structures to the tangle of nature that surrounds them. It roots them in the landscape. Like the forests and wetlands in the ravines, this art is in constant metamorphosis. It’s a jungle of molting paint. Some of it is ugly; some is beautiful. But it definitely seems to belong. To wipe it all clean would be an act of industrial vandalism. It would also be pointless. The war on graffiti, like the war on drugs, is unwinnable.

Eraserman, no matter how long and hard you clean, in the end all you’re doing is preparing a fresh canvas.

Click on any of the below thumbnails to view a gallery of my graffiti photos:


 

Rob “Eraserman” Ford, hold your fire! All graffiti is not evil!

  1. I find it odd that Ford wants to attack graffiti on private property. I thought he was a conservative and therefore considered private property sacrosanct. But now he's using my tax dollars to force private citizens make their own structures look a certain way because he has a personal problem with graffiti.

  2. I find it odd that Ford wants to attack graffiti on private property. I thought he was a conservative and therefore considered private property sacrosanct. But now he's using my tax dollars to force private citizens make their own structures look a certain way because he has a personal problem with graffiti.

  3. This is one initiative of Ford's I embrace wholeheartedly.

    Most graffiti is not just ugly, it is an act of aggression. By tagging buildings, gangs claim our city for themselves. Whether graffiti is found on someone's garage or in some industrial park makes no difference — the city streets, our urban streetscape belongs to all of us not just to taggers. I can't wait until my city is clean again.

  4. This is one initiative of Ford's I embrace wholeheartedly.

    Most graffiti is not just ugly, it is an act of aggression. By tagging buildings, gangs claim our city for themselves. Whether graffiti is found on someone's garage or in some industrial park makes no difference — the city streets, our urban streetscape belongs to all of us not just to taggers. I can't wait until my city is clean again.

  5. GRAVY TRAIN EXPRESS

    Way to spend money on something that is never going away!

  6. GRAVY TRAIN EXPRESS

    Way to spend money on something that is never going away!

  7. There are all kinds of graffiti, ranging from puerile vandalism to high art. Taking spray cans to the street is one of most dynamic movements to hit modern art in years, producing stars from Basquiat to Banksy.

    Uh, no. Without the permission or the request of the owner of the item being defaced, whether that item be a public good or private property, it is vandalism.

  8. There are all kinds of graffiti, ranging from puerile vandalism to high art. Taking spray cans to the street is one of most dynamic movements to hit modern art in years, producing stars from Basquiat to Banksy.

    Uh, no. Without the permission or the request of the owner of the item being defaced, whether that item be a public good or private property, it is vandalism.

    • You should be aware then that Ford has instructed city by-law officers to go after murals that were approved by the owners of the properties in question. In his discussions he has made it clear that this is an aesthetic choice, he does not like graffiti, no matter what the property owner thinks of it. Paradoxically, street art and other types of murals have been shown to actually reduce the amount of tagging since graffiti artists don't like to deface each others' work.

      Now, let's suppose that I own a shop and someone throws up a piece graffiti on the back of it without my permission but I decide that it's well done and I like it, is it not my right as owner of that private property to keep it? If I don't like it, is it not my right as the property owner to decide when and how I will remove it? Ford says "no" as he sends out city staff to whitewash walls and then bill property owners for the service that they did not ask to receive.

      • Maybe you missed "Without the permission or the request of the owner" part? That's what makes it vandalism, not whatever schlocky excuse Mr. Johnson is offering up.

        As to your point: If you as a property owner do not like whatever property esthetics by-laws are in effect in a given municipality, you should petition for change.

        But as long as it is illegal for anyone to paint "Dan next door tortures kittens and really likes ten-year-old girls a little too much!" on your neighbour's garage door, no matter how much the property owner might like it, I am sure you would agree that the "art" in question doesn't stand a legal chance.

        • Well then that would fall into the same category as if someone took out a full-page ad in the newspaper or erected a full-sized billboard insinuating the very same. No special law is required in those instances where such statements employed the medium of spray paint.

          • Idiot! You have to pay the billboard owner or publisher and they can also refuse to print your "art". What a mindless comment.

          • Actually it seems that they will put pretty much anything on billboards. Most of them are worse-looking than most graffiti.

        • That people have been killed over everything from lovers to Air Jordans does not mean that we should ban either sex or basketball.

          • That neither sex nor basketball is illegal, whereas vandalism is, means nothing to you?

  9. Wow, what a bunch of rubbish.

    "It's a jungle of molting paint. Some of it is ugly; some is beautiful. But it definitely seems to belong." It absolutely does NOT belong there or anywhere other than a site/spot approved by the owner of the location.

    Brian it sounds to me like you are defending graffiti so you can continue with your hobby of photographing them.

  10. Wow, what a bunch of rubbish.

    "It%E2%80%99s a jungle of molting paint. Some of it is ugly; some is beautiful. But it definitely seems to belong." It absolutely does NOT belong there or anywhere other than a site/spot approved by the owner of the location.

    Brian it sounds to me like you are defending graffiti so you can continue with your hobby of photographing them.

  11. Wow, what a bunch of rubbish.

    "It's a jungle of molting paint. Some of it is ugly; some is beautiful. But it definitely seems to belong." It absolutely does NOT belong there or anywhere other than a site/spot approved by the owner of the location.

    Brian it sounds to me like you are defending graffiti so you can continue with your hobby of photographing them.

  12. You should be aware then that Ford has instructed city by-law officers to go after murals that were approved by the owners of the properties in question. In his discussions he has made it clear that this is an aesthetic choice, he does not like graffiti, no matter what the property owner thinks of it. Paradoxically, street art and other types of murals have been shown to actually reduce the amount of tagging since graffiti artists don't like to deface each others' work.

    Now, let's suppose that I own a shop and someone throws up a piece graffiti on the back of it without my permission but I decide that it's well done and I like it, is it not my right as owner of that private property to keep it? If I don't like it, is it not my right as the property owner to decide when and how I will remove it? Ford says "no" as he sends out city staff to whitewash walls and then bill property owners for the service that they did not ask to receive.

  13. Maybe you missed "Without the permission or the request of the owner" part? That's what makes it vandalism, not whatever schlocky excuse Mr. Johnson is offering up.

    As to your point: If you as a property owner do not like whatever property esthetics by-laws are in effect in a given municipality, you should petition for change.

    But as long as it is illegal for anyone to paint "Dan next door tortures kittens and really likes ten-year-old girls a little too much!" on your neighbour's garage door, no matter how much the property owner might like it, I am sure you would agree that the "art" in question doesn't stand a legal chance.

  14. Well then that would fall into the same category as if someone took out a full-page ad in the newspaper or erected a full-sized billboard insinuating the very same. No special law is required in those instances where such statements employed the medium of spray paint.

  15. That people have been killed over everything from lovers to Air Jordans does not mean that we should ban either sex or basketball.

  16. People who "paint" public or private property without permission are vandals. Why don't you understand that? It isn't a matter of whether some people like it or not, it is vandalism.
    Brian, you are a clueless fool.
    Go Ford, wipe this rubbish out.

  17. People who "paint" public or private property without permission are vandals. Why don't you understand that? It isn't a matter of whether some people like it or not, it is vandalism.
    Brian, you are a clueless fool.
    Go Ford, wipe this rubbish out.

  18. It might not all be evil, but who is to tell.

    If it wasn't washed away, wouldn't it loose it's primary idiom?

  19. It might not all be evil, but who is to tell.

    If it wasn't washed away, wouldn't it loose it's primary idiom?

  20. The "reporter" is wrong. If one keeps after removing graffiti the vandals usually give up on your building or neighbourhood. But if you leave just one tag it will attract more tags like bees to honey. Also I find it quite odd that most early tags on a building land up on doors and other easily paintable surfaces. But let it sit it attracts more as I said and soon its on your brick walls and other hard to clean surfaces. I'm in the graffiti removal business and thing graffiti is the greatest boon to my wallet since …oh I don't know what!

  21. The "reporter" is wrong. If one keeps after removing graffiti the vandals usually give up on your building or neighbourhood. But if you leave just one tag it will attract more tags like bees to honey. Also I find it quite odd that most early tags on a building land up on doors and other easily paintable surfaces. But let it sit it attracts more as I said and soon its on your brick walls and other hard to clean surfaces. I'm in the graffiti removal business and thing graffiti is the greatest boon to my wallet since …oh I don't know what!

    • … since you started carrying a wallet?

  22. … since you started carrying a wallet?

  23. I don't care if someone spray-paints the next Mona Lisa – if it's on my property, I'm going to erase it.

  24. I don't care if someone spray-paints the next Mona Lisa – if it's on my property, I'm going to erase it.

  25. Idiot! You have to pay the billboard owner or publisher and they can also refuse to print your "art". What a mindless comment.

  26. Actually it seems that they will put pretty much anything on billboards. Most of them are worse-looking than most graffiti.

  27. Grafiti is vandalism. It is damaging someone else property. On top of this, property owners are fined if they do not remove them from their building in Toronto.

    Can it be stopped? Doubtful. But it does not help to make it sound like art or a gift.

    I doubt very much the writer would call art me going over his/her house and throwing a brick through the front window.

  28. Grafiti is vandalism. It is damaging someone else property. On top of this, property owners are fined if they do not remove them from their building in Toronto.

    Can it be stopped? Doubtful. But it does not help to make it sound like art or a gift.

    I doubt very much the writer would call art me going over his/her house and throwing a brick through the front window.

  29. Someone make sure the Mayor is actually spraying graffiti. He and his supporters would probably happily blast legitimate murals and might even like to take their hoses to the ROM.

  30. Someone make sure the Mayor is actually spraying graffiti. He and his supporters would probably happily blast legitimate murals and might even like to take their hoses to the ROM.

  31. That neither sex nor basketball is illegal, whereas vandalism is, means nothing to you?

Sign in to comment.