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News Piece from Toronto

Discussion in 'Third Rail' started by --zeSto--, Nov 12, 2001.

  1. --zeSto--

    --zeSto-- Guest

    Totally stolen article!
    It's a decent read even if you dont know the city.

    The writing on the wall
    Graffiti artists just gotta tag it
    If it can be tagged, it'll be tagged. If it can be hit, it'll be hit. Starry-eyed kids driven by dreams of graffiti fame are tucking fat markers into their pockets and hitting the streets, bombing mailboxes, bus shelters, stop signs, shop doors, bank machines, subways, pay phones, sidewalks, cube vans, vestibules, streetcar seats... nothing is sacred.

    But don't confuse tagging -- marking a surface with an identifying logo -- with piecing. Pieces are murals, and piecers are artists. These undercover Krylon-wielding, paint-inhaling superfreaks -- Sight, Recka, Duro3, Ren, Daser, Loves, Sader, Meat and Reslis, to name a few -- are masters. They work in back alleys, under bridges, on abandoned buildings, painting brilliant, mind-altering murals for themselves and their peers and friends. They take risks: lurking in rail yards at night, stealing paint if necessary, outrunning the cops. Why? Because graffiti art -- graf -- is the only thing that matters.

    The problem is, these masterpieces are on private property, and not everyone appreciates the cultural value of graffiti art. In fact, Julian Fantino, our get-tough-on-kids police chief, has made nailing "aerosol terrorists" a priority. Believe it or not, here in the megacity, kids are going to go to jail for the love of a Pilot marker and a can of spray paint.

    "I've got 45 charges of mischief against me," moans X (not his real name), a smart, playful and very scared youth whose alleged addiction to tagging has led to the distinct possibility of jail time. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong," he says, "but they can't prove it was me."

    X is right -- unless, as often happens, the nabbed suspect inadvertently gives himself or herself away by saying too much. Because while a certain tag may festoon thousands of surfaces across the city, police typically catch taggers in the act of writing only a single tag and can't prove that the same person was responsible for the others. And catching a tagger isn't the easiest thing in the first place. A marker tag takes all of two seconds, while a sprayed tag might take five. It's a tough collar, but it does happen -- and it's happening more often.

    Staff Sergeant Heinz Kuck of the Toronto Police appreciates the artwork of Toronto's graf kings. "This is great stuff," he enthuses, showing me pictures of several pieces currently adorning Toronto walls. Kuck is the driving force behind the Graffiti Eradication Program, a 53 Division pilot project, and the only Toronto cop assigned exclusively to the graffiti beat. "I understand that there needs to be artistic expression, but I also want to get the message across that graffiti is a crime," he says. "I'm looking for reasonable solutions, because I can't have unrestrained tagging everywhere, but we also can't devote all our resources to catching taggers when there are more serious crimes to deal with."

    In seeking constructive solutions, such as establishing sanctioned graffiti walls, Kuck is a maverick. Take, for example, 14 Division's own pilot project in the west end. Unlike Kuck's program, which is based on community involvement and education, the focus at 14 Division is squarely on enforcement, including tactics like undercover operations.

    "I couldn't believe it when I heard about it," says Recka, a T.O. graf veteran. "You'll be working in an alley and someone'll come up and start tagging and ask, 'What do you write?' [what's your graf name] and you tell them and -- boom -- out come the handcuffs."

    And whereas cops were once permitted to use "discretion" in determining whether to lay charges on someone caught in flagrante graffito, Fantino has instituted zero tolerance. Furthermore, increasing pressure is being laid on crown prosecutors to seek jail terms for repeat offenders instead of settling for fines, which has been the norm.

    Recka's already been busted several times, and each time he received a fine. The last time he spent a couple of days in detention because his parents wouldn't bail him out. "They wanted to teach me a lesson," he says, but he hasn't given up graf. "I can't. It's impossible."

    That's because it's intoxicating. It's the rush of doing something illegal, of being part of a secret community, of sacrificing everything for one's art. For dedicated "bombers," life is art and art is life -- and the city a vast gray canvas in need of a visual facelift.

    Consider the fact that these are artists who request no recognition from society at large, claim no ownership of their art, readily let others paint over their work, not only do not get paid but spend every spare cent on supplies. As well, they work quasi-anonymously and in constant fear of getting arrested, and their work is utterly ignored by the cultural establishment. Recka's painting pals -- his crew -- are known as HSA: Humble Servants of Art.

    But why do they need to vandalize? They don't -- they just need walls. Since few bombers have their own supply, they seek out other unwanted or ignored walls. They need walls because graf is a large-scale exterior medium. You can't paint murals in your bathroom.

    Graf galleries -- and there are maybe 10 important ones across the city -- are constantly changing. Intricate collective works made by any of T.O.'s many crews (KOW, UNC, TDV, KWOTA, HSA, etc.) are here today and gone tomorrow, replaced by other, equally stunning projections of the urban imagination.

    Among the best-known galleries are the Keele Wall (behind the Midas Muffler on Bloor east of Keele) and Keele Alleys (extending east from Keele Wall for several blocks); the Queen Alleys (south of Queen and west of Spadina), much of which has been sacrificed to a new condo project; Planet Struck, under the Bathurst viaduct south of Front; and along the RT line in Scarborough, which features a half-dozen walls by Duro3 and his many friends. "I've got the biggest gallery in North America," he crows.

    Of course, those are the public galleries, the legal or semi-legal walls. The underground galleries are where the real action is -- under bridges, behind industrial buildings, along rail tracks. "If you want to find them," says Recka, "just explore the city. That's what we do."

    Most people think all graf looks the same. Which is fair, because in a sense it does, just as all rock 'n' roll or classical music sounds the same to an untrained ear. As with any art form, the better educated you are, the more you can appreciate the subtleties and skills of different artists. Another reason it looks the same is that in every case what's being painted is letters. Graf is all about stylized letters. It's a living, breathing, burning alphabet.

    Duro3 paints erupting fibre-optic wormholes, Recka paints prismatic sidereal slipstreams, Meat paints bloody illuminated labyrinths, Loves paints converging hurricanes, Ren paints hip-hop hieroglyphics. Some writers favour a flat style, while others prefer 3D or bubble letters; some like to add figures while others stick exclusively to letters; some like complex geometries while others embrace swirling conflagrations. Colours, backgrounds, fills, highlights, drips, tips -- the results can be as distinct as the rhyming styles of hip-hop artists.

    And that's no casual analogy, because graffiti art is rooted in hip-hop, having come out of the Bronx in the late '70s along with breakdancing, scratching and rapping -- the other three essentials of hip-hop culture. But how does that hip-hop heritage play out in contemporary Toronto? According to Bomba -- the most prominent woman artist in Toronto's graf history and an "old school" Latina B-girl -- it doesn't.

    "It's a copycat scene now," says Bomba, who retired a few years ago after a 12-year career. "The insertion of hip-hop into mainstream culture has led to kids learning from books and videos. They don't have their own style that they've been developing for years, like we did. We'd be out there four or five nights a week, rain or snow or whatever. We'd be out bombing in Sudbury! Now kids can become graf artists overnight. You just make up a name, bite [steal] someone's letters and that's it. I'd say that 70 per cent of taggers and piecers today are middle-class white kids."

    Indeed, only a few of the approximately 50 active piecers in the city are black. What makes this fact ironic is that the crackdown on graf artists and taggers is largely inspired by the aggressive anti-graffiti measures being adopted in the U.S. as part of widespread minority-targeted, anti-gang legislation. California, for example, recently lowered the threshold for bumping a vandalism charge from a misdemeanor to a felony (resulting in near-certain multi-year jail terms) from $50,000 to $400. That's going to put a lot of young California artists in jail.

    But should we put our artists in jail? Is that how we want to deal with ambitious, creative, alienated youth? Almost everybody agrees it is a problem, including many of the "writers" themselves. And part of that problem is lumping together tagging and piecing.

    "Tagging is really a bunch of shit," says Bomba. "At one time I would have condoned it, but not now."

    Duro3 adds, "There's a place for it -- alleys and buildings no one's taking care of. People shouldn't tag houses, stores or churches."

    Yet a lot of piecers also tag. Up-and-comers intrigued by the art of tagging and the chance for quick fame with a marker often set out to dethrone these kings by "getting up" as widely as possible. And being teenagers, they don't care where they tag, so the city gets defaced. Property owners get mad and are forced to spend thousands of dollars to clean up. And the piecers, especially those who no longer tag but who devote themselves to murals, get caught in the crossfire.

    What's the answer? How do we get kids to stop tagging -- or at least to stop tagging indiscriminately? Sergeant Kuck is considering pushing for free walls, but the concern is that a wall will inspire even more graffiti in a neighbourhood.

    Recka thinks it will. "You can give a painter walls and paint, but he's going to tag on the way in and tag going out. And the neighbourhoods get bombed and destroyed.

    "Unless they were really serious about it. Like if we had 20 walls, and paint, it would be worth it to stop tagging."

    Every year the city of Toronto hires dozens of youths to work on its Graffiti Transformation Projects. The original goal of this program was to help eliminate unwanted graffiti, especially tagging. As anyone with eyes can attest, however, the program has failed. It produces a handful of harmless murals every summer, but that's it.

    "They should take that money," says Recka, "and hire real graf writers to do walls. They do that in the Bronx, and in Europe. Drop the 'Transformation' and just make it 'Graffiti Projects.' We could do amazing murals, things we've never dreamed of. Then it would be worth it for people to stop tagging. But only if we had, like, 20 big walls."

    Sound unlikely? Maybe. But Recka's idea makes economic sense. A couple of hundred thousand bucks a year is a small price to pay for a cleaner city. Not to mention the reclamation of expensive police, judicial, parks-and-rec and public works resources. And let's not forget all the great art we'd get out of the deal.

    One free wall won't change anybody's mind. But 20 might. And 20 walls aren't that many in a city of four million people. Otherwise, as Sergeant Kuck acknowledges, "New kids are going to keep doing it and we're going to keep chasing them and nothing will change."

    Except for one thing: we'll start putting our teenage artists in jail.
  2. --zeSto--

    --zeSto-- Guest

    keep in mind that the writer of this article may be full of shit at times.

    but the read is interesting.
  3. hipnos

    hipnos Guest

    well worth the time reading it.. that was cool.. humble servants of art.. heh..
  4. The Helacious Dr. Dazzle

    The Helacious Dr. Dazzle Member

    Joined: Sep 23, 2001 Messages: 257 Likes Received: 0
  5. it was good untill they started mentioning hip hop...
  6. Boring Bastard

    Boring Bastard Elite Member

    Joined: Feb 1, 2001 Messages: 3,784 Likes Received: 1
    True indeed!! The whole hip hop shit is played like Atari!!
  7. tue skinny

    tue skinny Elite Member

    Joined: Jul 3, 2001 Messages: 4,781 Likes Received: 0
    graffiti is bad. canada is cool
  8. BROWNer

    BROWNer Guest

    20 walls won't stop shit.
    finding and painting your own
    killer spots is too much fun.
    good luck kuck.
  9. Step8

    Step8 Senior Member

    Joined: Nov 25, 2000 Messages: 1,367 Likes Received: 11
    what is the source/publisher?
  10. bigpoppa.k

    bigpoppa.k Elite Member

    Joined: May 2, 2001 Messages: 3,152 Likes Received: 18
    yeah zesto where'd you steal this from??
  11. T.T Boy

    T.T Boy Dirty Dozen Crew

    Joined: May 18, 2001 Messages: 21,803 Likes Received: 41
    hmmm....... soon itll be just like cali in the bigger canadian cities. oh well, graffiti will still go on.
  12. Vanity

    Vanity Veteran Member

    Joined: Apr 11, 2000 Messages: 7,673 Likes Received: 6
    damn middle class white kids
  13. drake mallard

    drake mallard Senior Member

    Joined: Jan 14, 2001 Messages: 1,269 Likes Received: 0
    recka's a nice kid....but as for his buddies...humble?

    sorry i couldnt resist.
  14. --zeSto--

    --zeSto-- Guest

    for those who care...
    the real article is here
    I'm really suprised you didn't see this one popK

    VANITY- your comment applies to the author? or the subject?

    MALLARD - "sorry i couldnt resist." sure you could if you wanted to.
  15. bigpoppa.k

    bigpoppa.k Elite Member

    Joined: May 2, 2001 Messages: 3,152 Likes Received: 18
    alright cool zesto..
    T.T... you're half right. it'll be a combo between cali and nyc.. if you could imagine that..
    and drake.. yes you could've resisted. continue your childish bullshit.. come back to toronto if you wanna talk more shit about us. then see what happens.