by Dr. Doug Frayn
    As noted from earliest cave-man's markings, individuals have depicted their hopes and fears through art. Graffiti is a graphic art form of contemporary underground language. A "graffito" is a rough drawing or bit of lettering superimposed on a public structure. Such communications often surface as hurried artistic letterings and drawings, furtively displayed in public places and usually expressed in an anti-establishment slogan form. The best- known ancient graffiti are those excavated from the catacombs of Rome and ruins of Pompeii. Poetry, lover names, favourite gladiators, pornographic drawings and political abuse frequented such walls. Officials had placed inscriptions and religious emblems in public latrines to discourage these practices.

    During W.W.2 the graffito "Kilroy was here" (a cheeky little man with a long nose dangling over a wall) was found everywhere that U.S. troops were stationed. Most often it was in off-limits sections of town and meant to taunt authority. Although the origin of "Kilroy" is unknown, it could mean "kill roi"- kill the King. When a relatively powerless individual or group's ideas come into conflict with the main elements of society, graffiti remains one of the few ways available to express unacceptable commentary. A sociologist from Simon Fraser University (Martin Laba) believes that Vancouver's graffiti is a reflection of increasing governmental restraint legislation.

    Graffiti is dreamlike production. Using symbolism, it primarily represents suppressed elements in our society. Through the use of a word, phrase, or neologism, graffiti demonstrates condensation, displacement, timelessness as well as immediate impulse and its expression through graphic discharge. These are the hallmarks of the unconscious. Graffiti then becomes a sublimation via explosive artistic activity with the graphic ritualism replacing the wished-for prohibited or destructive act.

    Each city has its own type of graffiti and Toronto is no exception. Graffiti forms reflect political, sexual, commercial, artistic and recreational attitudes using slang, design and cabals arranged in idiosyncratic ways by the graffitist. Some view graffiti as a form of folk art while others see it as desecration of public property by vandals. By the 1970's the aerosol can was the favoured instrument for defacing public areas and formal advertising. Larger scale writing or "getting up" may be found along with the artist's "tag name" such as "Neon", "Flex" or "TCM" (common Toronto inscriptions). In New York, the display of the infamous artist's signature or code-name is most important and is said to represent "the faith of graffiti", while Toronto graffiti less frequently identifies its artist. The biggest name "writers" (graffiti artists) say they do it for local "anonymous" fame and excitement. Armed with spray cans and the hot rush of a midnight run, they "throw up" instant imagesand clear out before the cops or rival groups catch them "doing a burner". They sometimes go as crews, with several writers "jamming" off each others work. Their gear can include several types of spray cans, respirator masks and even skateboards to make an emergency exit.

    In North America, politics seems to have replaced religion as the contemporary repository for spiritual aspirations and existential frustrations. This can be noted particularly in recent public graffiti. Exterior Toronto graffiti tends to show more political concern and unlike the more amateur indoor graffitists, there is little evidence of sexual or romantic preoccupation. These wall "canvasses" demonstrate political outrages against fascism, communism, chauvinism and public officials. Others leave poignant intimate messages, social comment, ads for rock groups and underground organization announcements. Although the artistic style and handwriting may betray individual artists, Toronto graffitists publicly identify with the group behind the artistic message. In Toronto it seems to be "the message, not the medium" nor for that matter the artist either, that is the more important. Although graffiti can be found throughout the city it is not as common in the suburbs as in the downtown core. Particularly artistic graphics can be found in and around alleyways south of Bloor street (eg.Queen/King) between University and Dufferin avenues.

    In the following candid scenes what is depicted represents more than what is concretely transcribed and may publicly reflect some of our own unspoken inner feelings. As presently noted on the walls of ruined Pompeii, these designs and expressions of vulgar art may even out-live us; the only remnants graphically reflecting the times of our society as well as our own individual psychology. One of the most enjoyable aspects of graffiti is its artistic simplicity and whimsical approach to rather profound concepts. This recreational public art can be artistically enjoyed as well as thoughtfully contemplated. Consider the textured backdrops as well as the more obvious colored messages and script.

    I am hopeful that some of the "Toronto Graffiti" as shown here will stimulate memories of your own favourite pieces. What is depicted here is only a small sample of this varied and often transient art form. The life span of graffiti can vary from a matter of minutes through thousands of years. What you see today maybe erased tomorrow - so enjoy it!

On to the
The Graffiti Gallery Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 or Vol. 3
Or back to Dr. Doug Frayn's Main Page

This page created and maintained by keithn.comMUNICATIONS