Walk Leader: Michael Eddendon
Text by: Michael Eddendon
The line at Tim Hortons was moving slowly.
“We did a Jane’s Walks on the weekend,” and knowing Jim added, “They’re free.”
“Oh. They’re tours, lectures on Toronto?”
“It was on Graffiti, on the lane where Rick Mercer does his Rants—”
“No!” said Jim, “It’s a set, they built it for him!”
“No, the lane’s real. Graffiti covers entire buildings,” I said slightly exaggerating.
“They allow that here!?”
“Blocks and blocks.”
Next!” shouted the cashier, looking directly at us.
The Walk started at the HUG Me tree on Queen Street, and ended a kilometre later at an
unmarked entrance to an obscure back lane. To an involved minority, this was “Graffiti Alley”, three blocks of graffiti. Officially and to everyone else, it was the prosaic Rush Lane. Like all graffiti artists, it was incognito.
Our guides explained graffiti’s technical slang but Throw-ups, Bombs, Pieces, and Tags became a hopelessly exotic tangle in my mind. But the issues stuck. The guide pointed to a Throw-up above the street, half-hidden by a billboard ad. Both screamed for attention, one legally and for money, one not. What is vandalism or art—in a city?
This helped but didn’t prepare me for Graffiti Alley. At first, graffiti didn’t extend much above
doorways, but as the buildings gained height, the graffiti grew upwards, two, then three storeys, swirling around windows like vines, to rooftops wherever they could. Styles and colours varied wildly, exuberant and chaotic.
Paradoxically, it felt like an art gallery, or perhaps a parody of one. There were no cars; our group toured on foot as in any aisle in a formal gallery. We listened quietly to the guides, stood about impressed by the skill on display and wondered what it all meant.
It never entered my head that it might be vandalism.
Today it’s impossible to define Art, but the popular notion that it’s supposed to be above the
quotidian needs of business, or demands of ideology, is hard to shake in the public’s mind. It’s not supposed to be correct, just honest. Maybe fun, even cartoon fun. And unauthorized, like this neglected back lane. It certainly felt that way standing between the Alley’s big painted walls: a very public art gallery of the City, eleven football fields long, of graffiti.