Graffiti Alley

There is a lane way in downtown Toronto that is a popular destination for photographers, and the subject of numerous posts by various bloggers – including Norm for Thursday Doors two years ago.

Day with Mary #7

I finally visited Graffiti Alley myself for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I met fellow blogger, Mary, from As I Walk Toronto.

Graffiti Alley isn’t its real name … but I’m pretty sure no one has ever heard of Rush Lane.

Day with Mary #3

If you are familiar with Canadian TV, you would recognize Graffiti Alley as the backdrop for Rick Mercer’s popular weekly rant, originally shown on the political satire 22 Minutes and more recently on The Rick Mercer Report.

As Mary and I walked through the alley dodging mud puddles and patches of ice on this February day, my only regret was not seeing Rick Mercer with his cameraman recording his latest rant.

Day with Mary #4
This former loading door (it counts as a door, right?) was about my shoulder height off the ground.  This guy was with several friends who were recording boomerang videos as he jumped off the ledge.  I suggested that Mary should try it, but for some reason she thought it might be a bad idea.

I’m pretty sure Mary would be alarmed by the label, but I’m going to call her a bit of an expert on street art.  It is a regular feature on her blog and she is knowledgeable about the various artists whose work pops up around the city.

She tells me that the artwork in Graffiti Alley occasionally gets painted over – particularly starting in the spring – and she was able to point out various pieces that were new to her from her last visits.

Day with Mary #1
This really is a door, but there are so many things about this scene which puzzle me …. like, is this a sign for a security cat on the other side?

In fact, while we were there, a wall was being worked on by artist Uber5000.  The name meant nothing to me, but it did to Mary.  She was able to talk to him about his various pieces throughout the city and over the years.

To say I was impressed would be an understatement.

Day with Mary #8
Uber5000’s newest creation.  There’s no door here, but it has a raccoon.  Those damn things are EVERYWHERE.  Four young guys timidly asked me to take their photo in front of this mural.  It turns out they were tourists from Switzerland.  How is it tourists find this stuff, when residents like me have never been here?!!

I like street art – when it’s thoughtful and interesting.

Day with Mary #6
I bet I’m the first person to have ever thought of taking this photo with the real CN Tower in the background {wink}.  In case you’re wondering, the YYZ are the call letters for Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

However, in my opinion the difference between graffiti and vandalism is a much finer line.  Mostly, I just don’t get it.

Day with Mary #2
Even the trash bins have been graffitized … and yes, that’s a door behind them.

Thursday Doors is a weekly photo feature hosted by Norm Frampton from Norm 2.0.

106 comments

  1. Just catching up with my friends, Joanne! Crazy work schedule and personal family life amok.
    Art is great if it is on property approved or accepted to display graffiti.
    The tower with the painted mural was beautiful, Joanne! So much to see in the details.

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    • I know the feeling about real life interfering with virtual life 🙂 I don’t have nearly the time to read or writing blogs that I used to have. That’s not such a bad thing I guess.

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      • It is definitely Not a bad thing! 😊
        I have read the same chapter of a friend and fellow blogger’s book, although a great book, I just am not choosing my time to read wisely. . . Usually the end of the day and too sleepy.

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  2. I do like street art, but that line crossing into graffiti can be thin. My favorite are murals that are often commissioned by the city. We have a few here in Roanoke. And I loved the ones that I saw in Glasgow.

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    • There’s no question that well-done murals can elevate a dreary looking neighbourhood. I remember one of the first murals I ever saw was a building on a corner with its entire side exposed to the street – a large brick wall devoid of any windows or doors. It had been painted with a giant leafy tree. The effect was stunning. I’ve been a fan ever since.

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  3. I cannot get my head around how anyone, ANYONE, can make this kind of art with spray paint. Vancouver has a lot of buildings with street art. These are fabulous. Thanks so much for the pictures. They are fantabulous. 🙂

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    • Thanks Tess. I hadn’t thought of the spray paint angle, but you’re right. The precision and control would be quite different.
      For me it was always the size of the ‘canvas’ they are working with that leaves me in awe. Being able to visualize their creation in sumo-format amazes me.

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  4. Joanne I recognize it from theRock Merced rants but had no idea where it was! Fabulous and how fun to go with someone who was so knowledgeable about the artists. I wonder when someone’s art is painted over are they upset? Is there some kind of etiquette? Love the photo with the tower in the background. Definitely hope to check this out on our next visit to Toronto.

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  5. I’m so glad you got together with Mary, whose most excellent finds I’ve been following for a while, and that she took you to see “her” street art. 🙂 The Swiss made me chuckle. Here, a quick story: when my father was in Rio de Janeiro, he climbed up to the Jesus statue in the most terrible heat. Yes, there is a funicular, but he is Slovenian. The only other people he met while climbing were a Swiss couple. 😀

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    • That was my reaction too. I was so busy absorbing the whole, I didn’t have time to explore and appreciate all the tiny details. That’s what made it so nice to be with someone like Mary who was familiar with the alley. She could focus on the details and pointed out many things I would have missed completely.

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  6. Terrific collection Joanne. I particularly like the fish wall. I am impressed by Mary too! Very cool.

    Okay this post brings to mind the alley of street art in San Francisco and the cities of Yogyakarta and Lisbon. The latter is definitely more grafitti than art, but both these cities have an impressive collection of street art. I think we wrote posts on both of them. Here is the one from Indonesia in case you are interested:

    http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/2014/03/jogyakarta-indonesia-city-life-vs-village-life.html

    Such a fun post!

    Peta

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    • Thanks Peta for sharing the link. I would definitely classify it as more graffiti than art … but that’s the thing with art. It’s so subjective.
      The one thing that really impresses me is their ability to visualize their work on such a large “canvas”.

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  7. A wonderfully colourful post, Joanne! Love the dynamic vibrance!
    I appreciate your commentary on street art & vandalism; have often had that conversation and there really isn’t a clearcut response. For me, vandalism is a destructive force; whereas art is a positive force that evokes a response (regardless of whether I like it or not).

    I love your whimsical composition of the CN Tower!

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  8. I totally agree, Joanne. How do tourists find so many cool things in our own cities that we often miss ourselves? Brilliant photos!

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  9. The doors are hard to dpot in some of those images. Great camouflage.

    I like graffiti when it’s art, not so much tagging. However,
    I don’t like them defacing private property.
    I like it best when cities give them some space to use as they wish.

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  10. Beautiful shots. I think these artists work for free, so it’s all pure heart. I also enjoy some of the graffiti I see on the sides of railroad box cars, though I doubt Southern Pacific enjoys it.

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  11. I agree with you Joanne – I love the graffiti that’s done well, artistic, but don’t understand or appreciate the graffiti that’s done to vandalize or mark territory. Graffiti Alley is a very cool place and I agree with your friend Mary that it probably wouldn’t be wise to jump from the loading dock door. Ouch!

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  12. Loved the 1st photo of the gate door! When I was visiting Honolulu last moth they held their Pow Wow festival whereby street artists from around the world joined local artists to oaint new or over previous building murals. Really awesome work; however, we we a couple days early before the festival so only got shots of the prior work. I’ll be dong more posts on this area in the future. Visit Honolulu when you get a chance!

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  13. The distinction has always been interesting to me as well. I think street art is found where those who own the building/whatever don’t mind it, while graffiti is the rest. It’s all art, I guess, but there’s plenty of art put where it isn’t wanted and I’d be angry if I were the owner. I don’t know, but whatever it is and wherever, I prefer something attractive and not objectionable (but objectionable to whom?) Ahh, well, whatever the end result of the discussion and distinction, I like the chickens and the bright colors. Thanks, Joanne.

    janet

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  14. I’m not a fan of random street art, which looks and feels identical to vandalism to me, but I really do love this street you’ve captured. The colours and detail are stunning, especially of the gate, the loading dock and the CN tower one.
    You find such interesting sites to photograph, Joanne. I’d never heard of Graffiti Alley. The next time I’m in Toronto, I really need to get off the main streets, out of the bookstores and art shops, and into this whole other world that you capture so beautifully for us.

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    • You always have such nice words to say. Thank you!!

      Since you mentioned bookstores, it reminded me of a book store I thought might interest you. The place is called The Monkey’s Paw and it deals in antique books. What attracts me however is that they have a specially designed vending machine that randomly selects a book for you – for a toonie.
      http://www.monkeyspaw.com/about/

      It must be serendipitous that I read this comment this morning, because I’m going to be in this general area this afternoon. Thanks for the reminder that it’s been on my list of things to do to check out this place and see what book the Universe divines me to have today 🙂

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  15. I love, love, love this! We have a small version here in Boise – our own Freak Alley. I loved seeing the art in Roosevelt Row in Phoenix. If I ever get to Toronto, I’ll be checking this out for sure! Some of these street artists have an unbelievable amount of talent. Check out seth_globepainter on Instagram! Thanks so much for sharing this! ~ Lynn

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    • You’re the 2nd person to mention Freak Alley. I looked up some of the images and omg! … the artistry is amazing! So Much Colour!!

      I went to check out seth_globepainter on Instagram. Another amazing talent. There is a definite theme that seems to emerge from this work – children without faces, often immersed in a another world. I wish I was better at interpreting symbolism. To me it seems to illustrate how children see the world differently.

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  16. Vandalism or art? The answer to the question is so simple. It’s vandalism if you put your “art” on my house or my fence but art when I see it somewhere else. 🙂

    There is so much room for the street artists, we have grey walls, boring tunnels. I wish every city would give them a practice area.

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  17. I too love the real street art and murals and hate the other stuff especially the tags that are often left on the good art. I never knew Toronto had this either, but tourists often find out about this stuff.

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  18. I love street art and this is wonderful, Joanne! We have places around town that I love to photograph (like our graffiti bridge), but nothing like this. Very cool stuff!

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  19. Love it! I really like street art. I mean real street art, not just weird initials, swear words or pictures of boobs and penises. That is vandalism. The guy who lives behind me is an artist (street and otherwise) and he painted his whole place like a graffiti wall. It’s the view from my patio. I’ve had several people pointedly ask me how I like looking at it and my response is that Ean very considerately painted his house exterior in all my favourite shapes and colours, for my viewing pleasure! Also, I must offer this disclaimer – my son is a street (and otherwise) artist (and Ean’s partner in “crime”) and I love his stuff too!

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    • I remember that wall very well, as well as your son’s wonderful work from my visit with you.
      Street art and wall murals can be very uplifting – especially in these dull days of winter – but like you, I just don’t get the point of what I think of as mindless visual chatter.

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  20. Wonderful images Joanne 🙂 I wish there were more places locally (Long Island) that were an outlet for street artists. Now all you need is the mysterious “Banksy” to visit Graffiti Alley and leave his mark.

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  21. Wow! I am of the same opinion as you some I think is just vandalism. It is interesting that there is a following of this kind of art and the artists. Gives them an outlet and street to show off their talent!

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    • I also understand that once a street artist starts to become recognized, they are often commissioned to complete murals – so it becomes paying work.
      I think it’s great that there is a demand for this kind of work. More and more towns (at least here) are commissioning work to make their downtown more interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

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