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October 2008

Toronto Now Magazine

Dr Douglas Frayn is a psychoanalyst who writes for Toronto Now Magazine. He has a recent article on Toronto graffiti and writes on it from a psychological perspective:

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! Here are his graffiti galleries: http://www.psychoanalyst.ca/graffiti.htm http://www.psychoanalyst.ca/graffiti2.htm http://www.psychoanalyst.ca/graffiti3.htm

Xavier Prou At the Jonathan LeVine Gallery

As far as labels go, Xavier Prou might not fit the exact profile of a street artist. And yet I have seen his large Rats on the walls of NYC buildings recently. He has a show at the gallery of my dreams - The Jonathan LeVine Gallery on 20th Street in the Chelsea Gallery District of NYC.

Prou's work is highlighted in Creativity Magazine at this link

His work is very distinctive and powerful. View his art at LeVine ... or on the street!

Sao Paulo Acts To Protect Graffiti

Finally, a city that appreciates the work of its artists.

And bravo too to the Tate Gallery:

Sao Paulo artists Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo obliged London's Tate Gallery by painting their distinctive yellow graffiti on outside walls of the museum. Just a month later, their hometown began rolling gray paint across one of the brothers' murals as part of cleanup efforts.
Officials did an abrupt about-face after the Pandolfos and other artists complained both to the city and in the press. Now Sao Paulo is creating a registry of street art to be preserved, exempt from Mayor Gilberto Kassab's drive to eliminate "visual pollution." The episode is sparking a public discussion of what constitutes art.

City officials blamed the paint-over on an overzealous interpretation of the law. The Pandolfos, who are twins, say countless murals and panels already have been lost to misguided efforts under Kassab's Clean City project.

Under the Clean City law, enacted in 2006, billboards were removed, signs with large corporate logos were scaled back, and graffiti is being expunged.

The Pandolfos' 2,230-foot mural on retaining walls along the 23 de Maio expressway, south of downtown, was half-covered by gray paint on July 3. The destruction occurred even though the art had been officially sanctioned.

Permission from the city was obtained before the Pandolfos embarked on the project in 2002. The brothers, along with Sao Paulo artist Francisco Rodrigues da Silva, known as Nunca, and Otavio's wife, Nina, spent more than a month decorating the 5-meter-high walls.

On a background of blue, colorful cartoonish faces 3 meters tall look over the eight lanes of traffic. A few of the figures are decked out in traditional regional garb, such as the leather bicorn hat of northeastern Brazilian cowboys.

Some of the city's 800 inspectors "understood the Clean City law to mean paint over anything that's irregular," Regina Monteiro, in charge of coordinating the city clean-up, said. "Because the law didn't give objective criteria, it was left up to subjective opinion."

Sao Paulo is developing those criteria, giving priority to cataloging works of graffiti that were painted with permission from the property owner, Mr. Monteiro said. The Clean City law prohibits graffiti that functions as advertising. The city expects the catalog to be ready by November.