"It's going to be spotless. You go downtown now, you see all the graffiti - you aren't going to have any graffiti there."
That was Mayor Rob Ford's stance on graffiti during the election, a point of view which hasn't seemed to waiver.
The city just recently announced it intends to remove graffiti inside the Brickworks. This signals that the powers that be still don't know the difference between vandalism (like tagging) and legitimate street art.
Downtown on Queen W., though, Ford is up against stronger opposition to his anti-street art campaign.
Motel is one artist who's painting in the face of the crackdown. Here's what he had to say about Ford, graffiti, and his recently completed mural, Hippy Trippy, behind the Social at Queen W. and Dovercourt.
Who are the people in your mural?
They are portraits of the famous pot-smoking comedians, Cheech and Chong.
What inspired you to paint it?
My wife gave me a book of psychedelic art about a year ago and around the same time I watched a documentary on Woodstock. I found a lot of the imagery to be really cool and inspiring. I decided to paint and possibly recreate some of the imagery from the book with new twists.
I starting the mural in the summer and ended up leaving it for about four months because of work and various other reasons. The longer I left it the more my ideas changed. In the end, I didn't use any of the ideas from the book. Although it was so different for the original idea, I definitely think it is for the better.
The main reason for me painting this was this was to prove to myself that I could and to grow as an artist, I always try to paint a better product that the one before. Also being a street artist, I paint for not only myself but for others to see. Another rewarding aspect of painting outside is being able to paint a huge surface. For me there is a gratifying feeling about painting on a larger that life scale and using your whole body when you paint.
Were you commissioned to do it?
This particular project was not commissioned. Though I had originally painted this location about three years ago. I originally approached the owner of the business, who then referred me to the building owner to get permission to paint the wall. So then when I decided to repaint the space, all I had to do was tell the owner again. His only response was, "make sure it's good."
Is your goal to have a business or company or corporation or the city pay you for such work?
Although it wasn't my goal I can't turn down doing what I love. As time passed and I got better, opportunity arose for me to profit from various types of painting. I have taken the skills I have learnt from painting with aerosols to painting for film, television and painting other types of murals such as billboards and other private businesses. I would consider myself a pretty well rounded artist and the street art side to be mostly just for fun.
Do you think being paid for street art alters it for the worse?
I know a lot of people feel differently about that question. I personally do street art because I love it. I have been involved in the scene for 12 years now and feel I have paid my dues. I still do some illegal stuff but tend to focus more on painting leagal walls where I can take my time and push myself. Being arrested a handful of times in the past and spent thousands of dollars on spray paint. I totally feel I deserve to get paid to do it.
What do you hope people's reactions will be to the mural?
I hope people like it. While working on it, I had a lot of positive reactions from people passing by. A few people have been watching its progress since the summer and commented on how long I left it. Others were so surprised that I was working on it in the winter months. Many people, especially girls, loved the colours. Most people kept the negative comments to themselves. Though there was one eccentric person who really critiqued my work and started to get into what I should do to improve it. At that time, I wasn't finished and I was actually planning what he suggested.
Toronto is getting tough on street art, particularly around Queen W. What do you think of that?
Queen West, especially around Spadina, has been a hotspot for graffiti for years. It also doesn't help that there are have been many stores selling graffiti related products over the years in that area. I have heard talks of the business improvement association cracking down, but haven't personally seen much change except for less illegal vandalism being tolerated. Either business owners are removing themselves or hiring one of the graffiti removal companies to do it. This is a result of gentrification.
In terms of the city on a whole, Ford is supposedly introducing a zero tolerance graffiti policy. Which I hope he doesn't follow through with. If so it could mean the removal of the mural I just painted. Although I did have permission by the owner, I didn't have a permit and it does contain stylized graffiti letters. There was an instance a few years ago where one of my paintings was removed by the city, even after 200 signatures by people in the neighborhood.
There are also many other street artists. Would you object to them painting over your work?
I put a lot of time and effort into this painting. It is the largest personal project that I have done to date with out any financial assistance. If someone were to paint over this wall in particular I would be very upset. Some retaliation would be sure to ensue. On this wall I spent approximately $300 on supplies and I assume I put in anywhere between 60-100 hours. I didn't keep track. Though if another artist were to go over a wall where I only put about one days worth of work on and they did a better job than me, that's another story. With in the street art community, there is a certain level of respect and rules. Basically don't go over it unless you do a better job.
If the city takes it down or it is defaced, will you repaint it?
I certainly hope it runs for a long time. I am planning to leave this for as long as possible. To date I consider this my best work. If it gets minorly defaced I will fix it up. I certainly hope the city doesn't remove it. If it comes to that, I hope the community fights for it for me.