Yes, it’s dirty, smelly and you need to watch where you step at times, but there is nowhere else in Toronto where you can see the work of so many local urban artists in one spot like you can in Graffiti Alley.
Most visitors to Toronto who come in search of art tend to concentrate on the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) or one of the countless galleries — large and small — that fill this great city. However, there is one outdoor exhibit area that most have never even heard of, let alone would think worthy of visiting; and yet it’s open all year, 24 hours a day and is free. That open-air gallery has become known as Graffiti Alley.
Toronto’s Graffiti Alley can be found south of Queen Street and north of Richmond Street and runs between Spadina and Bathurst (though the alley west of Bathurst is also covered in it too). While graffiti can be seen thoughout the city, here it is concentrated into a long, hyper-saturated and gritty corridor of unbroken urban murals. Every bit of available space, from down at your feet up to over a story high, seems to be covered in graphics, cartoons, characters and stylized text. Windows, doors, fences, pipes and vents, everything is plastered in different coloured paint.
The art in Graffiti Alley is by no means permanent, for every so often, parts of it are power-washed and scrubbed down, then painted a clean grey, beige, white or black and the cycle begins again. Much of the art in Graffiti Alley is commissioned by the property owner, so it’s good and legal. An advantage to having a local artist paint one of the murals is that it generally keeps people from tagging or otherwise vandalizing the property, since there is an unwritten rule that you’re not supposed to deface someone else’s work.
So, if you happen to be in the Queen West neighbourhood, take a stroll though the gritty, technicolour laneway that is Toronto’s Graffiti Alley. Who knows, you may see me there on one of my solo lunchtime photowalks, or if you’re really lucky, Canadian comic icon Rick Mercer filming one of his Rants.