It was a scene to make Mayor Rob Ford wince: dozens of teens strapped with aerosol paint cans, spraying to their heart’s content, without a single power washer in sight.
But instead of painting graffiti on city-owned property, the youth were creating murals — on Toronto District School Board property.
The ninth annual Groove & Graffiti workshop took place at Malvern Collegiate Institute over two days in May with students from Malvern, Victoria Park Collegiate Institute and other Toronto schools making street art.
“Essentially what we try to do is give a positive perspective to kids who are interested in graffiti,” explained organizer Dragan Grubesic. “The whole tagging, graffiti, vandalism aspect isn’t part of our program at all.”
Northern Secondary School student Jeremy Valleau said he was happy to freely scrawl the walls with paint.
“I really like the event. It’s laidback and you can’t complain about free paint,” he said. “I also don’t want to get arrested, ’cause that would suck.”
Valleau said that while graffiti art is not for everyone, he is encouraged by events like this because it shows both sides of the spectrum.
“If you ask a lot of people, they would say this isn’t a good thing for the city,” he said. “There’s a lot of people against this kind of art, but at the end of the day it’s just that — art.”
Well-known Toronto graffiti artist Elicser, who has been involved with Groove & Graffiti since its inception, says it’s important to get youth involved in graffiti for one simple reason.
“I wanna see what they’ve got,” he says, grinning.
Elicser attends the event not only to share his knowledge on the technical aspects of graffiti — such as colour theory and how to deal with paint dripping — but also to show young artists how to market themselves.
That was helpful to aspiring artist and Malvern student Genevieve Hunter.
“I think it’s cool because I’m an art student, but I’ve never experienced this form of art and it gives me more of a broad idea,” she said. “It’s a lot different than using a brush.”
She said it was more challenging than she expected, and the experience made her respect graffiti art more.
“At first it was very difficult, now I’m kind of getting the hang of it,” she said. “I’ve learned some things, like don’t go too close to the canvas.”
Elicser acknowledges the art form has changed a lot since he started about 15 years ago.
“When I used to paint we’d just use (the brand) Krylon,” he said. “Now you’ve got aerosol cans with new nozzles and new tips and lower pressures and crazy colours.”
But some things remain constant. Elicser says graffiti is an important form of expression particularly for low-income youth.
“I’d like to maintain that link between hip-hop and graffiti, the whole idea of making something out of nothing,” he said. “Back in the
day, when a mother couldn’t buy her kid a violin or guitar to be musical, he just made up his own way … and that’s the same idea as graffiti.”
And while he spends most of his time now promoting and creating the legal side of graffiti, he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“I like to keep it sharp,” he says with a snicker. “If you look hard enough, you can probably still find me under Sorauren (Avenue) at some point.”