Photos by Olivia Chow, used with permission.
On the second-last Sunday in May, Jack Layton and Olivia Chow picked up some cans of spray paint and some acrylic paint, strolled into a laneway in the Annex, and spent the day marking their territory—on the big aqua wall of their own home, previously littered with tags.
It was at least partially Ontario Hydro’s fault. Running along the opposite side of the laneway just off Huron Street is one of the organization’s transformer stations, its long brick wall slowly accumulating tags and its aesthetic upkeep given far more attention by taggers than its owners. As Layton explained to Torontoist when we caught up with him this past weekend, it was only a matter of time before the tags spread from one wall to the other, and they eventually did: a “junior tagger who doesn’t understand the protocols,” says Layton, was the first to throw up a tag on his property, and more followed.
Reluctant to simply leave the tags there (under the City’s graffiti bylaw [PDF], it’s a property owner’s responsibility to clear any graffiti), and loath to repaint the entire wall (it probably wouldn’t be the last time they’d have to, and the wall’s colour would no longer match the other walls anyway), Layton and Chow settled on something more agreeable, something that they hoped the taggers would respect enough to not paint over: art of their own. “If you can’t beat ‘em,” explains Layton, “join ‘em.” Enlisting the help of their painter friend Jeff Szuc, Chow and Layton spent May 24 buffing and painting; Chow, naturally, documented the day on her Twitter (she took both of the photos above). By the end of the day, all the wall’s tags were covered up by two massive, smiling doves, surrounded by bright yellow sunbursts and flowers and vines painted to look as though they’ve grown up and out from the real grass below. All told, the mural covers almost all of the lower third of the wall, stretching about six feet off the ground and about three times that wide.
Layton’s hoping that his paint job will encourage the wayward property owner to the south to show him up. “Maybe Ontario Hydro will consider putting a mural there,” he says; along with a few more real flowers, it’d go a long way towards helping “to turn a back laneway which a lot of people walk through into something pleasant.” For now, Layton can claim a smaller victory in his mini beautification project: as of last night, the mural’s doves are still smiling, the canvas they’re on as of yet untouched by taggers.
Thanks to Michael Thorner for the tip.