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Jack Layton and Olivia Chow Go Painting


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.


  • Patrick Metzger

    A “junior tagger who doesn’t understand the protocols” ? I hope his supervisor issues him a stern reprimand along with a note for his permanent file.

  • http://undefined rek

    Sometimes I think of graffiti and street art in biological or environmental terms, with tags being the equivalent of bacterial colonies or spores or even lichen, which push into new territory to test its viability. If the terrain is good, hollows and throw ups and pieces and wheatpastes etc etc will follow and the tags will be pushed to the periphery or eliminated entirely. If the terrain is no good, only tags will accumulate or the whole thing will be sterilized by some means (perhaps a mural, as above) and the cycle will repeat.

  • http://undefined addict

    Ontario Hydro doesn’t exist anymore. I’d think this political couple would know that.
    Maybe that’s why their hope for a mural is going unheeded. Ontario Hydro’s phone was disconnected 10 years ago. Try calling Hydro One.

  • David Newland

    What exactly ARE the protocols of tagging? And who’s responsible for educating these “junior taggers?”
    I’d like to give them a piece of my mind, because I keep seeing ugly scrawls of spray paint on plaques, statuary, mailboxes, stone walls, cube vans, boxcars, public washrooms and other places that it seems to me any reasonable “protocol” would prohibit.
    If you want to paint a colourful mural on a big blank block wall, go for it. But a lot of the tags I see look like the visual equivalent of dogs pissing on fire hydrants, and we all have to look at the results.

  • http://undefined dowlingm

    @1 depends on whether said junior tagger was union or non-union.

  • http://undefined Vaneska

    Layton and Chow should stick to politics.

  • http://undefined Chester Pape

    I see look like the visual equivalent of dogs pissing on fire hydrants, and we all have to look at the results
    That’s exactly the point of tagging.

  • http://undefined Green Sulfur

    Chow is an Ontario College of Art grad and has produced some very nice paintings and sculptures over the years (usually a print of Chow’s work graces their holiday cards). Though it sounds like this mural wasn’t her doing; the artist, according to the article, was Jeff Szuc.

  • http://undefined Scorbutic

    Sometimes I think of graffiti and street art in biological or environmental terms…
    I can certainly see how a graffiti advocate would want to portray it that way — the metaphor suggests tagging and graffiti are something natural, without any particular cause or agency behind them, and as blameless as a bird crapping on one’s patio chair (after all it’s not the bird’s fault).
    Of course none of these traits actually applies to taggers / graffiti sprayers. But the metaphor (although completely inappropriate) provides an interesting view into the mindset of people who advocate for graffiti.

  • http://undefined Svend

    Decay and disease are natural too, I see tags and graffiti as a biological sign of a neglected area that has become infected.

  • http://undefined rek

    Svend – It was just a metaphor, but if you want to subscribe to the discredited broken window theory, go ahead.
    Scorbutic – People have been writing on walls since before walls were walls. Sounds natural to me.

  • http://undefined Scorbutic

    If your definition of “natural” includes conscious decisions made by rational human beings I can’t imagine what you think isn’t “natural.”
    Of course as Svend points out, being natural doesn’t actually make something good or worthwhile.