Off the Wall: Joel Richardson's Graffiti 2.0

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Off the Wall: Joel Richardson’s Graffiti 2.0

Toronto's open source street artist

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As far as visual art forms go, graffiti is the new kid on the block. Excluding pictographs, cave drawings, and the ubiquitous Kilroy was here tag, the graffiti we love, or love to hate, has really only been around for little more than a generation.

Since its modern inception in the 1970s, the graffiti era has produced numerous spinoffs. Today we live in a post-graffiti era when traditional spray-can graff artists share the cityscape with a variety of newer practitioners working in media ranging from sticker art to stencils, wheatpasting to yarn bombing.

Welcome to graffiti 2.0. Open source street artist Joel Richardson is expecting you.

Street artists and spray-bomb writers may dip their nibs in the same inkwell, but as far as public perception is concerned, their creations are received differently. Where traditional graffiti is more often than not equated with vandalism, street art—a la Banksy—is oftentimes given a pass on account of its supposed sophisticated aesthetics.

Eyesore or eye candy, even city workers and politicos sometimes have trouble distinguishing the two.

Joel Richardson provides insight. “Not all street art is created equal. Some breathes new life and exciting energy into places where there was only grey. Some just looks like shit.”

Though the Toronto-based artist grabbed headlines after city workers accidentally buffed his City Hall sanctioned mural, The Formula, Richardson has been plying his trade for years.

Prior to producing artwork al fresco, he worked in the studio creating “portraiture that grew into politically charged figurative paintings.”

He’s also produced television documentaries.

In place of formal art training, Richardson took a worldly route to mastering his technique. Packing easel, palette, paint, and passport, Richardson travelled the globe visiting numerous countries on six-month stints. “I did major painting trips to Kenya, Grenada, Guatemala, and Nepal.”

Unlike other street artists, Richardson operates sans pseudonym. No graff name for him: “I have a different model than most graffiti writers.”

Different indeed.

Ever hear of a graff writer executing creations in a tuxedo? This was Richardson’s garb when he twice stencilled The Formula. Other times, he’s painted in a business suit.

Richardson confesses, “There is a performance aspect to my work.”

Besides being Toronto’s best-dressed street artist, another feature setting Richardson apart is the open source approach he takes to his work. Richardson encourages the public to visit his website and download stencils. “Lots of people have access to my images and stencils. You can download components from my website and do your own equations.”

Mindful of the law, the site reminds visitors, images are for legal use only. “There are ways to be respectful by how you put stuff up on the street.”

Well-dressed, respectful, and talented, Richardson represents a new element in the post-graffiti era.

Images courtesy of Joel Richardson.


Torontoist is profiling the city’s graffiti artists, uncovering their best work and finding out what makes them tick. Are you a graff artist or do you know one who’s interested in being profiled? Email us.

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