The romance of the rails may be a relic of the past, but graff writers continue to carry a torch for freight-train graffiti. Trackside throughout North America, a dangerous liaison is occurring between spray can and steel. For these writers, in place of walls and rooftops, the preferred canvases are the flanks of boxcars, hoppers, and autoracks.
An anomalous thing about this practice is, unlike pieces put up on underpasses or alleys, once a train snakes out of the yard, chances are the writer will never see the piece in the flesh again.
On the upside, a gallery on rails is a rolling exhibition, with potential to tour an entire continent.
Toronto-based graff writer Case has created some of the finest rolling stock graffiti anywhere. The veteran writer’s ability goes beyond mainline graff, though. A showcase of talent and pragmatism, Case has honed his skills so much so that today, he takes his talent to the bank.
Back in the early ’90s, Canada’s graffiti scene was still finding its footing. Case’s foray into the genre began in Ottawa. “I was 14, up to no good, looking for ways to express my seemingly anonymous existence.” After pieces by Case and fellow writers began appearing throughout the cityscape, a stunned citizenry took notice.
Today, the irony of that period is not lost on Case. “My graffiti name was getting infamous….even though my real self remained unknown.”
Submerged in a burgeoning graffiti subculture that encouraged originality and creativity, Case gained a reputation for his unmatched technical abilities. Attending art college further refined his skills.
From the historic to the contemporary, Case admires a wide swath of artists, including 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer and maestro comic illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz.
Case, an acronym derived from the first letter of each member from his original crew, continues to gain personal satisfaction from graff writing. “It’s risky, you can get hurt, be chased or arrested, but at the end of the day, how many things can you do for the pure love of it?”
After dedicating half his life to graff, today Case’s creativity has several outlets. These include painting canvases, producing animated works, and directing.
To the core, he is an artist. Still, Case recognizes the practicality of keeping the wolf from the door. To this end, he offers his services as an (airbrush) gun for hire; Case is one of several accomplished artists who compose Toronto Graffiti‘s talent pool.
Case benefits monetarily from painting commissioned pieces for individuals, media outlets, and corporate events.
He’s not the sort to forget his roots, either, humbly admitting, “I still credit painting in forgotten places of urban decay as the main reason I have been able to thrive as an artist.”
He also recognizes the importance of remaining contemporary. “I prefer painting freight trains for the fun and rush of getting it up, and legal walls for practising the artistic side of it.”
Next time you’re stuck at a level crossing, instead of complaining about the delay, why not engage in some benching? Check out the passing graff. Much of it is great, yet static—writers simply applying aerosol images to the sides of train cars.
Case’s is different. Many of his freights stand alone for their efficient design and sleekness. They manage to capture what other writers’ don’t, or can’t: a sense of the forward momentum of these diesel leviathans.
No easy accomplishment when the studio is a train yard and oftentimes pieces are put up after dark. Case makes it look easy. Guess that’s what experience buys.
When travelling abroad, Case observes local graffiti, using it as a window into the culture of a place. In New York City he noted the popularity of memorial walls, which he describes as “murals painted for someone who has died in the neighbourhood as a sign of respect for the family.”
Case defends graffiti in all forms. To the public’s sometimes visceral response to tagging, he has this to say: “I’ve found most critics hate the tagging, they think it’s ugly, which to me has no validation—that’s an opinion, not an argument. To me it’s beautiful.”
Want to discuss ugly? Ask Case about corporate advertising in public spaces. He finds traditional public advertising “more invasive, manipulative, and ugly than anything else.” In fact, he says, graffiti is “a reaction to the sensory assault of corporate media advertising that covers urban centres.”
In his view, cluttering a city with logos and brands actually forces the hand of graff writers who are left pleading, “What about us? Whose world is this?”
From freight devotee to commissioned artiste, plus lots of graff in between, for Case, years of risky creativity are paying off.
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.