Off The Wall: SODA
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Off The Wall: SODA

The healing power of graffiti.

From legitimate expressions of art to outright vandalism, the rationale graff writers give for doing what they do runs the spectrum. We bet you’ve never heard this one before, though: graffiti as art therapy.

You won’t read about it in the medical journals, or see it on Dr. Phil, but west-end graff writer SODA espouses the healing power of graffiti.

Goodbye, Ritalin, hello, Molotow. SODA’s feeling better already.

Having been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactively Disorder (ADHD) as a youngster, SODA admits there once was a time when he was as hyper as a Jack Russell terrier tweaking on meth. Reflecting on those twitchy days, he now confesses, “I couldn’t focus on anything for more than 10 minutes.”

The discovery of graffiti ended his fidgeting. The transformation was quite miraculous.

While heading to his father’s home one afternoon, SODA made an impulsive decision to take an alternative route. Hopping a fence, he found himself in a graffiti-laden alley he hadn’t known existed. Surrounded by graffiti, SODA was transfixed. “All these words looked incredible,” he recalls. “It blew my mind.” He wondered, who had created these colourful depictions? How and when?

SODA is convinced he was healed no the spot. “It cured my ADHD. That day when I got home…the only thing I could think about was graffiti.”

Finally able to focus, SODA set about selecting a graffiti name. No easy task. Besides the need to come up with something original, there was the practical necessity of selecting a graff name easily executed under less-than-optimal circumstances. He experimented with a few, but remained unsatisfied until he happened upon a brand of soft drink that, coincidentally, shared his surname. (And no, SODA is not a physician, nor is his last name Pepper.)

“It just hit me; SODA was the perfect name,” he says. “I didn’t know anybody who wrote it. The name just stood out on its own.” The fact that he was in the habit of consuming several carbonated beverages a day further convinced him. SODA was the perfect fit.

SODA is frank about his early forays into graffiti. His goal was elementary. “When I started,” he says, “I was a pure vandal, no style. I loved to see ‘SODA’ everywhere, and to destroy shit and piss people off.”

This changed, however, as he became immersed in graff culture. To avoid being permanently labelled a toy by his peers, SODA worked on improving his application and technique. Today, he doesn’t consider what he creates art. To him, it’s more about challenging himself and improving.

He sums up his graff style in a word: “Simple.”

Placement is important to SODA; he’s particularly fond of rooftops. “I love finding that spot where people see it and say, ‘How the fuck did he do that?’”

SODA is blunt when it comes to evaluating his artistic skills. “I suck at art,” he admits.

That’s not to say he hasn’t had a lesson or two. During high school art class, he found his mind continuously drifting back to graffiti. While his classmates were sketching still lifes, SODA was creating various renditions of his graff name. “Every artsy thing I’ve done was based on graffiti,” he says. “My teachers didn’t like that. They always told me to stick with the lesson. It never happened.”

Asked to identify artists who influence his style, he lists nearly two dozen Toronto based graff writers, including Pace, Poser, and Hungr.

Like other writers, SODA believes the purpose of graffiti is to add colour to the otherwise plain palette of the street. “From the very beginning of human existence,” he says, “it was in us to leave our mark. Every piece of graffiti—from tags to throwies to burners—tells a story.”

Where would be the ideal location to leave his mark in Toronto? If SODA could, he would hit this 41-metre-tall west-end water tower with a conspicuously large block buster. Considering the city is in the midst of an expensive restoration of the tank, that would piss off more than a few people.

That’s just fine with SODA. No amount of blowback could keep him away from graffiti’s healing aura.

Photos courtesy of SODA.