Off The Wall: SPUD
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Off The Wall: SPUD

Beneath the surface of scratchiti.

An etch bath by SPUD.

The art world has had its share of dustups. Matisse and Picasso were known to quarrel; a tormented Van Gogh took a swipe at Gauguin with a razorblade.

Inevitably, practitioners in every artistic genre will clash. Graffiti writers are no different.

Biting, or copying another writer’s style, can arouse the ire, as does crossing out—when a lesser talent intentionally paints over the work of a respected writer. Of all the tensions within the graff community today, one of the most contentious is the issue of scratchiti.

Scratchiti is two pronged: scratching surfaces such as glass, plastic or metal with a sharp object, and etching glass with an acid bath. Due to stylistic limitations, scratchiti is not a primary creative outlet for most writers. Dedicated adherents of scratchiti use a carbide tipped tool called a scribe; otherwise, lava rocks will do. These lightweight, sharp-edged stones meant for use in gas barbecues and landscaping make perfect scratching instruments. Sandpaper, blades, pumice stone, keys, and even drill bits are employed as gouging tools, as well.

Scratching is one thing, acid baths, or etch baths, are an entirely different caustic kettle of fish. On account of its highly corrosive nature, acidic etching is hazardous. (A main ingredient is sulfuric acid.) Materials are expensive, too. Because of it proliferation (in 2012 the Oxford English dictionary’s online edition made scratchiti an official entry), many retailers now store etching kits behind the counter. Undeterred, some graff writers resort to theft and even alchemy in pursuit of their art. Using a mixture that includes boiled urine, Coca cola, battery acid, lemon juice, and ink, dedicated etchers brew up their own concoctions. (At right, a sign left on a bus shelter at Glenwood Crescent and O’Connor Drive. Photo by sniderscion from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.)

If executed properly, the results of an etch bath on glass can be striking, leaving a permanent, ghost-like image. When mishandled, the results can range from severe skin irritation to blindness.

Scratching, etching, and bombing his way into notoriety, the graffiti writer SPUD has carved out a permanent place in Toronto.

Most people can’t tell a Manr from Mizu, but a SPUD is pretty recognizable. The prolific, self-taught writer has left an indelible imprint on the city: between his arrest, his visceral dislike of the mayor, and his well attended exhibitions, he’s penetrated into mainstream awareness more than most writers ever do.

Traditional SPUD graffiti.

Creative in a number of media, SPUD isn’t a diehard scratchitist. He views the graffiti subgenre as, “Just…another means to get up.” This view isn’t roundly accepted within the graff community. “There are [many] who really do not agree with it. I guess it is just a matter of personal opinion. It’s a tool.”

Ironically, more than a few graffiti artists consider scratchiti vandalism. A profuse tagger in his own right, Tapr recently told Torontoist, “Maybe I’m just a little old school, but among my circle… [scratchiti] is looked down upon.”

Influenced by the works of H.R. Giger, SPUD got his start in traditional aerosol graffiti a little more than a decade ago. Soon he was scratching his graff name onto various glass surfaces. “I was always taking the bus everywhere and it just seemed like the thing to do.”

Preferring to leave the mad science to amateurs, SPUD safely mars glass surfaces using correct etch bath methods.

Arrowhead by SPUD.

Before Mayor Ford’s pledge to run graffiti out of town on a rail, SPUD’s scratchiti could be seen in many places. He had inscribed his name into bus shelters, public washroom mirrors, and transit vehicle windows. The ideal location for an ultimate etch? Without hesitation he replies, “Somewhere highly visible.”

And transparent, too? Best keep an eye on the Crystal, ROM.

Photos by SPUD.

UPDATE: JULY 17, 6:55 PM Since this article was published we have been advised that all charges against one of the three people who were arrested have been withdrawn, and that this incorporated no admission of any wrongdoing on his part.