Graffiti art is no longer the underground, off-the-radar movement it used to be. The documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop about Banksy by filmmaker-turned-graffiti-artist Mr. Brainwash portrayed graffiti as art rather than vandalism. In 2011, The Museum of Contemporary Art caused waves in the art world with its Art in the Streets, the first major U.S. museum exhibition of the history of graffiti and street art. While graffiti is prevalent world-wide, Toronto’s Graffiti Alley, has been a protected graffiti district long before the art world deemed graffiti legit.
Graffiti Alley, in Toronto’s Fashion District, runs south of Queen Street from Spadina Avenue to Portland Avenue. It should be renamed ‘alleys’ as it offers over a kilometer or 11 football fields of graffitied wall space to revel in. You can head there on your own, but we recommend biking it with Toronto Bicycle Tours or a walking tour with Tour Guys specializing in the Graffiti Alley.
The bike guides at Toronto Bicycle Tours and walking guides of Tour Guys are extremely in-the-know. You’ll learn about the prominent artists’ work, stop at relevant images along the way and get the scoop on Toronto’s love/hate relationship with graffiti.
You probably won’t see world-renowned graffiti artists’ images in Graffiti Alley, (Banksy’s images have long been covered up) but you will see Toronto’s well-known graffiti artists’ work. According to Jason Kucherawy of Toronto’s Tour Guys, Uber, Poser, Elicser, Skam, Spud, Sight, Birdo, Stage, Psycho, Bacon, and Artchild are just some of the artists featured in Toronto’s Graffiti Alley.
When you spot a chubby yellow bird (in photo above), it’s most like an Uber piece. If you see a long, distorted bunny rabbit, Poser’s been there.
Like the Tibetan monks’ sand mandalas, graffiti art is fleeting. Here today, gone tomorrow, or quite possibly gone in the next 15 minutes. Therefore, a tour of Toronto’s hallowed public art alley is never the same experience twice.
How is this legal you may ask? Well, the legalities are a gray arena for both residents and police enforcement. The police don’t enforce Toronto’s vandalism bylaws to the extent they do in other areas. Most residents of the Graffiti Alley allow the graffiti artists to paint the back and sides of their buildings, hire them to do so, or at the minimum, don’t bother cleaning the walls.
So it’s legal in the look-the-other-way approach as many Torontonians take pride in this tribute to alternative art boldly displayed in all shapes and colors in the Graffiti Alley.
In keeping with the art-centric Toronto experience, stay at Gladstone Hotel. Gladstone’s is a hip, historic hotel with a modern art museum on the second floor, artist-designed hotel rooms, and a swinging Melody Bar with weekly live music.