In a society that is increasingly isolating us inside condominiums, with the Coronavirus and with remote work, street art is injecting colour and consciousness into our lives.
I live in an urban environment where people are struggling to find and maintain employment, housing and their mental health. Living online by following social media, doing online shopping and reading Twitter feeds just isn’t for me. I still like putting my hands in the Earth and meeting people in the flesh, and I need daily doses of art and culture.
Once I decided to park my cell phone and stop texting when I was walking, I discovered a rich world of art outside!
The concrete around us is peppered with vibrant graffiti. My eyes have taken a sightseeing adventure along brick walls, covered in mysterious ships sinking into bold, blue water. My legs have become strong due to running away from black panthers and through post-apocalyptic cities in hidden alleyways.
Now, my co-workers and friends are often surprised when I come back from work with photos and stories about the graffiti art I have seen.
A break from self-quarantine
Just yesterday, I took a break from self-quarantine and my online money-making work. Since computers are like a vacuum and my back aches from sitting, I thought a dose of fresh air, a long walk and an adventure were called for!
I discovered an extraordinary 300-metre mural a few blocks from my house. Imagine my surprise, finding surreal golden pyramids and white polar bears shining out of an otherwise dull and grey city underpass.
Created by Essencia Art Collective, the graffiti project received funding from StreetArt Toronto, a program in my city that supports public murals. The bold images of trees under a purple sky, being destroyed by construction trucks and replaced with skyscrapers and condominiums, warn us about destroying mother Earth and its animals.
Someone caught me looking at this gallery in the street and called me over. He was an older man with a still-strong Caribbean accent, sitting in his car during his lunch break. He remarked upon how much he adored the image of a person wearing a gas mask, with mushrooms spilling out from green smoke in the background.
We talked about the effects of global warming, and other issues like poverty and the housing crisis in our city. He told me many residents protested Essencia’s mural, but he was happy because street art programs and funding for the arts promote jobs and give young people much-needed employment skills.
I remember dating an artist, a few years back, who painted trains. He told me how seriously graffiti artists take their work, and about their financial investment in paint and supplies. We spent many dates checking out pieces thrown up outside subway stations and bridges.
I think street art probably prevents and stops gang-affiliated taggers and profanity-laced graffiti. How could others not be wowed and challenged to achieve to the same level of skill?
A clean slate and a fresh mind
I approach all art with an understanding and mindfulness I learned about in Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art, by Ossian Ward. By using his metaphor of a tabula rasa, I can perceive the graffiti I walk by every day with a clean slate and a fresh mind.
It’s too easy to feel like every day is the same at work or at home, and by becoming a tourist for a half-hour or so on a lunchtime walk, I can engage my senses and challenge my own complacency. The spray-painted images of bold owls, brown bears and the huge, beautiful eyes of indigenous guardians get me outside my house and into the fresh air. I am sure it also relieves a lot of depression and anxiety in my community.
I’m glad I read a lot about art, because it shakes up my perception of the world, and I can get my art anywhere because of street artists. Although there are organized graffiti tours and guides online, I like being an urban explorer and finding random masterpieces. Imagine—I don’t even have to take a flight out of town, pay a museum fee or go to an expensive art gallery!
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image 1 copyright Lara Pazek 2020 2 courtesy Jane Olivier 3 courtesy Jane Olivier