Stranger 24

I actually had this encounter the same day as my last stranger, Peru. After watching him at work, I thought I'd head to Graffiti Alley and see how it has changed from my last visit there.

If you haven't heard of or seen this alley in Toronto, it's a fun little visit.

The alley is actually called Rush Lane, and runs between Spadina Avenue and Portland Street, parallel to and immediately south of Queen Street. It's three large blocks and you can find a wide variety of colourful art. The paint covers just about everything in there.

Any fans of Rick Mercer's weekly rants from years ago, with that really annoying camera tilt, will surely recognise the area.

I haven't been there in years myself, and I was a little surprised at how busy it was! Several dozen people were wandering up and down the lane, taking selfies, posing in doorways and against walls. The younger ones pursing their lips and craning their necks to get that perfect Instagram moment. #noFilter, right?

The last time I was there was on a cold January day so that may have had an effect on the amount of people there, but it was downright crowded on this visit. But for the first time I saw an artist actually working on a piece!

I wandered over to him and asked if he was ok with me taking pictures as he worked, and he didn't mind. So I got a few of him working away. Swapping out cans of different colours, he would pull the nozzle off and push it on the next can, spray a couple of quick bursts to get the new colour through, and keep painting.

He was painting over a previous piece, so I asked how he knows it's OK to cover over existing art. He said that the graffiti community polices itself and there are 'rules' that they all follow. Most of the artists know of each other, but don't necessarily hang out together. They have small circles of friends and sort of work as a group.

He explained to me that his group of friends 'own' a section of the alley, and they decide amongst themselves when it's OK cover old pieces. Other groups know not to paint on his groups 'property' and vice-versa.

He said he's been at it for about 15 years, and really loves doing it. I thought it was a good time to finally introduce myself and told him about the project.

Vince was his name and he had no objection to being part of it, but he didn't want to take off his face mask.

I didn't ask why, and took some head shots of him. He actually didn't really seem to want to make eye contact with the camera, so I did politely ask if he could look my way for a second. Which he did.

I'll have to go back soon to see how his new work turned out.

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