Tagging in the Alley / by Arthur Hsu

Ever sat in your car at a train crossing and wondered how those colourful graffiti on the train carts were made as they zoom past you?  I have certainly been amazed by the scale and skills required to undertake such a rogue art.  I never came across any "legit" graffiti artists other than a couple of kids with sharpies writing on a mailbox.  I wouldn't even know what a legit graffiti artist is like, but I recently came across someone much further along in his craft than those remedial sharpie taggers.  

I have been wandering into alleys around town lately.  I am not trying to get pricked by needles.  Instead, I am trying to capture a set of pictures that I think I could find in those dark corners. As I walked into this alley during broad daylight, I saw a red tuque bobbing around in the distance.  I did a double take, then I realized someone was leaving his none-urinary mark on a wall already covered graffiti.

I walked up and decided to become a witness to how a higher level of tagging is done.  The tagger was near the beginning of his creation process.  The man, covered with piercings and tattoos, was quite open to chat with me.  He ran around picking up different colour spray cans and deliberately waving his arm in front of the wall.  Along with the hiss, vibrant colours magically appear on the already colourful canvas.  Mr. Red Tuque has a sketch book that he carries around with him.  This tagging business is not some random willy nilly doodling... at least not for Mr. Red Tuque.  He had a clear idea and a sketch to go by before he even sprayed his first line.  On a simple design like you see in the pictures, he does not need to refer back to the sketch book again.  

Mr. Red Tuque is a born-again graffiti artist after years of absence.  He was quite excited about the advances in modern spray paint.  He spoke about spray paint much like I would speak about cameras, and donuts.  Eating donuts is an art form as far as I am concerned.  How do you avoid getting jelly filling or powder sugar on yourself especially when you wear a blue shirt all the time.  It's tougher than you think!  I was curious about his motivation for tagging.  He had a simple answer.  He said: "My back is always up against the wall, so I just turn around and paint it". He said that tagging helps him relax and get his mind off of other things in life. 

Mr. Red Tuque made quick works of his graffiti and took care to put the finishing touches by over certain spots with paint once again.  Soon, a man walked up to the Tuquester to let him know that he would require permission to paint on that specific wall.  There is apparently a different section where he could paint without being hassled.  Soon, someone else came by in a truck about the same thing.  This deserted alley was buzzing with activities.  Next thing you know, a security guard appeared in the distance and I think Red Tuque knew he screwed up.  He vanished pretty quickly but not before admiring his own work and snapping a couple of pictures.  

I stuck around to take a few more pictures and chatted with the people who came by to stop Red Tuque.  The forbidden section of the wall was painted once before as a part of a graffiti contest with a prize of $8,000.  There will be another contest taking place this summer.  I started to wonder about the cannibalistic nature of graffiti.  Unless you are working with a clean and legal canvas, you are destroying someone else's work or property.  Perhaps that's part of the fun for the taggers.  Interestingly enough, I returned to the same alley next week to find Red Tuque's work painted over.  Even more interesting, it was painted over with the exact same graffiti that was there before Red Tuque started painting.  I think Red Toque referred to the graffiti that he painted over as some sort of tasteless graffiti "bomb".  This begs the question about the existence of a mythical graffiti patrol that roams around to inspect their own work around town, and in the event that someone paints over their work, they scramble to restore their own tag...with an identical one at that.  This graffiti cannibalism reminded me of another graffiti that I saw in Rotterdam.  This is perhaps the ultimate mind-fu*k graffiti.  I will let you see it for yourself at the very bottom of the page.  

Poor Vincent van Gogh is relegated to sniffing the dumpster all day and night, but he had a pizza party not long ago.  

Poor Vincent van Gogh is relegated to sniffing the dumpster all day and night, but he had a pizza party not long ago.