Monday, June 4, 2012

VSVSVS: Graffiti Removal Removal

VSVSVS is a collective of young artists based in an industrial space in the Port Lands on Toronto's eastern waterfront. Current members include Stephen McLeod, Wallis Cheung, Miles Stemp, Laura Kreviazuk, Ryan Clayton, Anthony Cooper, Jemma Egan, Laura Simon, and James Gardner.

"Graffiti Removal Removal" is a public art project which VSVSVS has recently done as part of Art of the Danforth 2012 . This festival  is a welcome newcomer in the Toronto free-art, community-engagement scene. Bracketed roughly by the Greenwood and Woodbine subway stops, "Art of the Danforth" celebrates a stretch of the Danforth that has yet to see much in the way of gentrification. The festival runs from May 20 through June 10 this year, but "Graffiti Removal Removal" should be around for some time to come, or at least until someone removes the removal removals.

Graffiti Removal is what you get when city workers, or private property owners, attempt to erase graffiti by painting over it. You see these erasures everywhere, as floating and layered blocks of colour which almost, but not quite, match the tones of the underlying surfaces on the original buildings or fences. The resulting forms can be pretty interesting, if unintentionally so.

I have not asked the members of VSVSVS, but their project seems to be the logical extension of ideas introduced in the wry mocumentary short film "The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal" (2001, director: Matt McCormick, narrator: Miranda July,  based on an original idea of artist Avalon Kalin).

"Graffiti Removal has become one of the more intriguing and important art movements of the early 21st century. With roots in abstract expressionism, minimalism and Russian constructivism, Graffiti Removal is both a progressive continuation of these movements and an important step in the future of modern art. What makes graffiti removal particularly intriguing, though, is that the artists creating it are unconscious of their artistic achievements."

Here is a clip:

And so, we have "Graffiti Removal Removal". Works of "removal art" are unintentionally made by city workers and property owners who have the conscious intention of erasing that which they do not sanction as art. With the addition of carefully chosen colour and occasional sculptural elements, VSVSVS consciously and deliberately "removes" the graffiti removals in such a way as to elevate the erasures. The graffiti removals now become validated and sanctioned works of ART as we more commonly define it: that is, work created purposefully and thoughtfully by professional artists. As is always a trademark of VSVSVS at their most successful, this project manages to be tongue-in-cheek and utterly serious at the same time. Unsanctioned artists make graffiti, which the city and the property owners do not consider to be art. The city and property owners make erasures, which they do not intend to be art, but which are now defined as such as a result of the intervention of professional artists. Next up?

Three of my favourite works in this series can be seen in the laneway which runs from Greenwood to Linnsmore Crescent, behind the stores on the north side of the Danforth. (Shot with my iPhone, and not the best. Go see for yourself, if you are in Toronto.)

The door, the post and the stairs have been painted in the same colour as the removal removals.
Sculptural elements are sometimes included in the removal removals: note the addition of spray-foam insulation on the right of the door. Note, too, the dash of aqua at shoulder height to the left of the door, nicely enhancing the divot which a truck has taken out of the corner of the building...
...and a pink-painted padlock installed on the pole.
The colour of the removal removal on this fence was inspired by the weathered siding on the adjacent garage.

The property owner attempted a white-wash removal of an entire wall of graffiti, but could not paint around the permanently parked van. VSVSVS helpfully added the text, reading "WHITE PAINT" (vinyl lettering, thus itself easily removable).


  1. Please note that comments for this blog are moderated. As a general rule, I will not publish anonymous comments. If you have something to say, please stand by your words. Also, I will not publish comments which are unnecessarily divisive, or which stray too far off-topic.

    For the record, I do not support vandalism. I find hate and gang-related graffiti and tagging to be ugly, in every sense of the word.

    I am extremely sympathetic to property owners, who under Toronto by-laws, must personally bear the cost of graffiti removal. This cost can run to well over $10,000.00 in cases of heritage properties, where a paint-over is not a solution.

    To learn more about the City of Toronto's Graffiti Management Plan, go to this link:

    To learn more about the City of Toronto's new StreetARToronto(StART)program, launched a few weeks ago, go to this link:

    To learn more about what is art, what isn't art, and how we define an "artist"...sorry, no link. But it makes for an endlessly interesting discussion, especially when the art in question is in a public space.

    Have you seen VSVSVS's Graffiti Removal Removals? What did you think?

  2. Hello, my name is Daniel Deus and I am an artist currently attending UofT Mississauga and Sheridan College. I loved this video and share very similar interests when it comes to street art and street art removal. This is a video I made earlier this year related to what I do and how I view this revolution of painted over graffiti.

  3. Thanks for sharing that peek into your own practice: a different but related take to that of VSVSVS. Just jumping off from a statement you make in your video: I don't think it is always the case that a graffiti removal signifies disrespect for street art: under Toronto bylaw, a private property owner must personally undertake to remove graffiti if they receive notice from the city. This policy has created real hardship for two people I know personally: one had to spend close to $15,000 for a chemical removal on a heritage property, and another friend has had to cope with an endless and futile round of painting and re-painting the back of her building. In neither instance did the graffiti seem to involve hate or gang-related material, and in both instances the property owners would have cheerfully left the work in place.