Nine of the city’s most tricked-out graffiti boxes, ranked

Nine of the city’s most tricked-out graffiti boxes, ranked

Nine of the city’s most tricked-out graffiti boxes, ranked

Toronto has come a long way since Rob Ford sported safety glasses and took a power washer to a wall of graffiti in 2011. A mere year after that photo op, council launched Outside the Box, a recurring project through which more than 75 artists—illustrators, designers and respected, self-described “graff heads”—have hand-painted 120 traffic signal boxes. We picked nine of our favourite downtown designs and asked the artists to share the stories behind them.

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

1

Bag Full of Work

Elicser
Queen West and Bathurst
“The concept behind this box is pretty simple: standing on the corner. That’s what people do there. There’s a song by a Tribe Called Quest called ‘Skypager,’ and that’s what inspired the quote on the back. It says, ‘A pager is so complex, I’ll be standing on the corner ready to flex.’”

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

2

Beep

Paul Byron
Queen West and Dufferin
“This box is an example of the way I normally work: first, I take in the space and pick up little pieces of the scenery, environment and landmarks. Then, I overlay them with the content of my own experience and imagination. In this case, there were a lot of people, but they were mostly walking to the streetcar stop, so my interactions were mainly with the architecture, particularly the bridge. I come from Hamilton, which is really industrial and has a lot of that feel and texture. It’s called Beep because there’s a big car on the side. There are also a lot of phantom people to signify the crowd launching themselves onto the streetcar.”

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

3

Untitled

Gary Taxali
Bay and Cumberland
“The artwork is a reflection of the personalities [and experiences] in Toronto. For example, there’s a bustling businessman, a coffee cup character and a jogger. It’s intended to be a fun—and partly sardonic—impression of city life. So much of our cityscape is banal, and I aimed to create a piece of art that would evoke intrigue, or at least give people a smile. I normally use old paper, book covers and wood, so this was a challenge. I had to translate my art and aesthetic onto a new medium while preserving its integrity. It was wonderful to see my art on a new ‘canvas’ in a three-dimensional way.”

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

4

Ice Box

Random
Front and Berkeley
“I’m mostly a realistic painter. This is a good example of me taking something that I see on the street all the time and doing my own take on it. Painting the box was definitely a long process: I wanted it to look rusty as hell, so I got all these oranges and browns and layered it slowly, just like how real rust develops over time. I’m a perfectionist. I slave over the details and photos and references. It probably took me 30 hours over the course of three weeks. ”

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

5

Number 33

Javid Jah
Queen West and University
“It’s called Number 33 because that’s the number of pieces I’ve created with this pattern. Essentially, they’re just aerosol doodles that I have fun with, layers of paint blobs that punctuate a grey city corner with a blast of vibrant colour. I choose two or three hues and a few tones within each colour. I move through one hue at a time, layering the tones to create depth through gradient. Then I let the rhythm of the can take over. When I was painting this, people asked me lots of questions. Many wondered if I had permission; some assumed I didn’t and jumped straight into a guilt trip on vandalism.”

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

6

Untitled

Elicser
Queen East and Sumach
“Two years before doing this box, I painted a four-storey piece on the corner of the Magic Building, which is right beside it. I tried to link it up with the building so that, if you stoop down and take a photo, the box lines up with the building in the background. When I was painting this guy, people would come off the streetcar and say, ‘I saw that from the streetcar; it’s pretty good!’ They’re so shocked that a spray can can make something like this. Sometimes, people just think of graffiti as letters, and when you’re using a can to do something else, people are astonished.”

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

7

Plaid

Brad McNaughton
King West and Simcoe
“This design references the plaid shirts that construction workers and labourers wear. A lot of jobs are left out of the limelight, and I thought it would be interesting to bring this working-class aesthetic right into the city core. I drew the design freehand using paint markers, something you would use on a construction site to mark down measurements on pipe. When I was working on it, I remember one construction worker came up and asked, ‘What’s the point of this?’ I said I was doing it for the city, to make it more beautiful, but I could tell he thought it was a waste of time. It’s funny, because it’s an homage to people like him.”

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

8

Trop’iik

Mediah
College and Bathurst
Trop’iik is heavily inspired by the West Indies. My family is Jamaican, and, for a part of the year, I go to Barbados to visit my wife’s family. The tropical colours—of the sea, sand, vegetation, flowers, coral—inspired the colour scheme. My artwork is based on dynamism, so the piece is about speed, motion and force. It’s meant to be experienced on a spiritual level, not literally: you feel what you see instead of recognizing it. When I learned they put me at College and Bathurst, I knew it was going to be a challenge because it’s already a heavily vandalized area. I usually prefer to do work in the east end because it needs more love and colour.”

(Image: Kayla Rocca) (Image: Kayla Rocca)
 

9

We Create Illusion to Create Meaning

Time & Desire (Denise St. Marie and Timothy Walker)
Dundas and University
“The design is inspired by conversations I had with my collaborator and husband, Timothy Walker, about how there are a lot of illusionary things that we take for granted as being solid or real. And how, if we investigate them further, we realize that they don’t have as much value. The design itself is a physical illusion. It looks like dripping paint, as if someone dumped a can of paint on the box. But, if you look at it and squint your eyes, it also resembles a cityscape.”