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Graffiti’s shades of grey

I have passed over the stenciled words numerous times as I crossed the Heffernan Street Bridge: “TRUE LOVE IS A BIG DEAL” is what it said if I remember correctly.
I often thought I should take a picture before the city got on top of things and removed the message, which I thought to be so poetic in its simplicity.
When I finally got around to it, I was too late. All that remains is a lighter grey misshapen smudge on the darker grey concrete of the bridge underfoot. I couldn’t help wishing that someone had been a little less zealous with the power washer.
True, the message was put there unlawfully, but it made me smile every time I crossed the bridge. It’s hard to think it’s possible the message was offensive to anybody.
But back in my own neighbourhood, on the wall of Centennial Arena, there are a few four-letter words sprayed aimlessly on the brick that do nothing to enhance the neighbourhood.
So when it comes to unlawful stencils and scrawls, I understand it’s a slippery slope.
Was the person who stenciled the words “PUBLIC URINATION ZONE” on a Cork Street alley simply commenting on an activity that probably happens there regularly regardless of the signage, or was the message intended to encourage the illegal behaviour? The English student in me wonders what other meanings are possible.
For some people, this message is no doubt offensive. I find it interesting, but I won’t be sad to see it go.
But is it art?
The answer to that question may lie in the eye of the beholder. And there may be no conclusive answer, but just infinite shades of concrete grey.
I think that as with any other art form, graffiti art has its masters and its hacks.
Guelph’s deputy police chief thinks there are some talented artists in the city, who might benefit from being given a legal canvas to showcase their work. The city would likely benefit, too.
But it can’t be denied that part of the attraction of the art form (for some at least) must be the unlawfulness.
While there will be those whose urge to create will be satisfied by the gift of a public wall and the freedom to turn it into a multi-coloured array of spray-painted expression, there are others who may not even turn up for the event.
There’s a part of me that hopes the police’s graffiti-eradication project goes ahead as planned – beautifying the city, as intended, but without entirely eradicating the graffiti.
After all, isn’t the unexpectedness of the words “TRUE LOVE IS A BIG DEAL,” found underfoot as one crosses a bridge, part of the beauty of the art?  I think so.

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