July 20, 2002

"Painting the Town Red": Chronicle Herald

The Chronicle-Herald
LivingYouthPress, Thursday, June 20, 2002, p. B7

Paint the town red; Local street painters say graffiti's about making free art, making a statement

Chris Arsenault

IT'S A SUNNY Friday afternoon and the members of K.S.M. ditch their books, grab a few cans of spray paint and head for the train tracks.

K.S.M., which stands for Kausin' Some Mischief, is a group of teenage graffiti

"It's free art!" says a Halifax Grade 10 student who calls himself Mr. Ed.
Like most graffiti artists, he won't give his real name. His favourite pastime is illegal.

"Yes it's vandalism, but that's what makes it graffiti," he mumbles from behind a gas mask.

Like most cities, Halifax is covered in graffiti. Common places for what some call art and others call destruction include abandoned buildings, construction sites, bridges and private businesses.

Graffiti artists often organize themselves into groups called crews. Because graffiti artists can't write their real names, each member of a crew has his or her own "tag," a stylized personal insignia.

Along with Mr. Ed, K.S.M. includes Yron, Arow and Zemp. When they go painting, they write their individual tags and then work together on larger pieces with the group name.

"I've always been into art," says Mr. Ed.

"I first started really noticing graffiti when I was in Grade 6. When I was in junior high, I started talking to other artists and going out with them when they worked and then I just started doing it myself.

"When I look back, my first few pieces were just terrible, but the only way to learn how to do it is through practice," he says, while painting a coat of primer over an old graffito.

Members of K.S.M. dress in jeans and T-shirts and look like any other high school students.

"Graffiti is associated with drugs and drinking, but everything teenagers do carries this baggage," says Mr. Ed.

"Go to a high school dance and you'll see a lot more of this stuff than you would around here.

"We never paint on drugs. You can't make your art properly like that." Kids make up the majority of street painters but they aren't the only ones doing graffiti.

Sector is another Halifax graffiti artist, but unlike those in K.S.M., he's in his 20s and works in financial management.

"Sorry, I got held up," he says after arriving more than an hour late for our interview. Sporting sliver sunglasses, neatly polished black shoes and a blue silk shirt tucked into black dress pants, Sector looks more like a martini-drinking Bay Street socialite than a graffiti artist.
I'm concerned about making money and also making art," he says, sipping an extremely creamy coffee.

"I know the value of money," he says when the subject of graffiti and property destruction comes up. "I stay away from mom-and-pop businesses, but when it comes to big corporations, I don't care.

"I know how the market works: backroom deals and insider trading. Writing on that (corporate) property, is nothing when it is gained by those means."

Sector's dislike of powerful institutions - like corporations and government - isn't uncommon among graffiti artists. But the obvious contradiction between his politics and career path is something else entirely.

Many graffiti artists explain their actions as a response to the barrage of advertising they see every day. Self-proclaimed "culture jammers" take this resentment a step farther than conventional graffiti artists.

"Culture jamming is about reclaiming public space," says Adam, an activist at Dalhousie University. Adam and other jammers write anti-corporate messages on billboards and do whatever else they can to undermine advertising and corporate branding.

"This isn't vandalism," says Adam. "This is a form of liberation. The fact that a corporation has money doesn't give them the right to cover every thing we see with their logo."

"They (corporations) won't listen to our concerns so what else can we do?"
Graffiti is moving beyond walls and onto other media forms. Culture jammers have magazines like Adbusters and Web sites like and

The graffiti artists of K.S.M. send their work around the world via the Internet.
Sector and other business-minded artists are capitalizing on graffiti's splash onto new media. Sector runs, a Web site devoted to graffiti, music and other aspects of youth culture.

"Different types of art adapt to different forms of technology medium available to the user.

"Mixing technology stops things from getting stale," says Sector. And the debate over art vs. vandalism will rage on in high school cafeterias, Internet chat rooms and on the buildings themselves.

"I could see myself doing this when I'm 30. Who knows where it will take me?" says Mr. Ed. "But right now I just do it because it's fun."

Chris Arsenault is a freelance writer who lives in Halifax.


Bombing: Going around writing quick pieces covering large areas. It usually ends up sloppy and ugly - your classic spray painted vandalism.

Tagging: The same principle as bombing: speed over skill. However it's on a smaller scale and usually just a hand signature (of a representative term and not the writer's real name).

Pieces &Crew: A group of people who do graffiti together.

Culture jamming: Manipulation and-or destruction of advertisements to spread a political message. Culture jammers often use harnesses and carbines to scale billboards and other hard-to-reach targets.


Chris Arsenault
At one of the railway tunnels in Halifax, two people get an up-close look at what a few cans of spray paint can do.

Chris Arsenault
A graffiti crew paints over one of their earlier pieces to start on a new work of street art.

Category: Society and Trends
Uniform subject(s): Hate crimes; Mischief and vandalism; Municipal and local politics and governments; Riots and demonstrations
Length: Long, 750 words
© 2002 The Chronicle-Herald - Halifax. All rights reserved.
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