Take a trip through Toronto's complicated street art history with iconic graffiti artist Elicser

Graffiti is thriving in today's Toronto — but there's more to that story than you might think.

Graffiti is thriving in today's Toronto — but there's more to that story than you might think

Elicser and Amanda Parris. (CBC Arts)

In the 1980s, Toronto City Council debated a controversial law that would require "exterior walls be kept free of slogans and markings, those which deface or disfigure." Two decades later, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford promised, "Everywhere that there is graffiti, I will guarantee that we will be removing it."

But today as you look around Toronto, the art form is thriving. A simple walk down Graffiti Alley — the first legalized graffiti zone in the city — can feel like rush hour traffic with the amount of photographers, engaged couples and bloggers hoping to give their Instagram account some street cred. Clearly, public perception has changed over the years. And one of the artists at the forefront of that evolution has been Elicser.

Watch the video:

Talking to graffiti artist Elicser about Toronto's street art

4 years ago
"I don't see it as political. People see it differently, they take away their different ideas from it. I'm happy it's happening, but I feel bad that I'm the last leg of gentrification sometimes." 4:44

Elicser's large-scale work covers neighbourhoods from Toronto to Cape Town. He's painted on buildings, electrical boxes and trees, and in the past few years has added gallery work on canvases as well. His signature style focuses on abstract, emotional and deeply personal portraits that elicit melancholy nostalgia and unrequited love. But while many view graffiti art as innately political, he maintains, "I am not a political painter." He's just made the outside world his canvas.

In the above video, CBC Arts: Exhibitionists host Amanda Parris visits Elicser in his studio, providing a fun and intimate look at an artist who prefers to let his work speak for him.

Elicser and Amanda Parris. (CBC Arts)
"Up" by Elicser. (CBC Arts)
Elicser's work on a Toronto street. (CBC Arts)

Elicser's latest piece entitled "T Dot Rooftop" can be seen at The McMichael Canadian Art Collection as part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. It's part of the exhibition Everything Remains Raw: Photographing Toronto's Hip Hop Culture from Analogue to Digital (March 3 – October 21, 2018).

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists on Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.


Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?