The clock ticks past 4 a.m. and most people are sleeping sound in beds, couches or on whatever they find comfortable. This is when the cats come out to play with their spray cans and bandanas.
At the dead end of a lakeside bike path, 40-year-old Martin Caz, better known as Dangercat, is armed with his roller, paste and a spray can of green-gloss paint. Caz is a street artist who recently moved back to Scarborough from L.A.
“I don’t really love cats,” Caz says. “But I love this cat,” referring to El Tigre, a plump bandana-clad tabby he found on Kijiji. El Tigre is his muse because he “just needed something to be (his) thing.”
Caz is a graduate of Centennial College’s visual arts fundamentals and new media design programs. He spent several years in L.A. with his band Riot Club, El Tigre serving as their mascot. Ditching the band, he and El Tigre returned to Scarborough to resume his street art.
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“Graffiti serves the artist, and street art serves the stranger walking by.”
– Martin Caz
He’s a trained artist who paints street art, not graffiti. For him, it’s an important distinction.
“Graffiti serves the artist, and street art serves the stranger walking by. Graffiti is about getting your name somewhere — on a building or the side of huge train,” says Caz. “When you look at a lot of street art, it’s just a thought-provoking image on the side of a building and the name’s not even there.”
However, others see the distinction between “street art” and “graffiti” as a matter of semantics.
Angela Zhang is an interdisciplinary artist who lives near Toronto’s Graffiti Alley, a stretch of painted alley walls between Spadina Avenue and Portland Street. “There is obviously a certain amount of derogatory and simply distasteful defacing of property.”
“I think a city that is proud of promoting its inclusivity and artistic talent should allow the work of people who are genuinely creating amazing art and keeping the city interesting,” she says. “Street artists don’t want to have to necessarily do their art against odds.”
But Dangercat wants to play the odds. In fact, he relishes the challenge and the anxiety in packing supplies, the feelings of paranoia while committing the act, the constant glances over both shoulders, and the “sweet, sweet rush when you get away with it all,” he says.
It’s a fleeting feeling.
“Instagram just made it lazier,” Caz says of the photo-friendly social platform. “Used to be that if you had an amazing piece of art you had to get it up somewhere risky, where people would see it.” However, “it’s a small price to pay to be able to flip through my phone and see amazing art,” he says.
Most graffiti or street art-focused Instagrammers go to secluded areas, take a picture of their art, then post it without any risk from law enforcement, Caz finds.
Recently, Caz put up a large sticker-type stencil on a billboard near the intersection of Eglinton Avenue East and Danforth Road.
Graffiti is considered vandalism under the Criminal Code and can lead to charges of mischief, with potential penalties ranging from fines to time in jail.
Toronto by-laws prohibit any graffiti or street art that isn’t approved by the property owner. Artists must get permission from the property owners and the art must aesthetically enhance the area, according to the Toronto municipal code. Charges to remove unapproved graffiti falls to the property owner under the city’s bylaws.
Caz’s What Meow? piece, plastered and painted on a bathroom wall at the end of a lakeside bike path without the owner’s permission, will cost somebody $300 to remove.
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Online: Toronto Observer