The Cow & the Computer

24 February 2014 — I expected lots of street art, I was in Graffiti Alley after all, but I did not expect a cow. Especially a cow & a computer. (Though, logically speaking, if you’re not expecting the cow, then you can’t especially not expect any further cow-related detail. I think that’s right. But it’s also irrelevant.)

Point is, the cow was a bonus.

The walk starts on Spadina, a smidge south of Queen St. West, heading down the alley that runs on west for two long blocks to Portland Street.

mural, Graffiti Alley at Spadina

It’s widely known as Graffiti Alley, for very good cause; I like to call it Rant Alley because — as I learned the first time I stumbled into it — this is the alley where CBC-TV’s Rick Mercer films the rants for his Rick Mercer Report.

It’s slick & slippery underfoot: compacted bumpy ice, with a thin covering of melt water. I pass another woman, also taking photos. We agree we’re crazy to be there, risking twisted ankles; we also agree it is sooooo worth it.

Lots of painting, great murals, many styles. Lots of quick scrawls as well.

Graffiti Alley, nr Spadina

Cross-alleys every now and then, connecting Queen West to Richmond West, the next street south. Just like the main alley, these cross-alleys are — to borrow art gallery vocabulary — “salon hung” with images. One after another. Here’s a snippet.

N/S alley Queen to Richmond, between Spadina & Augusta

An oddity of municipal naming. This short cross-alley has an official name: McDougall Lane. The main alley — Graffiti or Rant, take your pick — is very much longer, and has no name.

Here’s a glimpse of what I mean by “very much longer” — the view on west toward Augusta.

Graffiti Alley, looking west to Augusta

There are a few artists whose work I’m (sometimes!) able to recognize. Jarus, for example, who does fine portrait heads like this one…

Jarus mural, Graffiti Alley

… and POSER, whose bunnies hop all over the city. Sometimes solo; sometimes (you know bunnies) they multiply into bunches.

POSER bunnies, Graffiti Alley

I can’t begin to describe what it’s like to stand there, in the middle of all this. Work just keeps exploding in every direction. This parking lot is a good example:

Graffiti Alley, between Spadina & Augusta

I reach Augusta, happy that the elegant horse-motif mural is still there, still unblemished, on the south side of the wall at the corner.

Graffiti Alley, e. side of Augusta

Across Augusta now, back in the alley, westward toward Portland.

That great tall building marks another cross-alley, and it stands out for more reasons than sheer height. It too is covered with art — but commissioned work, and completely covered up through all three storeys, wall to wall, ground to roof. Imagine a three-storey cartoon aquarium, full of sea weed, sea creatures, sea adventures, and you get the idea.

Graffiti Alley, west from Augusta

The building houses a media studio, so one of the vignettes shows a video team, out to get the interview: lights, camera, mic, even a 1930s press-guy fedora on one fishy head. (Alas! they forgot to stick a press-pass in the headband.)

detail, media bldg on cross alley between Augusta & Portland

Also at this cross-alley corner, and stretching up a few storeys itself, a great big UBER mural. I’d say he does such larky work, except they’re canaries…

UBER mural, Graffiti Alley between Augusta & Portland

I prowl this intersection for a while, check the cross alley.

Here’s a totally demented riff on that Disney mouse, with a very serious spray can…

Graffiti Alley, between Augusta & Portland

… and here’s a very flirty spray can…

Graffiti Alley, Augusta-Portland

… and, here, ground level in that same cross-alley where it meets Queen West…

here is the long-promised cow & computer.

alley s. from Queen W., between Augusta & Portland

The words are hard to read. Let me help you.

Cow: Hi computer! Why do I have a hole in my stomach?

Computer: Coz the scientists said better burgers will come out of you.

Cow: W.T.F.?

Computer: I know. Sorry.

I think I could have gone home happy right then. Who could ask for more?

Except I do keep walking, and there is more. Of course there is.

More by ELICSER, for example, whose faces are so distinctive.

ELICSER mural, Graffiti alley

Almost at Portland now, touched somehow by this young man standing so still, for so long, in that doorway looking out to the street. I take a few shots of “wildstyle” paint work, putter about, and he’s still there, lost in thought, when I emerge onto the street.

Graffiti Alley, at Portland

And that’s it, I’m out of the alley, on Portland, looking back. Mr. Snarling Bear serves as doorman.

Portland St, looking east down Graffiti Alley

After that, I have a simple plan: walk home along Queen Street. Except then I see there’s an alley on the north side of Queen. I think, “I never noticed that before.” And I think, “I wonder what’s in it.” And I think, “Well, I’ll just take a look…”

Now you now the topic of my next post.


  • Check out The Mercer Report for yourself, it’s all over YouTube etc., but one good starting point is
Leave a comment


  1. gorgeous!!!

    • great remark, and shows beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder — I can think of many people whose reaction would be the polar opposite to yours (or men) — thanks for the interest and generosity of comment

  2. Visual candy! I like graffiti, someone just defaced my wall and I was tempted to tack anote saying” Come back and finish what you started and make it look great! haha!

  3. mk

     /  25 February 2014

    I am inspired to go in search of graffiti art here in Los Angeles. I see lots of graffiti but not any art. It must be out there.

  4. This is such a great series of pictures. I know this area (I live in Parkdale), but I seldom walk there. I need to walk these alleys a little bit more and discover the graffiti art up close.

  5. So much public art! Really liked a lot of the street art in the photos but the piece by ELICSER was amazing.

  6. Mike

     /  25 February 2014

    Awesome article Penny, your hooked 😉 I love the excitement expressed in your words, discovery at its finest…


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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