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What's Victor up to? An interview with the Canadian Street Artist

an orange, yellow, and navy blue compass painted on a sidewalk
Tuesday 16th November 22.25
Updated Tue 23rd Nov 16.55

Victor, Fife-based Canadian street artist, and I meet on Zoom on a rainy Thursday afternoon. While I have stuffed animals in my backdrop, he is in a room of mirrors, filled with dozens that he’s created himself. “I take broken mirrors and turn it into artwork,” he says, showing me around the room. “You can see some snakes and unicorns (it’s Scotland after all). The ones here are backlit, I put LED lights on the back so that it glows. It’s really for the little kid in all of us,” he laughs. 

As we ease into the conversation, I ask about his artistic background and how he got started in the art world. He reveals that he is a Toronto native, and that he grew up all over the city. He got to know different cultures through ‘secret cities’ like little Korea, Chinatown, and little Portugal, which has played an impact in his artwork. As for street art, he didn’t always mean to get into it from the start. 

“Street art, I started in 1989 and it was a way for me to pay for my college tuition. I tried to design in college, which didn’t work out. I did a year and was not able to attend properly, I didn’t have great health, it was one of those funny years of my life. I got DNAs [Did Not Attend].” Despite the professors wanting him to stay, he just couldn’t, “The professors were like, ‘You’re amazing, you’ve done in the short period of a year what most students take years to do. Please come back! We don’t want to give you a failing grade.’ Then of course because I didn’t attend, and the Ontario grant told me I had to pay the money back… so I just stayed broke for the rest of my life,” he laughs. 

But even without a formal arts education, Victor was well on his way. “Street art really kicked in around ’95,” he explains. “Commercial advertising was this medium that was cutting edge and very new at the time. You still don’t see a lot of it.” In the same year, he was working with the MTV of Canada, busking, and he eventually went on to work with the national sports team, really becoming a part of the City of Toronto.  “I really took art to other places, doing stuff for record labels, people like Alicia Keys, Pearl Jam… It was next level,” he drifts off. “But at the same time, I really started using art to bring positivity and awareness to groups who were marginalised and forgotten. I was sort of a Robin Hood, if you like, taking money from corporations and giving it back to neighbourhoods that didn’t have art, didn’t have money.”

For instance, he transformed a high street in the Danforth district in Toronto, which was once known for gun violence, to a safer street. How does one help the east side of Toronto move beyond something that is not representing the houses and businesses on the other side? Victor’s answer: the alphabet. “I made an alphabet that was two miles long. Each letter was maybe about 8 to 4 feet by 4 feet square, and it runs between three subway stations. I tried to line it up so that the letters were in front of businesses whose name started with the same letter. Like O was in front of Only Café, R was at Red Rocket Coffee, and T in front of Tidal Wave Fitness, and so on.” His murals both brightened up the streets and made it more family-friendly. 

“Whenever acts of hate, terrorism happens, we [the artists of the world] need to go to these places and infest it with art, doing the exact opposite of what terrorism is,” he says. For this reason, he was deeply affected following the November 2015 Paris attacks and he went to Paris a few days after to paint murals. He painted hearts with the flags inside “to show love to the act of hate.” 

Victor first came to Scotland in 2008 to visit some friends, and instantly fell in love with the place. He came back years later, only to find himself stuck during this time of health uncertainty. Victor reveals that his mother back home is at an age vulnerable to Covid, and while he has moved her from Toronto to an area more remote for her safety, he plans to stay in Fife until he feels that it is safe to travel back to Canada, and to her, again. Before the pandemic hit, he had done quite several artworks in Scotland. “I think it was 2010, I painted a compass in the Meadows. You know that area where all the walks meet? Yeah, right there. It got mixed responses, I think the elderly especially were like, ‘What is this vandalism?’ But by day three, everyone loved it.” There’s a special ephemeral quality to his works, as he works with water-based paint and especially in rainy Scotland, the artwork does not last for too long. “I love that ephemeral quality about art. We’re only here for 80, 90 years. Nothing lasts forever, and I enjoy the temporariness of what I do.”

Despite the transience of his works, what is Victor’s legacy? “Love!” he cries. “I do this all out of love. That’s what inspires me. Love of life, the human condition, sadness, the love of connection, joy, of interaction. Love is what keeps me alive through all the difficulty that has been my life.” With his bright colours that spread optimism, his artworks are perfect to cheer one up during this rainy season. Although the weather is preventing him from creating more work here just yet, all his previous works are available to see on his Instagram with the amusing username @whatsvictorupto. 

Image via @whatsvictorupto on Instagram