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I Love You Toronto in the eyeopener

Spray it, don’t say it
Photographer draws inspiration from “I love you” graffiti in new exhibit.

By Tia Maryanne Kim

People say those “three little words” to their moms and dads every night before being tucked into bed, or long to hear them from their significant others on Valentine’s Day.

But you wouldn’t expect a message like “I love you” to be anonymously graffitied in dozens of places on the streets of Toronto.

Sharon Harris, a 33-year-old writer and photographer discovered her first “I love you” graffiti in the spring of 2002, while walking along Harbord Street.

It immediately caught her attention, because instead of the threatening, gang-related, foul-language usually associated with graffiti, she saw something completely different, she said.

“I thought it was beautiful,” she said. “I was blown away.”

She spent more than two years seeking out other examples, eventually finding more than 100.

Most of the graffiti is located in the Annex and on main streets such as Bloor, Bathurst and Harbord streets.

Others can be found in alleys.

Harris decided the images would be perfect for a calendar for family and friends, and created a website for the photographs.

She found the response both surprising and overwhelming.

“People seemed to respond to the pictures” she said. “People from all over the world wrote to me.”

Harris then got in touch with writer Max Fawcett. The encounter led to a photo exhibit of the “I love you” images, unveiled in October 2005, at Dooney’s Café on 511 Bloor St. W.

She still wonders why anyone would go to the trouble of spraypainting a message of love around the city.

“It’s fun to speculate,” she said. “Was the person in love? Was it unrequited? Or is it a universal message of love?”

The “I love you” exhibit will remain on display indefinitely and can be viewed at iloveyougraffiti.com.