Property crime is no laughing matter unless Mohinder spray-paints a building, and then it’s kind of hilarious. I first saw this oddly endearing tag—his name crudely drawn in all caps—pop up back in April. Since then, it’s been impossible not to notice these audaciously placed chicken scratches on overpasses, awnings, walls, and the odd cube van. The scourge of East Vancouver has delighted Instagram users, accumulated an impressive pile of press clippings, and inspired a series of bootleg T-shirts. What hath this vandal wrought?
“Mohinder is the king right now,” proclaims Rhek, a graphic designer, a reformed tagger, and somewhat of a local graffiti historian. “I like people who run around and mix things up and make the world more interesting. It confuses people, gets people talking, and gets the discussions going about ‘What is art?’ and ‘What is public space versus private space?’ It’s one kid getting his name up and making himself famous. It’s a DIY, self-made, ego-driven occupation that’s pointless, and I really enjoy that sort of thing.”
Part of the charm of Mohinder tags is their, well, shittiness. “It’s basically outsider art within an outsider art,” Rhek explains. “Whether or not he knows this, Mohinder is in a legacy of Vancouver writers whose prolificness is more important than their aesthetic.”
This noble order of janky property defilers includes Oaph, with his crummy anthropomorphized snakes; Alex G, whose tag looked like it was written by someone with Tourette’s; and Mr. 8, whose goofy name can still be seen scrawled around town.
Despite the sometimes dubious talent showcased in our alleyways, Rhek believes that “tagging is definitely an art form. The thing about it is there are all these knucklehead idiots who get into graffiti who have now grown up and become successful, creative individuals. I don’t think they would have found that route if it wasn’t for actually spending time drawing like a bunch of dorks.”
Notable dorks include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kaws, Barry McGee, and Dash Snow, who all got their start tagging walls before their lionization in the art world. Hell, Tony Shafrazi, a gallerist who did shows with Basquiat and Haring in the ’80s, first made a name for himself by tagging Pablo Picasso’s Guernica with “Kill Lies All” when it was on display at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 1974.
Though obviously not as revered as the aforementioned, a hometown example is The Dark, who has been decorating walls in Vancouver for the past 12 years and has shown work in galleries locally and abroad.
A Mohinder cynic, The Dark believes the tags are probably hipster bullshit. “Any jackass with a spray can can be a graffiti writer these days. Anyone can get drunk, wander home from work, and hit every wall they see till they run out of paint,” he says petulantly, but concedes: “I’ve done it, so I guess I can’t be super-critical.”
For The Dark’s approval, placement is key. “Context with the environment is important. Are you just randomly hitting walls or are you hitting cool spots?”
As ridiculous as it may seem, there are graffiti rules. Basically, you’re not supposed to hit churches, heritage buildings, or independent businesses. While The Dark believes that graffiti ethics are “full of shit”, they exist, and Mohinder is bombing spots that others wouldn’t.
So who is this rule breaker amongst rule breakers? Well, I tracked him down and it wasn’t difficult. Despite repeated interview requests, I got stonewalled. However, I was able to glean a fair bit of information by creeping him online. Especially amusing is his blog, where he’s documented a lot of his tags—East Van businesses aren’t up against a Professor Moriarty–type supervillain here. (Judging from the blog’s content, he’s likely responsible for those ubiquitous drawings of the whiskery man in the Panama hat, too.)
I’ll stop short of naming him, because that’s ethically dicey territory. Oh, screw it. If Mohinder’s tags teach us anything, it’s that there are no rules. Mohinder’s real name is Zachary, which, if tagged on a wall, probably wouldn’t yield many likes on Instagram.