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How many are blind to the hidden meaning of this graffiti?

January 31, 2019

A new “HOPE” in the alley on the north side of the 100 block of West Broadway.

On a battleship grey concrete wall, in the north side back alley of the 100 block of West Broadway Avenue, the word “HOPE” is written in arresting, fire engine-red, block capitals.

The tall letters are decorated, seemingly at random, with large white dots. Below is a smaller word in red that could be an artist’s signature reading “alin”.

“JOY” with metallic silver dots in the alley on the north side of the 400 block of West Broadway, with metallic.

A hop, skip and a jump to the west—in the 400 block of the same alley—is another graffiti by the same artist and almost in the same style. This one reads “JOY”, although the legibility is impaired by disproportionately large dots superimposed over thin letter strokes.

I know that the more ambitious graffiti artists seem to love hiding meaning in plain sight. Physically, they want their street art to be blindingly obvious but, at the same time they clearly delight in using all manner of orthographic and visual trickery to obscure the actual meaning of their pieces,

But at first glance, these two pieces of street art appeared quite straightforward. I noticed both of them in late November and was prepared to associate the touchy-feely words and shiny Christmas tree ornament-like dots with the impending holiday season.

But the part of my brain that handles pattern recognition was expecting otherwise.

More lovely graffiti examples reveal underlying patterns

The unsigned and partially eroded “LOVE 1.0” in the alley of the 1000 block on the north side of West Broadway.

There were two more examples of graffiti by the same artist that I found in alleys alongside West Broadway but much farther west in the Fairview neighbour—both of them reading “LOVE”.

One is in an alley of the 1000 block and the other was in an alley of the 1300 block.

Unfortunately, the graffiti on the back alley wall of the Staples store in the 1300 block was painted over before I had a chance to photograph it. Fortunately, another homeless person snapped photos of it.

After literally weeks of negotiation with the paranoid fellow I won the right to photograph the photographs of the vanished graffiti off of the screen of his vintage Trashberry phone.

The meaning of the dots is found hiding in plain sight

The only surviving trace of the “LOVE 2.0” graffiti in the 1300 block.

When you see each of these graffiti separately it’s easy to dismiss the large dots as meaningless decoration but taking the four examples together, I saw that the same letters were always overlaid with the same number and pattern of dots.

This led immediately to the correct assumption that the dots represented braille—the binary, tactile writing system that enables people who are visually impaired to read with their fingertips.

The number and arrangement of dots in all four pieces of graffiti always corresponds to the equivalent braille pattern for the letters they are superimposed over.

In this way, these four graffiti pieces can actually be treated as braille tutorials.

The trick to how the artist is “signing” their work

The “signature” appears as a solo tag on one dumpster in the 1100 block of an alley on the north side of West Broadway.

As a final bonus, knowing that the dots are braille allows us to properly decrypt the artist’s “signature”.

The three dots that always follow it are actually the braille equivalent of the letter D. And if we treat first letter, not as an oversized lower-case A, but as a reversed capital B, then the signature does not read as “alin” but rather as “Blind”.

I think everyone will agree that this makes a damn sight more sense.

Update: Latest sightings

Another “braille” graffiti on the Arbutus Greenway side of a condo in the 3000 block of Arbutus St.. I HOPE it doesn’t get painted over.

On March 17th I found a second extant variation of the “HOPE” graffiti. This was in the 3000 block of the Arbutus Greenway, at the intersection with 14th Avenue, on the back concrete wall of the little condo that replaced a longtime sleeping spot of mine.

Two weeks earlier a binner told me that he had seen such a graffiti work on the alley side wall of a car dealership at Main Street and 31st Avenue. Unfortunately it has since been painted over.

Another HOPE found in the shadows plus a new word

Another example of “HOPE” and the first sighting of “WHY”; seen atop the Regal Place Hotel on West Hastings St.—Karen Ward

On April 19th one of my astute blog readers pointed out a January post on Instagram which shows a third example of the “HOPE” graffiti—this one located in the Downtown Eastside.

The Instagrammer, Karen Ward, told me that the photo is of the roof of the Regal Place hotel in the 100 block of West Hastings Street.

The especially interesting thing about this photo is that it also shows a second piece of “braille” graffiti by the same artist. This is an all-white treatment of the word “WHY” (in the lower right hand corner of the photo), which I have never seen before. Click the images to enlarge them.

Braille chart from a CNIB pamphlet, circa 1975—part of a document haul made on March 6th, by my antiquarian dumpster diver friend.

  1. Nakota Ridge permalink

    Very wise both of you❤


  2. Thank you for this insight! I had no idea.


  3. Very cool! Thanks for sharing this Stanley! 👍


  4. Bill permalink

    Talk about connecting the dots. Thanks for this.

    Art is where you find it… You are the ‘chasing Bansky’ sleuth with eyes wide open!


  5. Glen Clark permalink

    Very cool. Thanks for the interpretation!


  6. On a side note, how can a blind person ‘see, the graffiti in an alley?


  7. Murray permalink

    That is not braille on the garbage bin bin I guarantee it, the person signature Murray”


  8. Slowcrow permalink

    What great sleuthery!! Well, that might not be a word tho….AND, thank you for introducing me to Banksey! And a bunch of other neat stuff!


    • You are very welcome. But Of course it should be me who thanks you (and the other readers who follow my blog). You pay me the highest compliment by giving me some of your precious attention.


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