"I love you in all the ways the lord finds offensive"

-Paris graffiti, May 1968

"Revolution, I love you."

-Paris graffiti, May 1968


On the first spring day of 2001, I came across three little words painted on some brick while walking west on Harbord Street in Toronto. Without embellishment, qualifiers, or stylistic considerations, the graffito simply stated I LOVE YOU.

This clear message in the strong spring light was almost too much; I was going through a divorce and feeling depleted in the love department.

By the time I reached the end of the street, twelve more mysterious blue ILY's greeted me in their quiet understatement of an overstatement sort of manner. A small, happy moment was transformed into a life-changing experience.

I chased and photographed one hundred and fifty more indigo ILY's throughout my city over the next five years. In 2005, the search went online where photographs showed writers from New York, Paris, Berlin, Montreal, London, and Winnipeg also declaring their love in series, sometimes painting I LOVE YOU hundreds of times.

The question I want to ask each writer is, "Why? And why I LOVE YOU?"

In English, we don't have a proper synonym for the word, LOVE, thus I LOVE YOU is one heavy statement encompassing many feelings. Language translators have remarked that English is a fine language for business transactions, but not so great for expressing emotion.

Part of the graffiti's beauty is that passers-by, when faced with I LOVE YOU, can deal with the statement in a non-committal sort of way. You love me? Can I accept that, even if I don't know you? Is this message for me, for all of us, or someone else? We can gaze upon I LOVE YOU without conforming to society's pressures about love.

The work is accessible to many different people -- across class, gender, and "ethnic background" (categories that don't seem real anyway). LOVE is political; making art in the street is also political. Together, they are a powerful catalyst for social change.

The writers are young men in their twenties, a stage in their lives when beer commercials and men's magazines want us to believe that they are at the height of male macchismo and avoiding all talk of love. Instead, this highly valued demographic with substantial cultural capital is telling us that they love us using illegal, anti-corporate methods! People still clinging to the dying patriarchal hierarchy should be deeply troubled by this fact.

Jimi Hendrix once said that when the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. The ILY graf is proof. After all, a popular legend says that a man named Valentine broke the laws of his time for love. He was made a saint and given a holiday in February for his crimes.

-Sharon Harris