It starts in the shadows.
Much like the passion that fuels it, it’s mostly unseen, even sometimes when someone is looking right at it.
Graffiti. Most times, it’s found on the flat, concrete backs of buildings, under curved bridges supporting our roads, or on the corrugated metal of a train car, whipping by so quick, you’re uncertain if it was really even there at all.
That’s how it started for Chad Tyson.
The beginnings under the bridge
He doesn’t remember the exact date, but he remembers he was 13-years-old and he remembers that his mom and step-dad were fighting again. So he left the house, heading for the bridge where him and his friends used to hang out. The place was filled with graffiti. He remembers seeing it, thinking it was pretty cool, but it wasn’t until the painted face filled his world that the spark of passion was lit.
The face; a painted mural on the side of train car. It went by quick, but Tyson got a good enough look to have it change his life forever.
“Like two weeks later…all of a sudden the train stops in front of us and there was this face again,” Tyson recalls. “The same face. I wasn’t sure if it was like the same car, or if it was like the same artist, but I knew this is what I saw (before).”
Immediately, him and friend went to a nearby Michaels store and purchased paint before returning to that very train. It was the first thing that Tyson ever painted.
Growing up in Pickering, Tyson had a hard time making friends. Born with a brain tumour, at a young age, Tyson had part of it removed through his mouth, leaving him with speech difficulties for many years.
“I hard a hard time connecting with friends when I was younger because I couldn’t talk right,” he says.
The condition had him taking the train into Toronto on a fairly regular basis for doctor’s appointments.
However, after seeing the face that day, it changed those trips forever. It wasn’t just a trip down a grungy railway. It was like riding through an art gallery. For Tyson, it was inspiration, and when Pickering constructed a skatepark soon after, he was there to paint the legal walls alongside the professionals on the underground circuit.
It was there he learned the basics.
“Those walls taught me colour theory, taught me layout, taught me how to do design and everything,” he says.
From there, he took his passion and his paint elsewhere. For three years, he spread his work across the city, anywhere and everywhere he could.
“I’m out there, I’m painting the construction walls. They’re building a new building in Pickering and I’m there doing my graffiti, kind of hiding in the shadows,” he says. “I go and see like a bridge with graffiti all over it, so I’d go do my name on the bridge with graffiti…just being a part of this. You stopped looking at it like vandalism and you’re kind of like, it’s just something you do.”
That was, until he got caught.
Passion fades and doors close
At 16-years-old, Tyson was arrested and charged with 35 separate counts of mischief.
There was no jail time, and for a 16-year-old, the punishment was merely a slap on the wrist.
Two years later he was arrested again, and again he was given a slap on the wrist.
The same thing happened when he was arrested a few years later.
It didn’t seem like a problem; until his daughter was born.
“Until you have a kid and you take life seriously, and you want to get a job and everybody is turning you down and all the doors are shutting, and when you get pulled over by a cop for a basic traffic stop, it looks like you’re this big criminal because you have all these charges,” he says. “As a kid, it’s all water under the bridge, but when real life hits you, that’s when it makes life a lot tougher.
On top of that, Tyson developed sciatica, which left him walking with a cane temporarily.
After that, permanent work was elusive. His past with graffiti coming back to haunt him.
“I was charged so badly, it ruins all chances of me getting any type of government job and I wasn’t a criminal,” he says, acknowledging as a young kid you don’t really realize the full extent of your actions, even if they come from a place that you believe to be right, like a passion for art.
“Now, as I get older, I understand what property worth is, I understand that painting somebody’s cube truck is bad,” he says. “When you’re a kid you don’t know that.”
The start of something new turns to ash
The true beginnings of The Paint Factory were born in 2013.
Without a job and seeking a way to support his family. Tyson opened a booth at the Pickering Flea Market selling paint and graffiti supplies. He called it The Paint Factory.
The first week, they sold out everything. And while all the supplies disappeared, in their place came that passion that had been ignited so many years before.
“The booth was so successful, it was a big deal,” Tyson recalls.
So, to prepare for what was sure to be a massive weekend at the flea market, Tyson bought two of everything, making sure they stocked up on the most popular items, keeping it all ready to go at his house before transporting it on the day of. Then tragedy struck.
“I had everything all ready and the Friday before the weekend came, (we) had a house fire and lost everything.”
And it wasn’t just the booth supplies, but after having recently celebrated his daughter’s birthday, all of her brand new toys were melted. The eventual strain of trying to recover from the fire would lead to the end of the relationship between Tyson and his daughter’s mother.
Tyson envisioned a store that was more than a store. It would be a place to sell graffiti supplies, but it would also be a place where those with a passion for the culture, like him, could hang out and paint, legally. More importantly, it could be a place for kids to fuel their passion.
He envisioned his daughter in such a space.
“She’s been like my anchor through it all and I wanted to create something where she could hang out and be proud of me,” he says.
So, he took his idea to a government program that provided living expenses for a year to business owners just starting out. He was denied.
In the meantime, recovering from back surgery to fix his sciatica, Tyson painted kids rooms. Graffiti murals proved incredibly popular, and after a Facebook post advertising his services was shared widely, his artistic talent became in high demand. It gave him an idea.
He applied using the business model of painting business to the government program and was immediately accepted.
The Paint Factory was reborn.
The location at 50 Bond Street East in downtown Oshawa had its grand opening in November 2016, and was welcomed by a massive bash that saw about 40 graffiti artists painting and support from across different community organizations.
“It was overwhelming because we got such a huge response,” he says, adding that there was a sense of satisfaction being able to finally share his passion with those in his life.
“A lot of those years it was graffiti in places where I wasn’t supposed to do it. So, all the people I grew up with, I couldn’t be like, ‘hey that’s me’. So they knew what I was into, but they never really knew what I do,” he says.
The good and the bad
The line between graffiti art and vandalism is a line as thin as a knife blade. It’s a line that Tyson knows well.
For that reason, he’s trying to keep kids off the path that he took, channeling their passion into something useful, perhaps even something they could make a career of.
“Like anything in this world, you have good and bad,” Tyson says. “No matter what you do, you’re going to have graffiti vandalism, but at the same time, those are not what we’re trying to channel (at the Paint Factory). We’re trying to channel the guys who want to do it, that do it right, to have the opportunity to do it right.”
In the alley beside The Paint Factory, made up of the two adjacent walls of the neighbouring building and their own, Tyson created the first legal graffiti space in the city of Oshawa, creating a space where graffiti artists young and old can come and paint without fear.
Tyson makes one thing clear though; they’re not in the business of pushing kids into graffiti.
“Instead of creating graffiti artists, we take the passionate kids that are into graffiti and we turn them into artists instead of graffiti vandals,” he says. “We try not to take at-risk youth and put a can in their hand, we try and take kids with a can in their hand and channel them so they don’t become at-risk.”
And it’s been welcomed by those young and old as along with the legal space, The Paint Factory continues to offer space for kid’s birthday parties, paint workshops and an art gallery in the heart of Oshawa.
One of the latest murals to be added to Tyson’s wall was painted by an 11-year-old.
“The crazy thing is, I’ll have an 11-year-old painting, then down the alley, I’ll have a 60-year-old painting. Anybody can do this,” he says.
Did Tyson know that it would be welcomed by so many people? No.
However, he hopes that his passion can continue to fuel that of others.
“I think anybody that has a talent, that utilizes something, I don’t care if you knit, if you’re passionate about it, that’s badass,” he says. “I don’t care if you sew, I don’t care if you do mosaic paintings, whatever you do, as long as you have passion, that’s amazing.”
For Tyson, that passion was born many years ago, beneath the bridge as the painted face flitted by on the side of a train car. He knows that there are other kids out there that were just like him, and now, thanks to him, they have an outlet for their passion.
“I did know that the kids who were like me were going to do it anyway and if I could just utilize my talent and my influence and put them in the right direction, it could possibly create something amazing.”