Nursing the North: Meet Toronto Graffiti Artist Nursey Q

It’s approaching noon on a cold Toronto Monday when Nursey Q appears almost out of thin air, sidling up to the corner table I’ve reserved at the Drake Hotel Café on Queen Street West.

Nursey Q is one of Toronto’s talented up-and-coming graffiti writers, whose structured, calligraphic style harks back to classic American graffiti.

She slips into the booth I’ve reserved, and before ordering a coffee, salutes one of the restaurant staff that walks by lugging a plastic container full of dirty dishes.

“He’s a graffiti writer, too,” she says, although you never would have guessed it, with his primly hipster get-up—a disguise?

Surprisingly, Toronto, despite its growing reputation as a cultural hotbed, still harbors resentment towards street artists. Nursey Q, whose canvas extends as far as San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, has been forced to exercise caution even when adorning designated walls in plain daylight, an experience yet to be replicated on trips to The Bay where friends Twigs, Jurne, Mags, and Jedi Five live.

“I think it’s good to be able to use any surface,” she says. “I might be writing on a girl this week and in the summertime I might come across an abandoned car. Exploring is a big thing when you start in graffiti, and it stays with you your whole life.”

In addition to safety, Nursey Q writes on other surfaces besides walls because of a debilitating injury suffered at the beginning of 2012, when a car hit her at a crosswalk in the city’s east end. Having to spend months in bed at the center of an inspiration cycle made her even hungrier, although chronic pain in the neck, back and right arm still persists.

“I think I grew up a bit quicker because of it,” she says.

The time in bed allowed for ample planning and meditation on art. Now, she says, “I think it’s important to be balanced. When you look at something it should be easy to read for anyone, because in the age we live, older people might be interested in graffiti now.”

As a teenager, Nursey Q spent years decorating her school notebooks, as well as painting during sojourns in the family cottage with the dogs. It was around this time she met other kids with similar interests, and in the summer helped out at a paint shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market, called Outline. There, she engaged with other graffiti artists, whose work transcended mere writing and murals.

“Once I met those people and met with other artists who weren’t from my side of town, it started fueling the need to do it,” she says.

She also references a supportive father as another early influence.

Nursey Senior explained graffiti when they came across it on the street, rather than dismissing it as wrong. Then on a family vacation to Prince Edward Island during middle school, Nursey Senior suggested a trip to a nearby wall on a hill by the beach. Young Nursey practiced as the waves ebbed and flowed, while the dogs looked out for encroaching squirrels.

“It was definitely the first ‘Nurse’ piece I did,” she says. “It was black, white and red with paint from Canadian Tire. We just wanted to do something quick, something fun.”

“It was kind of nice, because I knew my father wouldn’t judge me,” she says, taking a last sip of coffee and glancing out the window at the fresh snow.

“When you’re young and there’s other people around, you can become insecure, so it was nice to have my first experience painting letters with structure, with my family.

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