street mural being painted on a street in Toronto, ON

Toronto Road Murals Cause Stir

When you walk through Kensington Market in Toronto, the last thing you would consider out of character is drawings on the street. The longtime hub for vintage clothing, quirky bars, and hipster dining establishments, the area has built a reputation on being very different from the rest of Toronto. But this year, artist proposals for a road mural caused more than a disagreement, it turned into a fight at City Hall.

Last year, Toronto’s city councilors considered banning road murals, citing that they “place considerable administrative, regulatory, and maintenance burdens on the city.” The decision was met with considerable opposition by local artists and community members, who say public art installations can beautify and bring people together.

For one local resident in particular, Dave Meslin, the reasons for the potential ban didn’t make any sense. “We’re not asking for money. We’re not asking for staff to come and help us paint,” he told Metro News earlier this year. “We’re just asking for permission.”

With the potential backlash from community leaders and residents in different parts of Toronto, the City decided instead to opt for a pilot program. From August to October of this year, they allowed street mural painting on specific streets in Kensington Market. The designs, materials, and the process would all have to be put through the project for review, but ultimately the program went ahead.

With permission to move forward, the Kensington Market business association found artist Victor Fraser, who stenciled all the paintings for the mural. Community members were then invited to paint in the drawings. A special vinyl paint was used for all of the murals, which is supposed to last for six to nine months and withstand rain, snow, and more.

Artist Victor Fraser decided to highlight Kensington Market’s famous food scene, creating images of fresh foods that draw on computer iconography. “A lot of people work on the computer, and they don’t realize the reality of reality,” he told The Toronto Star in an interview. “I tried to represent their computer styles, which is very choppy, crisp, and hard, and that’s the best way to have vegetables.”

The street murals have now all been completed as of October, 2016 and have each elevated the beauty and artistic wealth of the area, and indeed the city. The collaborative effort at every step, from the fight to have the murals to the design of the items to the interactive elements in their creation, the murals represent how a community can lobby, design, and create something that betters their neighbourhood.

The pilot project may result in four more murals for the Kensington Market area but the idea is spreading to other areas of the city. Community activist Dave Meslin hopes these types of projects will be more common and widespread throughout Toronto.

toronto nunavut mural

Nunavut and Toronto Teens Come Together for an Amazing Mural Project

A group of Nunavut and Toronto teens have overcome a myriad of challenges to paint a beautiful mural in Toronto. The teens, part of the collective known as Cape Dorset, have put together Piliriqatigiingniq, “an unprecedented public artwork project” on Toronto’s Church Street. But getting this beautiful project off the ground has been a long and hard endeavour, one that demonstrates the skill and hard work that’s necessary in all stages of any street art project.

nunavut-toronto-teens-mural

The word “piliriqatigiingniq” is, according to the project’s website, is “a pillar of Inuit traditional knowledge, meaning to work together towards a common goal,” and fully displays the talents that young artists have in the lesser known areas of our country. Overall, it took two years to get the mural up, and was made to show off the Inuit art style during this year’s PanAm and Para-PanAm games, which were a resounding success for the city and the country.

At over two storeys in size, the large mural had a hard time finding an appropriate place that could speak to the sheer depth of the project, and the creators thought they had the perfect place in a building on King Street East and Jarvis Street, but the landlord pulled out at the last minute with very little explanation. The sudden change created quite the scramble for a new space, and project directors Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson started making phone calls all around the city for a new location. “We ended up having to scramble for seven days,” Thompson says, “But we found one with two days to go.” Thompson also said that despite the last minute changes, the outpouring of support was “amazing” and the project ended up in an arguably better location.

That location is a hostel only a block away at Church and Adelaide, which Thompson thinks is thematically appropriate. “It’s the perfect symbol for us,” Thompson said, “It’s a place where people come together from one place to experience a new place.” Both him and Hatanaka were hesitant to get too excited, however, after the last place fell through so quickly. But the newly donated space worked out and now Piliriqatigiingniq is completed and showing off the talent of Canada’s North.

As for the mural itself, the beautiful and brightly-coloured design comes from teen Inuit artist Parr Etidloie. “I heard some stories about my grandfather carrying a snowmobile and they told me to draw it,” the artist told CBC News, “And it worked out.” Etidloie was joined by a local Toronto artist and three of his teenage friends, Audi Qinnuayuaq, Latch Akesuk, Cie Taqiasaq, to complete the project according to his vision, and the response has been overwhelming. Pedestrians and locals congratulated the teens on their hard work, but few of them truly knew the adversity these teens faced in making their project a reality. But now, thanks to the dedication of many people, and a sizeable grant, Toronto can proudly display some art from one of the country’s most isolated areas.

don valley street art, rainbow mural

Don Valley Parkway Rainbow Painting Fetches Millions

For many people caught in traffic on Toronto’s notorious Don Valley Parkway, the Rainbow Tunnel is a welcome break. The tunnel’s entrance is painted in a bright rainbow pattern that’s been shining bright for over 40 years and has become one of the staples of the area. Many people have featured it in their photography and landscape painting, but one such painting just made someone millions of dollars.

peter-doigs-country-rock-wing-mirrorScottish artist Peter Doig’s “Country-rock (wing-mirror)” is a landscape piece that prominently features the original mural. Doig’s work is usually landscape focused, but this one in particular was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Originally, it was thought the painting could reach $16 million.

As for the original mural, it’s history has less money attached to it. Commissioned in 1972, the mural is the work of Canadian muralist Berg Johnson. Johnson’s own relationship to the mural has a life of its own. He’s apparently been arrested multiple times for touching the mural up over its 40 year lifespan, but otherwise is a complete recluse. These rumours are debated and refuted by people, including his friends, but it all adds a certain history to the mural itself, something that probably attracted Doig to it for his painting, and probably influenced the eventual price of the painting at auction.

What the painting shows is the value of public art and murals while arguing how people consume and privatize these public pieces. The original muralist was duly compensated for his work, but it’s nowhere near the sum art collectors are willing to pay for the painting that features Johnson’s public art. Johnson himself, still active in Toronto’s mural scene, is unlikely to see money from the piece that clearly uses his past efforts to increase its value, respectfully or exploitatively. Of course, public art is just that, public, and attempts to police its dissemination invites the very kinds of control that limit artists in general.

But this also speaks to the role art still plays in the world. If Andy Warhol proved anything, it’s that the price of art, just like art itself, is highly subjective. After all, he painted replicas of one of the most common things in a grocery store, a soup can, and made millions of dollars and saw his art displayed around the world. Private art, the notion of being able to hide it away for a much smaller audience, is still worth more than something meant for everyone. And while some public art becomes private, like a recent Banksy piece on a house that was removed and sold at auction, the mural itself remains, at least monetarily, an art style unable to fetch the price of private art, even if its seen by many more people. At the end of the day, however, Johnson’s mural is a widely loved and easily recognized part of Toronto’s landscape, a public art piece every muralist aspires to have in their portfolio.

worlds tallest mural from high above in downtown toronto

The World’s Tallest Mural, A Mural Seen From Miles Away

We just can’t get enough of the world’s tallest mural, located in our very own City of Toronto. We traveled across the city, snapping up shots wherever we could, in an effort to illustrate just how far away you can see this mural. Our photo shoot even took us to the Gardiner highway. However, this journey was not enough, and served only to whet our appetite. You see, we had a hunger that could only be satiated by taking to the skies, and so we did (with a little help from helitours.ca).

What you see below is a composition of our adventure to capture the world’s tallest mural in it’s full glory. Below is each image from our original vantage point followed by a zoomed in version showcasing the mural. At the top of the page we’ve included a map detailing the locations and distance of our shots. Not only can you get a good view of the mural but these are also some excellent scenic pictures of our great City of Toronto.

A Map Of Our Photos

map

CN Tower

1-worlds-tallest-heli-cn-tower

CN Tower (mural close-up)

1b-worlds-tallest-heli-cn-tower

Mural Close Up

2-close-up

Mural Close Up (wide angle)

2b-close-up-wide

Ashbridges Bay

3-ash-bridges-bay-mural

Ashbridges Bay (mural close-up)

3b-ash-bridges-bay-mural

Marina

4-marina-worlds-tallest-mural

Marina (mural close-up)

4b-marina-worlds-tallest-mural

Cherry Beach

5-cherry-beach

Cherry Beach (mural close-up)

5b-cherry-beach

Gardiner Expressway

6-gardiner-expressway

mural routes website

Mural Routes, Bringing Artists, Business & The Public Together

Here at MuralForm, we like to talk about awesome street artists and cool projects, but we also love showing how street art can improve communities. Street art and murals can help cities develop tourism, document their history, or even celebrate their triumphs. Murals can define a city’s aesthetic or even contribute to a national identity, as many saw in Brazil this year during the World Cup, and there are many organizations both local and international that try to encourage street art for these reasons.

One such organization is Mural Routes, a not-for-profit organization based in Ontario dedicated to “the promotion of wall art as a public art form for the general benefit of communities and artists,” according to their website. The organization works with local and international agencies, volunteers, and artists to bring mural art to Ontario communities, predominantly Toronto, and to helping mural artists and enthusiasts to stay connected and mutually supportive.

A Little History

Mural Routes has been around for nearly 25 years, starting in the 1990s as an art project with the Scarborough Arts Council. By 1994, Mural Routes had expanded its scope and incorporated itself apart from the Arts Council while still working closely with them. Much of their artistic work results from collaboration with local businesses and governments. The recently unveiled “Eastern Gateway” mural, for example, is the combined efforts of the City of Toronto and Mural Routes. Located at 277 Old Kingston R. in Scarborough, the mural is a permanent piece designed to welcome people into the town. While designed by local artists, the project came together through the volunteer efforts of Scarborough youth interested in street art and making their town that much brighter.

Mural Routes was also integral to the Warden Avenue Underpass mural. This piece documents the local history of the area while adding some colour to a usually ignored part of a city. Once again a collaboration of the City of Toronto and Mural Routes, the piece was praised by city councilwoman Michelle Berardinetti.

While Mural Routes is interested in getting murals onto walls, their major focus is connecting and educating the public and artists on the benefits and opportunities tied to murals. The organization regularly hosts networking events and professional development workshops, embracing the business end of street art while promoting its benefits to Canadians. Much of the information shared and exchanged at Mural Routes various meetings was compiled into Mural Production: A Resource Handbook for artists and business owners.

Mural Routes continues to bring artists, businesses, and the public together by promoting the many benefits of street art, whether its through community meetings or murals made with community involvement. The program is great for aspiring artists, community members, and business owners together and it is this multifaceted approach that lets Mural Routes stand apart from other muralist organizations. For more information, be sure to visit their website.

picture of a mural from the church st mural project

The Church St. Mural Project

It may be hard to imagine given the success of Pride in Toronto, but there was a time when the LGBT community faced violent persecution and outward hatred in Canada’s largest and most diverse city. Thankfully, these days have passed, but a street art project has been underway to document the often ignored history of the LGBT community in Toronto, and to celebrate the community’s growth and, well, pride.

The Church St. Mural Project started last August after years of planning, strategizing, and permit-applying, successfully bringing 12 murals to various locations up and down the hub of Toronto’s Gay Village neighbourhood. Overall, 25 artists all helped bring the history and success of the LGBT community to the streets for all to see and enjoy.

The murals focus on many different subjects and gay subcultures, from bears and leather culture to the world ongoing fight for the rights of trans people. This being Toronto, the murals are not only about the diversity represented in the LGBT community, but the diversity of the city in general, celebrating the many cultures and people that make up the city. “What is really apparent about this project is it really transcends the LGBT community,” project coordinator James Fowler told Daily Xtra, “It’s diversity but not just within an LGBT construct. There’s a lot of ethnic diversity.”

While many of the murals celebrate the community, they do not shy away from their struggles. One mural depicting Operation Soap, also known as the Bath House Raids, is a prominent mural. Showing a drag queen with their hands up and surrounded by emergency vehicles, the mural directly references Canada’s own version of the Stonewall Riots, where Pride Week got its start and the LGBT began a new wave of their fight for equality.

They also document the community’s long history and famous faces, the people integral to what is now one of the world’s greatest places for LGBT members. A large, 91-foot mural depicts over 50 years of club culture, with references to specific people and places that are important to Church St.’s history. Each person and place was extensively researched for an authentic piece that is wholly Torontonian.

Some murals are more abstract, challenging the ways we think about intimacy between individuals to show that attraction and love do not need to be limited to constructions around gender and sexuality. And many of the murals aren’t limited to paint either. The mural on Church and Wellesley, for example, takes inspiration from South Asian textiles for a mural that, appropriately, honours the queer South Asian community. For “ELLA” at 383 Church St., tiles were the major medium, used to create a ten foot tall mosaic.

Each mural design was carefully selected from countless suggestions by local and international artists, all eager to offer their artistic talent to the local LGBT community. As if a walk down Church St. isn’t already fun enough, especially during pride, these murals add another dimension to the city, reminding the local community of how hard they have fought and exactly why the fight still matters.

worlds tallest mural

Toronto’s Home the World’s Tallest Mural and a Sign of Local Regrowth

What started as a devastating housing project fire is now a giant piece of art, a sign of a neighbourhood on the rise, and a World Record.

Three years ago, a fire ripped through 200 Wellesley Street East in St. James Town, leaving residents homeless and in an already troubled neighbourhood with yet another problem. The residents banded together in those times of need, but they decided to go one step further. Now, thanks to community involvement and some dedicated muralists, St. James Town is home to the world’s tallest mural, one that shows off their indomitable spirit.

At nearly 30 storeys tall, the St. James Town mural is three times higher than the world’s largest mural, the famous Berlin painting created by French company CitéCréation. That mural, a stunning 20,000 feet in size, takes otherwise drab city housing projects and gives them new life, just like the mural here in Toronto. But where Berlin’s mural incorporates trees and nature to blend the concrete into a nearby park and zoo, the St. James Town mural doesn’t blend in or try to be natural. Instead, it heads to mythical majesty, and a powerful metaphor.

The mural depicts a large Phoenix rising from the ashes, a fitting metaphor for the building’s history and a signal to St. James Town’s future. Phoenixes are known for being born from fire, for rising from a tragedy as something more powerful and beautiful than what came before, and certainly this Phoenix is a symbol for rebirth and rebuilding in the distinctive and hardy Toronto neighbourhood. This part of town has known hard times, from poverty to overcrowding, but from tragedies like the building fire is an opportunity to rise, to fly.

And while the Berlin mural was the work of a private company, this mural is the combined efforts of and local artists, excited citizens, and some help from the STEPS Artivist program, led by Toronto artists Jason Rouleau, Ryan Dineen, and Sean Martindale. The mural is just one of the STEPS (Sustainable Thinking and Expression on Public Space) Initiative’s projects, but certainly their largest to date. The initiative was started to employ artists and local citizens in using Toronto’s ample public space for more, brightening and demonstrating the important role artists can play in helping neighbourhoods through public space projects. Previous work includes pop bottle planters and construction site painting, smaller projects making public spaces more usable and beautiful.

But when STEPS decided on doing something in St. James Town after the fire, the neighbourhood started throwing ideas out for how to bring a positive message of regrowth to the area, and the show everyone the St. James Town’s positive message of growth. Once the mural was decided on, certainly not the strangest of ideas tossed around, STEPS contacted local and internationally-renowned artist Sean Martindale for design and organization. With Martindale’s leadership, STEPS and local muralist company Toronto Muralists were able to convert the fire tragedy into something making people notice St. James Town’s spirit.

And while the Phoenix certainly represents this sentiment, the base of the mural shows the diversity and local participation of St. James Town residents. All along the base, young and aspiring artists from the neighbourhood were encouraged to add their own  stories, creating a mosaic of smaller paintings at the mural’s base that culminate in the larger Phoenix higher up which, for obvious reasons, couldn’t be completed by untrained professionals. Toronto Muralists, Jason Rouleau and Ryan Dineen handled the mural’s higher portions, using a bright and distinct colour palette to increase the project’s visibility.

To put the project is perspective, America’s tallest mural is located in Atlanta stands at 15 storeys. Asia’s tallest mural stands at 20 storeys tall, making Wellesley’s glowing Phoenix uses 29 of its social modernist housing project’s 32 storeys. At a full 10 storeys taller than its closest competition, 200 Wellesley is the tallest and brightest of each of these murals.

The mural was officially unveiled in September and St. James Town residents noticed a change in the neighbourhood almost immediately. Because of its location, St. James Town experiences a lot of traffic but few stops. Despite its high density population, St. James Town remains a thoroughfare, not a destination, until recently. The mural was unveiled at the St. James Town festival, a fitting celebration of the neighbourhood, and a chance to show their spirit. Now, the mural turns heads, attracts curious onlookers, and is helping St. James Town be less of a necessary road and more a place to stop and enjoy.

The Phoenix, it seems, is already doing its job.

honest eds signage at night

Honest Ed’s: Where Branding Turned into Part of Toronto’s Identity

Honest Ed’s is part of Toronto, a kitschy place held dear to the hearts of Torontonians and tourists alike and much of that love comes from their signage. The hokey catchphrases and jokes covering almost every square inch of Honest Ed’s exterior brings smiles to locals and, almost embarrassingly, plenty of pictures from tourists. A personal favourite of mine is “Honest Ed attracts squirrels! ‘At these prices they think he’s nuts!’”  I have a picture of my brother and I underneath it from my first visit to the city. My hair’s changed, Honest Ed’s hasn’t.

But even Honest Ed’s has to change. The store will close their doors for the last time in 2016 and owner David Mirvish, son of Ed, started selling Honest Ed’s signature look last month. This includes the hand-painted signs marking the deals Ed was just “nuts” to offer. Prices ranged from $0.50 to $100 and, in keeping with Ed’s love of its city, all proceeds went to Victim Services Toronto for people affected by sudden and violent crime.

Yes, Honest Ed’s is distinct, but it’s also distinctly Torontonian. It’s been regularly featured in film and TV, its marquee turned into postcards, and even the odd bus tour takes a swing by Ed’s. The store even played into the Scott Pilgrim comics, possibly this city’s best love letter. And, if the lineups for the sign sale have anything to say on the matter, Toronto citizens agree.

The sale unexpectedly brought out hundreds of people, some of whom lined up for hours to buy the signs and get them signed by employees Douglas Kerr and Wayne Reuben. These men painted the signs and were on-hand to demonstrate their painting skills and sign people’s purchases.

But at least people will have a piece of Ed’s to carry with them, or put up in their homes and offices, which is a much better place than the recycle bin. The very act of buying these signs, of lining up in the wee hours of the morning just to get them prove that Honest Ed’s holds value in Torontonians’ eyes, even as the store itself closes down. Honest Ed’s signs are more than just branding, they’re embedded into Toronto culture. They are valued by people, turning price tags into a sentimental part of living in Canada’s largest city. These signs will be framed, cut up and used in other art projects, documented, but most of all preserved in some way or another.

That line of hundreds also proves the look of a store can go beyond increasing sales, they can become a distinct part of a city, a neighbourhood, a street. Honest Ed’s is a Toronto institution in part because of that signage, both the Las Vegas marquee and the beautiful and kitschy signs inside, are ingrained in people’s memory. Their branding turned into city identity, and that’s a beautiful thing.

street art toronto mural

StreetArtToronto: Bringing Street Art, Well, Back to the Streets

The line between graffiti and street art is a fine one, very fine, but at least Toronto is encouraging the many talented street artists that live in this fair city. And after a winter like ours, I’m sure there are plenty of people looking to hit the streets and bring some colour back into Toronto. But the divide between street artists expressing themselves and people crying vandalism sometimes gets entrenched, leading to people writing off an entire medium of art because of local vandals.

That’s where StART Toronto comes in, a grant program encouraging street artists to add some flair to Toronto’s streets and help at-risk youth and adults contribute to the city’s overall look.

StART is truly multifaceted in its approach, offering grants and taking proposals to help everyone involved in street art, from victims to professional artists. Programs like RE StART specifically targets at-risk members of the community with programs that encourage artistic expression while respecting the rules of street art, like putting it where its wanted and not on historic buildings. People interested in starting programs for at-risk street artists can receive up to $20,000 in grant money, and maybe even produce a few future artists along the way.

But for people who have been victimized by street art, the StART Support Mural Program is probably the most interesting. People who have experienced unwanted graffiti can apply to the program and, instead of getting the unwanted art simply washed off, get a local muralist to paint something welcome and better. With the Mural Support Program, the city is finding practical solutions to unwanted street art without discrediting the artistry that our talented street artists have. Instead of encouraging people to be bitter towards street artists and vice versa, Mural Support brings them together for something mutually beneficial.

And, for the truly ambitious, the city has set up “Outside the Box,” a program where artists can transform traffic signal cabinets into works of art. So far, 10 boxes at intersections around the city have been donated to the program, with another 20 reported this month. For a full list of intersections, visit the StART website here.

Because the programs are for literally everyone, StART is working to prove street art can be more than unsightly tags, that it can instead be integrated into how we live in a city. Programs like the Underpass Program is looking to integrate street art into a revitalization of the underpass, using art to encourage a safer and brighter area where people would want to walk, rather than rush through.

StART’s programs are looking for viable solutions to not only bring artists and residents together, but demonstrate that street art is a vital part of any urban space. Instead of condemning all graffiti, a popular tactic in many cities, Toronto is looking to bring people together, help those at-risk, and encourage people to enjoy this great city even more. That all sounds like a great idea.

Bathurst Street sign located downtown in the City of Toronto

Toronto Street Signs for Sale: A New Initiative Gives New Homes to Old Signs

The City of Toronto’s latest initiative is the very epitome of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure: the city continues to sell decommissioned street signs to the highest bidder.

The auctions started last month through a deal with Platinum Liquidations, who set up an online auction selling their the old signs to people who want a piece of Toronto from days gone by. The city replaces roughly 1,800 signs per year for various reasons, from legibility to damage, and usually they go straight into recycle bins. But by auctioning them off, the city’s transportation services can make some money off their trash.

Here’s how it works: Starting with minimum $30 bids, the city lets anyone bid on the signs in $5 increments. After 60 days, the auction closes and the sign is given to the highest bidder. 20 signs are released every week and money raised through the sales goes directly back into the city’s transportation services division. They haven’t released a master list of signs going to auction, so it’s best to check back every week to see if the street you want is there. Just a warning, the more severely damaged or illegible signs are still going into the trash heap.

And the initiative is working. The site brought had over a million views on its first day, enough to crash the page. With those numbers, competition is stiff. Some of the more popular signs, like Bloor St. W, have reached over $300 and still climbing.

The move is not without controversy and, like many of Toronto’s headlines this year, Rob Ford is once again at the centre. On leave from his Mayoral duties, Mr. Ford has been signing the signs with a gold sharpie. Some see it as an autograph, prices for these signs have been much higher than those without, but others see it as defacing. The city itself thinks worries the signatures are stopping some people from bidding, so now all signatures must get approval from the city planner. After all, if you would just like the sign as is, why would you want a bright gold and very permanent scribble on it?

For my part, the signs seem like an excellent idea, both as a way to recoup costs for the city and lets people show some pride in their city. Many citizens have grown up on certain streets, maybe even for generations, so having such a sign would be a point of pride for families in the area. Of course, plenty of frat houses around town have been preemptive in street sign removal, and they aren’t the only ones.

Toronto hopes this will be an ongoing program for decommissioned street signs and hopefully these signs find good homes. A personal favourite is the old acorn style signs. The distinct shape and print reminds me of the Toronto I visited before I moved here. I’m sure for others, these signs can be a part of their family history. The auction, at its core, is about helping things change while still valuing what came before.