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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.

website header from the cambridge street art festival

The Cambridge International Street Art Festival

We have covered a number of different festivals that have happened over the years. They’re often in incredible cities, like Hong Kong or Sydney; big cities encouraging artists to come out and beautify the streets. But street art festivals aren’t simply happening in big cities, they’re happening everywhere, including the sleepy town of Cambridge, Ontario.

Situated on the slopes of the Grand River, Cambridge is perhaps most famous for sharing its name with a well-known English university, and as a growing place with a great sense of history. What many people don’t know is that it has an amazing relationship with the arts and is a natural fit for its own street art festival, which celebrated its second anniversary this year.

graffiti style street art mural painted at the cambridge street art festival

The Cambridge International Street Art Festival had its start in Florida, of all places, where the festival’s founders came across the Lake Worth Street Painting Festival. The two were instantly inspired by the thousands that had attended and, to put it in their words, “the magical abilities of truly amazing artists creating art, with chalk (or pastels) on the streets.”

The festival has many of the activities and events that you would expect from a street art festival. The city has set aside spaces where artists can create beautiful murals, some of which will become more permanent fixtures in the already beautiful city. Attendees can come by and see the art being made, go to panels about art and street art, and even screen a couple of cool documentaries.

young boy standing next to chalk board art wall at the cambridge street art festival

What makes the Cambridge International Street Art Festival unique is its encouragement of artists of any level to come out and participate. Their chalk art program provides free chalk to anyone who wants it and offers spaces for them to draw up murals, cartoons, or whatever they want. While obviously popular for children, the Festival encourages all attendees who want to draw to come and contribute. And while it gets washed away in the first rain, the pieces people create can be truly beautiful and inspiring.

mural artist sitting next to a perspective mural piece rendered on the street at the cambridge international street art festival

By celebrating local artists and encouraging attendee participation, the Cambridge International Street Art Festival offers a more intimate and unique festival experience than ones further down the road in Southern Ontario. You can see the art truly up close and interact with the artists in a more relaxed environment. Plus, Cambridge is a beautiful city only enhanced by its open embrace of the festival and the artwork it facilitates. Plus, its commitment to participation means you can connect with regular people trying out art, and artists wanting to try something different.

If you live in Southern Ontario, the Cambridge International Street Art Festival is an excellent way to escape the big city and see street art up close. It happens every year in August. Next year’s festival is still taking applications for artists and volunteers, so there’s still a chance to participate.

photograph of diego rivera

Artist Profile: Diego Rivera

While many people will point to Frida Kahlo as Mexico’s most famous artist, the impact of Diego Rivera on murals, both in his home country of Mexico and around the world, is still felt today. Known for his particularly large frescoes, his work helped to establish the Mexican Mural Movement in Mexican art.

Rivera grew up in Mexico and studied art from a young age. His studies would eventually take him to France and Italy, where he learned from such artists as Eduardo Chicharro, Ilya Ehrenburg, Chaim Soutine, and Amedeo Modigliani. While in Europe, Rivera witnessed firsthand the growing popularity of cubism and his own work saw a heavy cubist influence in those early days. He gradually shifted towards post-impressionism a few years later before coming back to Mexico at the request of Mexican officials. It was during this period that he and two other artists, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, started painting frescos and murals for the Mexican government.

Artwork by Diego Rivera, c.1916, Maternidad

Diego Rivera, c.1916, Maternidad

Rivera’s mural style became and important moment in Mexican history, not simply because of their political messages (much of his work dealt with Mexican history and its major revolution in 1910) but because of their incorporation of Mexican art styles. While trained mostly in Europe, Rivera used “large, simplified figures and bold colors with an Aztec influence.” His frescos also took storytelling techniques from the Maya, and many of his larger pieces tell entire stories. Combining his technical training from Europe with his Mexican heritage, his work became widely renowned and continues as an example of Mexican art to this day.

artwork titled flower carrier painted by diego rivera in 1935

Diego Rivers, c.1935, “Flower Carrier”

Diego Rivera is one of Mexico’s most famous and most notorious painters, mostly due to his volatile relationship with Frida Kahlo. Rivera met Kahlo while he was still married to his second wife, Guadalupe Marín. They met at a party hosted by a mutual acquaintance, Tina Modotti, where Kahlo asked for Rivera’s opinion about her paintings. Later, Rivero was quoted as saying Kahlo’s art had “an unusual energy of expression, precise delineation of character, and true severity … They had a fundamental plastic honesty, and an artistic personality of their own … It was obvious to me that this girl was an authentic artist.”

picture of renouned mexican artists diego rivera and frido kahlo taken in 1932

Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera, c.1932

Despite being 20 years her senior, and being a noted womanizer, the two married in a civil ceremony at the town hall of Coyoacán on August 21, 1929. They remained married for ten years but divorced due to “their mutual infidelities and his violent temper.” The divorce was short-lived, however, and they remarried in 1940, staying together until her death in 1954.

Diego Rivera is often eclipsed by his wife and life, but his art remains an important moment for muralists and street art. Despite sharing a close relationship with the Mexican government, his ability to weave a distinctly Mexican style into his work helped pave the way for a national character of art. Other countries, such as Brazil, has made similar steps, drawing on the skills of muralists around the world and infusing them with a nationalistic flavour. His work, while largely lost now, is a testament to the importance of producing and supporting local artists.

kanye kissing kanye mural by scott marsh in chippendale, australia

What We Talk About When We Talk About Kimye and Murals

Earlier this year in the quiet city of Chippendale, Australia, a mural appeared that made headlines around the world. The piece, created by Australian street artist Scott Marsh, was a recreation of a meme that circulated around the internet the previous year. The meme, and the subsequent mural, depicted Kanye West kissing his wife Kim Kardashian, except her face was replaced with another Kanye face. The meme had been shown around the world and, consequently, the mural also gained its fair amount of attention, including from Kanye West’s staff.

full size of scott marsh's kanye mural

Marsh claims that he received a call from Kanye’s management shortly after the mural went viral, asking to have the piece taken down. In response, Marsh announced he had created a print of the mural and that it was for sale, for $100,000 and a lifetime supply of Kanye-designed Yeezy Boost sneakers. When that print was purchased, he would paint over the original mural.

While no one from Kanye’s team has taken responsibility, Marsh received the money a few days later and, a few days after that, he painted over the mural. Marsh, for his part, was surprised that things happened the way they did, starting with the mural gaining so much attention. ‘’I’m surprised there has been so much worldwide attention,” Marsh told the Illawarra Mercury. “I did it as a kind of a funny jab at the occult celebrity and celebrity culture and the power of media, in particular social media.’’ Marsh could not have picked a more appropriate subject for his work. Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian have become some of the biggest celebrities in the world precisely because of their approach to social media and their lifestyle (and, in the case of Kanye, because of his music).

When we talk about celebrity in the modern age, we are talking about their permeance, their ability to move through the separations and layers of our society with relative ease. Today, a social media post can be copied, altered, copied again, and sent around the world. It can show up on news sites and, in rare instances, on the side of a wall in Chippendale, Australia. And people can turn celebrity into almost anything. Ronald Reagan used his celebrity to help him win the presidency and another presidential hopeful is using the same tactics again today.

A celebrity’s ability to show up anywhere is a double-edged sword as well, one that the Kardashians have been trying to master for years. There strikes a balance between people’s forgetfulness and the internet’s ability to keep anything and everything easily searchable and accessible. Kanye may have allegedly forked over six figures to have a mural removed, but pictures of the mural are easily found through a simple Google search.

Street art and murals can challenge and provoke in multiple ways, including towards our obsessions with celebrity. For Marsh, tapping into our love of the rich and famous has earned him money and fame as well. But, as he says, these things can be fleeting.

‘’The attention has definitely lifted my profile. It’s just a matter now that I’ve got to work really hard and try and turn that into something tangible rather than 15 minutes of fame.’’

donald trump mural by hanksy

Donald Trump Murals: Putting the Political Back into Street Art

Donald Trump has long been a controversial figure, from his rise in the eighties as a real estate and property mogul to his recent bid to become the President of the United States of America. He’s long been in the public eye and, at this point, is quite comfortable in front of a camera, a pulpit, or a boardroom filled with cameras. And with so much notoriety, The Donald has also gained the attention of some very talented, and very angry, street artists.

Donald Trump mural in Winnipeg night club District Stop

Donald Trump mural in Winnipeg night club District Stop

Graffiti, as it is sometimes pejoratively called, has also been closely associated with declarations, whether they’re political, territorial, or simply making a statement. Being illegal in so many different ways, it can also be a political statement through its very existence and, in the way that many people see it during their daily routine, its ability to capture an audience is similarly a political act. For some, the politics is key, and now that Donald Trump has decided to try and become one of the world’s most powerful people, artists are flocking at the chance to show off what they really think of him and his bid to become president.

donald-trump-mural-2

One such piece showed up in Donald Trump’s hometown of New York City by a popular graffiti artist known only as “Hanksy.” The American-born artist is known for his tongue-in-cheek and often controversial comedic pieces, choosing to use the power of humour to convey his messages. For The Donald, Hanksy certainly has his opinions, and he certainly wasn’t shy of displaying them: a pile of feces featuring Donald’s face and famous hair (or possibly hair-piece). Hanksy took to Twitter to describe his artistic process, which wasn’t too complex even if the message is powerful: “okay. so I started with the fact that Trump kinda rhymes with dump. but I think I’m just gonna paint him as a giant pile of shit.”

Hanksy’s message will certainly have some detractors, but many people in New York have long had an antagonistic relationship with the owner of Trump International. Trump, and his extremely wealthy father before him, invested in multiple real estate initiatives that are tied to the gentrification and extreme, now legendary, housing prices in New York, and many people are sure to enjoy Hanksy’s take on Trump.

Trump’s campaign and infamy has made its way north of the border as well, with a Winnipeg artist giving visitors of a local pub’s men’s room something to ponder while they pee. The District Stop nightclub in the city’s Entertainment District features a painting of Trump, but with his mouth as one of the urinals. It was designed as a statement and publicity stunt, and it’s now international fame is certainly making people stop by.

Street art has always been political, so for artists to take their graffiti and point it at such a controversial figure is no surprise. And whatever your opinions about Trump are, it has at least led to some interesting art pieces around the world. They do certainly have a theme, though, one that may not be too far off the mark.

mlk mural large mural on exterior of building

Chattanooga MLK Mural Mixes Messages of Hope with Interactive Elements

In the quiet town of Chattanooga, Tennessee, there is an old AT&T building. It sat quiet, much like the town, for years, a grey set of blocks in a wide parking lot. It was functional, but the exterior became an eyesore for the nearby residents. And for one artist, it became an opportunity to talk about important issues, and share some beauty with a small Tennessee city. The City of Chattanooga saw the building as an opportunity rather than simply a problem, and the result was a mural that’s as interactive as it is tied to American history.

Chattanooga contacted nationally-praised artist Meg Saligman for the project, raising over $200,000 in the process to help her create something beautiful, significant, and appropriate. The project, after all, involved an entire building, not simply a single wall, and that meant Saligman was going to need time, supplies, and help. The project allowed Saligman the opportunity to hire six Chattanooga artists to help, giving them valuable paid professional experience and the opportunity to work on a collaborative project in their hometown.

Saligman’s design for the mural was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and was unveiled on January 18, 2016, three days shy of what would have been the civil rights leader’s 87th birthday. Saligman took inspiration from the renowned leader and decided that the mural should engage the audience on multiple levels. With a project of such magnitude, creating activities, it seems, is a good way to keep an audience looking. She used Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as inspiration for some activities, recreating metaphors and visual imagery found in that beautiful and important speech. Nines were also hidden throughout the mural on all sides of the building, and familiar faces from the period were used.

mlk-mural

As for the artist herself, Meg Saligman is a living legend in the public art community. Named one of the ten most influential American muralists of the past decade by the Public Art Review in 2006, she has won numerous awards and created projects around the country. She specializes in absorbing local styles, mostly by collaborating with local artists, to bring something to the public that is both familiar, given it is part of their community, and created with intent and serious artistic talent. The results, as the citizens of Chattanooga can attest, are outstanding.

Saligman’s mural in Chattanooga demonstrates two key things about public art: its ability to capture and hold attention and the importance of collaboration. With Saligman, she chose to use local artists to create something meaningful for the city, acting as a project manager to help some of the city’s artists create a piece with local flavour. The end result also shows the many ways that artists can grab and hold attention, whether it’s through facial recognition, familiar imagery, or even a small game of “spot the 9s.” Art without an audience, especially public art, can often miss the point.

artist antonio ramos painting a mural

Antonio Ramos, Death by Mural

Last October young volunteer, muralist, and street artist Antonio Ramos was gunned down in West Oakland. He and his fellow artists were in the midst of painting an anti-violence mural that was meant to be enjoyed by the entire city. Designed by middle-schoolers, the piece was called “Self as Superheroes” and was part of a city-wide initiative to use the power of street art to talk about the challenges facing Oakland and its surrounding communities. 

Oakland is a city of opposing ideas. At once a rougher city than the nearby San Francisco, it is simultaneously heralded as The Bay Area’s own Brooklyn but also a city of danger, of systemic problems, and one that has a long ways to go. The very act of shooting a young street artist for painting a charity-funded mural seems to speak to many of the problems the city faces, and has indeed become a testament to Oakland’s many challenges. 

“Self as Superheroes” is part of the Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project, a six-mural project funded and started by local non-profit Attitudinal Healing Connection, which is dedicated to spreading messages of anti-violence. Every mural is painted on a freeway underpass and hopes to convey messages of anti-violence and peaceful resolution in a city where stories of gentrification are met with worrisome crime statistics. 

Ramos’ death was met with widespread condemnation and a city that came together. A fund was started to help his family cover the funeral costs. Those who worked on the mural finished it in his honour, and many residents came to the piece, the place where Ramos died, to pay their respects and build a small shrine in his honour. His death has become a symbol of how far Oakland still needs to go in terms of crime, violence, and a community that needs to build with its citizens. 

Of the many things that Ramos’ death has come to represent, from Oakland’s crime to arguments surrounding gentrification, is that art is still powerful, still relevant, and still very important. Ramos was gunned down while making art, while trying to communicate something very real and very important to the people of his town. The art, and the very act of scribbling it onto a wall, proves that street artists, as conveyors of important messages, are still feared and therefore tried to be silenced. And while the true motivations of the shooter are still a mystery, we can still see how Ramos’ passion for anti-violence lives on through his artistic contributions.

huge mural in pachuca, mexico

The Biggest Mural in Pachuca, Mexico

If there’s one thing that’s true about street art, it’s that it’s getting bigger. Sometimes that means it’s getting more recognition, being displayed in more and more places, or the artists themselves are enjoying more and more attention, and hopefully compensation, for their work. But if you’re in Pachuca, Mexico, when you say that street art’s getting bigger, you’re probably referring to size over anything else.

The reason that you’d immediately think of a big, sizeable mural over the recognition or traction street art is gaining is probably because you’ve walked by the neighbourhood of Palmitas. This neighbourhood, just like the many colourful residential neighbourhoods, has plenty of fun houses made with different hues and tones, but there’s a key difference: Palmitas wasn’t the result of cheap paint or building supplies, it was done by professional muralists and local people through a government grant.

Palmitas, like many places in Mexico, is a nice neighbourhood that needing some sprucing up. The area was suffering in many different ways, from street violence and poverty to larger issues like unemployment and a lack of funds for neighbourhood problems. So the Mexican government decided to intervene and help out the neighbourhood. In the process, they managed to land the little place on the world stage.

Starting out as a grant, the Mexican government envisioned a mural project that could improve the area. The goal of the project, however, was not just to beautify the area, but to give it a facelift in all areas, and to give the people something to be proud of. For expert advice and project leaders, the government turned to the German collective, a group of designers and artists who set about planning the project.

Once it was down on paper, the project was massive. Over 20,000 square feet of walls needed to be painted, stretching across over 200 homes in the neighbourhood, all of which were settled up a small hill above a main road. Bright colours were chosen for the mural, with bold patterns that could be easily painted across the facades. With such a large project, the German collective couldn’t do it themselves, so they enlisted the help of locals, giving them work to do in the year that the project took to be completed.

The project was a resounding success. According to Street Art News, the the project brought immediate results, improving the lives of many of the residents pretty much from the seond paint hit the walls. “On top of beautifying the neighbourhood, the project has been a tool of social transformation,” the magazine reported, “During the process, the violence amongst younger people has been entirely eradicated and several jobs created.” While there may have been only 209 houses filled with 452 families, the results were felt by a much larger amount of people, starting the the town of Pachuca and rippling out across the world.

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.

2014 world cup mural being painted

Brazil World Cup Mural

From the first kick-off of Brazil vs. Croatia to Mario Götze’s extra time goal for Germany, this year’s FIFA World Cup was a whirlwind of emotion. Disappointment for Argentina, who made it further than anyone expected, anger for Brazil’s devastating 7-1 loss to Germany, and joy for many other nations. Names were made, legends finished their careers, and nations stood captivated. If the FIFA World Cup proves one thing, it’s that soccer (or football) is truly the world’s game, and one painter decided to put all that emotion into one amazing piece of street art.

Marcos Jambeiro began his mural of the World Cup just days into the tournament, capturing the intensity and emotion as it was happening. The piece was commissioned by ESPN as a testament to what Brazil and the world felt for a month this summer. For the country of Brazil, this mural seems the perfect way to convey this. As Jambeiro said in a recent interview, “When we do a work on the street, it’s a museum that’s open to everyone,” Jambeiro said. “It’s an open cultural center for everyone to come to.”

In fact, major metropolitan sectors have passed laws that only encourage street art. Sao Paulo, for example, has a ban on public advertising like billboards, so there is ample more space for artists to take over and add their own flavour to their cities. In Brazil, street art is exactly like New York in the 70s, except for the complete opposite. Both are covered from street to building tops with graffiti, but in Brazil, it’s part of the culture and entirely encouraged.

So when the muralist Marcos Jambeiro told The Washington Post that street art and soccer are essential components of a nation’s identity, he has tapped into something that Brazil is famous for, both in talent and pervasiveness. he connects the two further in his interview: “This is something specific to Brazilians: the spontaneity of playing football, joy,” he said. “Art is in all of this, not just in the painting, but in the song, the joy of playing football.”

The mural combines World Cup highlights, world flags, and Brazilian points of interest.

Jambeiro combined World Cup highlights, world flags, and the most famous places in Brazil, fully encapsulating what makes these types of sports tournaments so wonderful. Jambeiro also made full use of technology, his smartphone always at the ready to capture famous photos of particularly incredible moments: Neymar’s tragic injury, Guillermo Ochoa’s incredible save in Mexico vs. Croatia, the list goes on. Coupled with the flags weaving in and out of the images, the fans holding their signs and their breaths, Jambeiro’s mural is a testament to all that made the World Cup particularly memorable.