StreetARToronto's Intriguing Eight-Storey Mural at St. Clair and Yonge

November 30, 2016 | Muriel

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Phlegm St Clair Mural

When I read that a massive mural by British street artist Phlegm had been painted on the west side of an office building on the south side of St. Clair, just west of Yonge Street, I just had to go and take a photo of it! From a distance, it looks like a human figure, but actually the mural comprises hundreds of Toronto landmarks, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the CN Tower, St. Lawrence Market and the city's ravine system and green spaces. "(It's) a metaphor for the city itself, for being a living, breathing organism that's kind of comprised of all the people who have lived here past and present," said Alexis Kane Speer, the founding director of the STEPS Initiative, a charitable public arts initiative. 

The City of Toronto has a program called StreetARToronto, which yearly supports one large international project, and since the STEPS Initiative had already produced the world's tallest mural here in Toronto at Wellesley and Sherbourne, they were chosen to produce the St. Clair mural. 

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STEPS shortlisted ten artists, and ultimately chose Phlegm. Phlegm is an anonymous illustrator based in the English steel town of Sheffield, who earned an international following with his "quirkily creepy comics." Phlegm had never been to Toronto before, and to satisfy his desire to create a work which was culturally relevant, STEPS asked local business owners, workers and residents about local landmarks, what they thought of the area, and what their favourite memories of the area were. Phlegm came back with a proposed concept, which was praised by everybody. Phlegm painted the mural, along with an assistant, Danforth-based muralist Stephanie Bellefleur, who had honed her artistic skills drawing in her sketchbook on her long Toronto streetcar rides. The practical aspects of painting this mural were quite daunting: two three-hour painting sessions per day for three weeks; strong winds; scorching heat; and, a novelty for a British artist, raccoons who inhabited the painting stage, or platform, every night!

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The result is a mural to be savoured, and whenever I am in the St. Clair and Yonge area, I make sure I go and look at it again. I noticed recently that part of it has been incorporated onto the hoarding around a construction site at the northeast corner of St. Clair and Yonge. I hope to see some elements or all of the mural reproduced elsewhere -- it is an intriguing and spectacular work of art.

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