Ai Weiwei Wants Your Lego

21 November 2015 – So cough it up.

See? Lego.

first contributions to LEGO project at the AGO

Beginning to pile up on the back seat of a sleek black BMW, with sunroof, outside the Art Gallery of Ontario, at Dundas West & McCaul. (It’s on the right, below. The sleek black object on the left is the Henry Moore sculpture, Two Forms.)

AGO, at Dundas W & McCaul

Here is why the AGO, on behalf of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, asks for your Lego contributions. Here, too, is why that BMW must have a sunroof — it’s the collecting box.

poster with the project

And no, you don’t have to be in Toronto to get involved. The AGO is the first Canadian art museum to support this project, but just one of many, around the world.

The car & billboard were only put in place yesterday afternoon. Already people are peering in and pitching in.

Ai Weiwei Lego project, AGO

You can learn more about this project on the AGO blog, or through your own online search. Who knows? Maybe there’s a collection point, right in your own city.

Also Art

But nothing to do with Ai Weiwei, or freedom of expression. I walked home via Queen Street and was amused to see a Blackburn bear on the traffic signal box at St. Patrick.

As Poser to bunnies, and Uber to canaries, and Anser to a distinctive face — so Toronto artist Jeff Blackburn to bears.

Queen W & St. Pattick

First time I’ve seen Musical Bear, though!

Summer & Winter … and Paris (and Comments)

I am so grateful for your comments. Always. I’m grateful you take the time, even more grateful that you comment with such intelligence and generosity.

Maybe you have already clicked on these two responses to the previous post, but just in case you haven’t …

Larry Webb plays Factual Safety Net for me, correcting (so nicely) my misidentification of a Port Lands inlet.

Don’t want to be picky, but that isn’t the Keating Channel. That’s the practical sounding “Ship Channel” south of the Keating!

To which I replied, “Oh, please do be picky!” Momentary lapse on my part, so thank you Larry.

Also my thanks to dear friend DJ, who comments on both the Berkeley St. mural and the Dough billboard of solidarity with Paris.

Buck Teeth Girls Club mural is a fantastic botanical “I Spy” – I spy Philodendron leaves, sumac, a monarch caterpillar, just for starters. And yes, let’s send our love to Paris, but also to Beirut and Nairobi, and wherever ordinary people are showing extraordinary courage to go on with warm-hearted rational life regardless.

Point well taken. Thank you for reminding us, DJ.



Summer & Winter … and Paris

18 November 2015 – An in-between season, when summer & winter jostle each other for control. Summer has had an amazingly long run, we are all properly grateful. And in some forms, of course, it can last all year ’round.

detail, Buck Teeth Girls Club mural, 56 Berkeley St

Such as a tropical-themed wall mural, for example.

Phyllis & I are heading south on Berkeley, early stage of a walk to the lake then north to Danfoth & west again, when we see yet another contribution to street life by the Buck Teeth Girls Club. Marked 2015, & it surely is. So pristine!

full view, same mural, 56 Berkeley

Also, I’m pretty sure, commissioned by the design studio on whose wall it sits — which may account for the atypical (but striking) use of charcoal & white.

In my experience, the Girls normally run to colour, riotous amounts of the stuff — one example the alley doorway in my previous post; another this goofy-happy scene up on Croft St., which I discovered last April.

more Buck Teeth Girls, on Croft St.

But I’m a sucker for more than street art.

Heritage architecture, especially when sympathetically repurposed, always stops me in my tracks as well. One favourite: the 1889 Consumers’ Gas building at Berkeley & Front, now the Berkeley Street Theatre.

Berkeley St. Theatre, Berkeley & Front

Head east one block to Parliament & Front, & you can enjoy its younger sibling, the 1899 Consumers’ Gas Purifying Plant that now serves as 51 Division for the Toronto Police. The family resemblance is unmistakable.

51 Division at Parliament & Front, originally Consumers' Gas 1899

See what I mean? Other siblings are strewn around town, all of them industrial examples of (I read somewhere) the Renaissance Revival style. Catch anybody reviving the renaissance today, for a gas purifying plant!

Solid old buildings like that, restored & maintained, are good for any season, not just summer.

Which is more than one can say for these woebegone tropical plants on Trinity St., clearly wishing somebody had taken them inside months earlier. Or sent them to Florida for the winter. Whichever.

sad summer plants on Trinity!

Oh dear, oh dear.

And we are definitely heading toward winter.

By the time the Tuesday Walking Society reaches the Keating Channel, partway down Cherry St. toward Cherry Beach, the inlet is dark & blustery. [Later correction, thanks to the sharp eyes of follower Larry Webb: This is the Ship Channel, not the Keating Channel. I know that! But, somehow, I misremembered while writing this post.]

view east fro bridge over Keating Channel, Cherry St.

At lake edge, we watch a couple of heroic workmen slog around in the water — the very chilly water — putting the lifeguard station’s dock to rights before it has to face winter storms.

1930s lifeguard station, Cherry Beach

Brrr. Even if they are in wet suits.

Ah, but what am I saying? We are rough-tough Canadians, are we not? Winter is our season, is it not? And our sport is …

on a Logan Av front porch


Just look at that clutch of hockey sticks, neatly stacked up on a Logan Av. porch, all eager to get out there & start whacking pucks around.

Another sign of winter-readiness: someone, also on Logan, who got her fur coat out of storage in good time for the dipping temperatures.

Which allows her to loll on the bench, oblivious to the nip in the air.

Logan St. cat, snug in her fur coat

We try to sweet-talk her into opening her eyes, for some texture contrast in the photo. One narrow glance, & we are dismissed. (As if we had expected anything else.)

Up & up Logan — me secretly wishing I were as well dressed for the day as Madame Cat — and there we are, on Danforth at last. A quick stop to pick up my new computer glasses (don’t I live an exciting life?) and we carry on west, ready to patronize a terrific café. Preferably soon. We’re at 11 km-plus in this walk; we agree we have earned a treat.

Which we find in Dough, a bake shop that, along with the treats, offers very fine coffee.

Going in, I see they have added a new top line to the near side of their sidewalk advertising blackboard.

sidewalk blackboard on Danforth Av.

Coming out, I see the far side.

Dough sidewalk billboard, Danforth Av.

Throughout Toronto, throughout the world, one message.

Alley Eyes

14 November 2015 – City alleys, and my eyes.

Which I use to admire:

Alley Cat (Craven Rd. Veteran Division) …

Alley Cat

Alley Girls (Buck Teeth Division) …

Buck-Tooth Girls

Alley Blues (With Plastic) …

Alley Blues

Alley Guitar (With a Chorus of Sax) …

Alley Guitar

Alley Eyes! (Eyelash Division) …

Alley Eyes!

Alley Code (Aztec God Division) …

Alley Code

Alley Cat (Mountain Lion Birthday Division) …

Alley Cat (Mountain Lion...)

Alley Cop (Croc Division) …

Alley Cop (Croc)

Alley Cop (‘Roo Division) …

Alley Cop ('Roo)

and finally …

Alley Skyline (Drunken Hydro Pole Division)

Alley Skyline

Okay, city skyline not alley — but (I plead), but, I saw it from the corner of an alley. And I really like the swaying hydro pole, so wonderfully giddy against that severely upright crane to the south.


Art & a Latte

10 November 2015 – Phyllis has a meeting today, so the Tuesday Walking Society is down to one member, namely me. Except I’m not really alone: “Mary C” is with me, in spirit if not physical fact.

Two recent posts on her As I Walk Toronto blog send me east to Gerrard Street’s Little India. First, to revisit Craven Rd., with its history of artwork hanging on its long wooden fence, and, second, to visit the murals Mary has discovered on the back walls of Gerrard St. shops between Craven & neighbouring Rhodes Av.

Before I even get to the art-gallery block of Craven Rd. (Dundas to Gerrard), I’m stopped by a work of art.

Pig Rubens.

yard ornament, Craven Rd south of Dundas

Well, Rubenesque. Well, what a contemporary & seriously kitschy Rubens might create, if he were partial to farm animals — all pink & curvy & unabashed & naked.

There’s not as much art on the fence now as during my own visits in 2013 & March of this year, but the array does include a few new pieces along with veteran works that just keep hangin’ in. I salute old favourites, including the cats showcased in Mary’s post, “Craven Road Gallery.”

Then I near Gerrard, & start looking for the new murals. The one on the west side is familiar to me — very Little India in motif, and a landmark on that S/W corner for years.

mural, S/W corner Craven Rd & Gerrard E

Ah, but look east instead!

behind Gerrard E, between Craven & Rhodes

This is the new work, documented by Mary in “Udlaakut, good morning” (that’s Inuktitut, in case you wondered).

Visit her post to see the full gallery — here are just a few of the details that caught my eye, each creating its own mood.

The exhaustion of cold, weary men huddled around a camp fire …

detail, behind Gerrard E

the exuberance of flowers, rioting their way up a staircase …

detail, behind Gerrard E

the charm of a koala bear, eager to open the door for you, his paw already wrapped around the handle …

detail, behind Gerrard E

and the serendipity of great big painted teeth, apparently about to chomp down on some very real Hallowe’en pumpkin remains.

Hallowe'en meets mural behind Gerrard E

I round the corner onto Rhodes.

I am about to enter what these pooches can only stare at with yearning eyes, hoping that sheer longing will pull their owners back outside.

Rhodes & Gerrard E

My target? The place where those owners are happily ensconced. The Flying Pony Coffee House & Art Gallery.

sign for The Flying Pony

As you might guess, from the big red winged horse (and the multitude of city critters below, promising coffee & art & baked goods).

Oh, I do like The Flying Pony! For its involvement in the mural project. For its excellent lattes. For its friendly welcome (some indie cafés equate newcomers with interlopers & freeze ’em out). For its artwork. For its take-one-leave-one pile of books. (Forewarned, I’ve brought a book & make a trade.)

Very satisfactory interlude, thank you Flying Pony, & then I start west along Gerrard, homeward-bound. I meet The Great Canadian Mosaic all along the way — Little India (with its Happy Diwali signs) blends into Little Pakistan, both spiced with other cultures (Athens Villa here, Celtic Computers there); later on I’m in Chinatown East, with its Scottish pub, Italian restaurant, and the soon-to-open Loaded Pierogi.

And, in between Little Pakistan & Chinatown East — at Gerrard & Redwood, to be precise — another terrific coffee house, the Sideshow Café. Only I’m still full of the Flying Pony’s latte, so instead I’m drawn to Sideshow’s side wall.

Redwood Av & Gerrard E

Old faded advertising is such a treat. This particular display continues north the full extent of the wall, covered in places by Sideshow’s own smart black décor.

rest of wall at Redwood & Gerrard

I have never, in fact, had coffee here — but I have been gob-smacked by the café’s next-door affiliate, Zero Gravity Circus. Phyllis & I once stumbled into one of their rehearsals, and were allowed to stay. I’ve never forgotten.

Today, I am gob-smacked by something else: this ad in Sideshow’s window for artisan chocolate available inside.

Chocosol ad, inSideshow Cafê window

I thought I knew the badstuff-free list, but “electricity-free” is a new one.

(Dare I confess that my final stretch home is not electricity-free? That it involves a streetcar?)



Away Up Bay

4 November 2015 – Bay St., from lakefront to its extinction at Davenport, is the backbone of our Tuesday walk. But first, of course, one has to get to Bay Street.

We make a few stops on the way, Phyllis & I — and my own first stop comes before our rendezvous at Yonge & King. I am transfixed by this promotional blackboard on a pita shop. It is not the usual pita promotion.

Richmond & Jarvis

This, I contend, is a good example of what author & artist Douglas Coupland calls the “Secret Handshake” (part of his show at MOCCA in April 2015) — i.e. imagery & objects laden with symbolic meaning for Canadians and thus “a secret handshake not easily understood by others.”

In this case, probably only understood by politically aware Canadians of a certain age (read, greying & wrinkled). If that describes you, you are already laughing. Everybody else will have question-marks dancing over their noggins.

So let me explain — and today is the day for this explanation, as you will see.

This apparently awkward message plays on two political quotes, both many decades old but still resonating, and both uttered by Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

  • “There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” said then-Minister of Justice Trudeau, introducing the Liberal Government’s Criminal Law Amendment Act 1968-69, which, among other things, decriminalized homosexuality.
  • “Just watch me,” retorted a grim Prime Minister Trudeau on October 13, 1970, when he invoked the War Measures Act during our October Crisis, and was asked by a CBC reporter, “How far will you go?”
  • The dude’s son (to quote that blackboard), Justin Trudeau, does indeed have nice hair. And he was sworn in today as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister. (It will be all over YouTube. Go check it out.)

I report all this to Phyllis when we meet and she (also being of a certain age) laughs in recognition. It’s maybe not brilliant advertising — always better to use references widely known to your target market — but it is unexpected, and puckish, and wonderful.

There’s another politically timely moment on Lower Yonge Street, just before we hit the water and turn west to Bay St., when we spot this bronze sculpture, created in 2007 by Tom Otterness.

"Immigrant Family" on Yonge St. near the lake

It is called “Immigrant Family.” Today’s heart-rending political refugee crisis makes it more poignant than ever.

We circle the piece, notice the touching, small details, including the tell-tale sign of an overstuffed suitcase.

detail, "Immigrant Family"

Then it’s right-turn at the waterfront, & a short hop along the lake to Bay Street. We go right down to the water’s edge (well, the railing), wanting to start the main element of our walk right at the very, very, very beginning.

Fabulous day, sunshine & mid-teen temperatures, everyone is out lollygagging.

Toronto Harbour, Lake Ontario, at the foot of Bay St.

Those aren’t piles of litter on the boardwalk, they are backpacks. Seems a couple of people decided to leave them behind while they took a stroll. (Such trust!)

And up Bay St. we go. It’s really not such a long street — my total walk is only 12 km, the whole rectangle including Bay that takes me from home back to home. But it is full of iconic buildings, some old, some very new. I become caught up in tangible evidence of our past & present, and our momentum into the future.

First icon, the tower that photo-bombs just about every skyline shot you can take in this city: the CN Tower. Briefly the tallest free-standing structure it the world, hasn’t been that in a while, but still a commanding presence.

CN Tower, from s. of Gardiner Expressway

Neatly framed by other towers, when seen from this angle, and sparkling in the sunshine.

Walk-walk-walk, and soon we’re just north of King Street. Another iconic tower appears, also framed by its neighbours — but much older, and no longer commanding the skyline. (At least it still has streetscape impact, thanks to its position at Queen St., where Bay takes a little hike to the west.)

Old City Hall, from Bay n. of King St.

Right, that’s Old City Hall, a riot of High Victorian architectural excess, but also wonderful, for the same reason. Crammed with carved imagery & gargoyles, rewards close inspection.

Smack across Bay St. sits our “new” City Hall. Well, not new any more, it went up in the 1960s and yanked Toronto well & truly into the mid-20th c., architecturally speaking. A recent innovation: big bold letters spelling out TORONTO immediately behind the reflecting pond / skating rink. (Which is very reflecting-pond indeed, today.)

Irresistible for photo opps, whether of individuals or galloons of school kids on an outing.

class photo in City Hall square

We’re not the only ones watching. Phyllis & I climb the ramp, hoping to visit an upper-level garden (where I hung out while ogling Nuit Blanche projects a few weeks ago). The gate is closed, but we see something even better. Phyllis’ sharp eyes spot him — but his sharp eyes would trump hers, any day of the week.

hawk at City Hall -- Cooper's Hawk?

She thinks he is a Cooper’s Hawk. All I know is that he is a hawk, not a handsaw (oh, go re-read your Hamlet), so I’m no help. She asks a security guard near the closed gate: “Is that a Cooper’s Hawk, do you think?” He replies, “It’s closed.” Saves time, I guess, not to bother listening to the question.

Our next cultural icon sits on the west side of Bay, just north of Dundas. Uncle Tetsu! The first location outside Asia for this wildly successful cheese cake empire.

“I’ve never been in. If there’s no lineup, let’s go in,” I say, adding, “Which means we won’t go in. There is always a lineup.” Except today there isn’t, so we go in & make our purchase. Signage proves that lineups are the norm.

Inside Uncle Tetsu's, which has to ration its cheesecakes per customer

As we leave, a young employee — by accent & style probably brought here from Japan, not local — points to the poppy on Phyllis’ lapel. “What is that, please?” Phyllis explains about Remembrance Day, & the poppy symbol. She quotes the beginning of the poem that sparked the symbol (In Flanders Fields the poppies blow), written on the battlefield in May, 1915 by Canadian Lieut-Col. John McCrae. (Killed in action soon after.)

We carry our treats with us, plan to eat them a bit farther north, in some as-yet unspecified park or other.

We begin to see more of the city’s old/new juxtapositions. The new is definitely what’s trending (to use that odd expression); the old often seems, and often is, beleaguered.

This charming home on Charles St. West, for example, near St. Thomas St. It is pleasing to the eye, built to a lovely human scale, & its slate mansard roof is still in good shape.

Charles W., near St. Thomas

But it is enclosed within chain-link fencing.

I’d like to hope it will be repurposed; I fear it will disappear, and another tower take its place. (Please understand I appreciate new towers, love some of them a great deal — but we do need to honour who we have been. The old underpins our collective memory, and adds diversity & energy & particularity to the civic whole.)

Phyllis & I had decided on a no-deviations policy; we’d march straight up Bay, so there. And then, as one often must do, we make an exception.

No deviations, we now agree, except when we want to find a coffee & enjoy our coffee & Uncle Tetsu treats in a pretty setting! So here we are, off-piste you might say, in the Village of Yorkville Park just west of Bay & north of Bloor.

It is full of happy people, enjoying the unseasonable warmth.

Patio tables have been taken in, but it doesn’t matter, thanks to the park’s clever hardscaping, which protects the plantings with structures that also offer space for human bums. We settle on a ledge, look out over a grove of aspen — just one of the segments of this park, each rectangle the exact footprint of one of the homes expropriated & razed for the construction of the Bloor subway line.

Village of Yorkville Park

A brown pigeon patters by; a ghostly rumbles underground tells us another subway train has just gone through.

Back to Bay Street and on north, more old/new architecture as we cross Scollard.

Bay nr Scollard

No idea about the future of that little house on the corner, or its neighbours along the street. I hope they survive.

Soon we’re at Davenport, a great curving E/W road that marks the end (or start…) of Bay Street. I look around for a grand-finale shot to offer you, but despite some flaming maple trees, my heart is not really in the search. Bay just politely fades out of existence at this point, with nothing as dramatic to mark this terminus as the lake at the other end.

Oh well.

We part at Yonge, Phyllis heads north, I turn south & east.

Down through Rosedale Valley Ravine for a while, enjoying as always the sensation of nature-in-city. Also enjoying as always the Group of Seven studio, handsome as ever, its north-facing windows (of course north-facing!) reflecting the afternoon light.

Back to city streets, soon I’m on Church St. south of Bloor, the last stretch toward home.

One more architectural wonder for my day. Quite an ordinary building, really — not very old or new, not very tall or small, nothing wonderful or wonderfully awful about its design.

Nothing special at all, except for the play of light.

south of Bloor, on Church St.

No idea what is reflecting onto it, to create that honeycomb pattern. But what fun!

A little later, I pass a young mum pushing a stroller. She has quite prudently clothed the toddler in long pants & a long-sleeved shirt, but she has left off his socks & shoes. I watch him luxuriously wriggling his bare toes in the sunny warmth.

My own toes, firmly socked-&-booted, are madly jealous.





Street & Sidewalk

2 November 2015 – Honestly, it’s enough to make you think that whining pays off. (Not a view our mothers encouraged.) There I was, complaining to Chloe about not seeing any new street art lately — and now I’m inundated with the stuff.

Starting with a big splash of sidewalk art — a compass on the S/E corner of Danforth & Main, by Victor.

Victor's compass at Danforth & Main

I don’t need to see that hashtag ID: Victor is the city’s great champion of sidewalk (not street) art, especially along Danforth, his own ‘hood.

detail, same compass

I first saw his work the winter of 2011-12, while training for the Iceland trek — gloriously baroque letters of the alphabet, all swirls & sparkles, at various street corners along Danforth. Then I had the luck to see & talk with Victor himself, while he was doing a sidewalk logo for the Red Rocket Café.

I’ve been sorry to see those alphabet letters fade with time; happy recently to see them bright again. And very happy to see this new (I think) compass.

Another recent discovery — but only new-to-me — is the work covering both sides of the railway underpass on Dupont just west of Lansdowne. Various artists at work, judging by the styles (I see EGR’s signature, but don’t recognize others), but all with a consistent POV.

RR underpass, Dupont w of Lansdowne

That panel is on the north side; south side is same mood, but (I think) in a different hand.

south side, Dupont RR underpass

Later — having in the interim visited the Angell Gallery for another hit of contemporary art — I walk back along Dupont and get a closer look at some of the heads on the north side.

detail, Dupont RR underpass

I really like this! Icons gone modern …

I decide to walk up to St. Clair West, then head east & south again, wandering through lanes & alleys. I’m up for anything “street” — needn’t be street art, just has to be something in the streetscape that makes me blink & look again.

But who would expect such a reaction, on comfortably residential Rosemount Av., just south of St. Clair?

w. of 45 Rosemount, outside a school

Well, you’d look again too, wouldn’t you? Even if only to wonder, “What is that great house-shaped gob of green plastic doing, looming over the street?” At least, that’s what I wondered. Then I saw that the south side of the sloping roof (the side visible here) is a solar panel.

I still don’t know what it powers, but it did amuse me.

Later I’m in full alley-mode, zigzagging at random, going wherever a lineup of garages suggests there might be some street art on offer.

And I see quite a lot, I do — yet I’m most struck by two other bits of streetscape entirely.

One is, fair enough, graffiti. But it’s not by a name-brand artist, it’s not something you see repeated around town; it’s a one-off.

S/W St  Clair W & Alberta

And I am charmed.

A little later, plonking my way down several blocks of alley, lined both sides with garages, I swivel my head left & right, take in some very arresting garage door murals — and then stop flat.

I can’t figure out what’s going on with this otherwise boring white metal door.

rust detailing

At first I think, “Trompe-l’oeil? No detailing on this door at all, they’ve just painted it on?”

Then I think, “Or does the door have raised impressions, which they have outlined in ochre for a bit of drama?”

And then I see that it’s just rust. Rust eating away those raised impressions — but meanwhile, making the door its own minor work of art.

Back out to Bathurst Street for a while. I recross Dupont, keep heading south, & then roar with laughter at the tableau on the west side.

Bathurst s. of Dupont

“Normal Things”?

Walk on, walk on, and then I see that it is immediately north of Weird Things, a quirky antique shop. Good joke. (Good antique shop as well, I visited it on an earlier walk.)

I’m sticking to proper streets by now, still kinda-sorta refusing to take more shots of the signature images that some of our street artists paint all over town. (“What else can you do?” I moan, fretfully. “Surprise me!”)

And then, smack dab in the middle of a College St. parking lot, I break my embargo. Yes, it’s another Lovebot, and yes, it’s another Poser bunny. Each totally, absolutely, immediately identifiable. But I haven’t seen them like this before.

s. side College, w. of Spadina

So that’s fun.

You can tell I’m willing to be amused by all kinds of things, on this walk.

Including this official recognition of changing demographics in our downtown core. South of Dundas around Spadina was, once upon a time, very Scottish.

e. of Spadina, s. of College

Not now!

Follow-Up, with Factoids

  •  Jason of MuralForm commented on my 28 October post (New Art, Street Art), to say that the first few murals I show are by an artist called hemps. I’m grateful for the help with IDs, though I suspect Jason means the 3rd & 4th images — i.e. the first few real murals — not literally the first two.
  • Jason shared my enthusiasm for the Yonge & Gerrard condos, last image in that same post. I’ve found out a bit more since. These are the Aura towers, a mixed-use complex that, at 79 storeys, is Canada’s tallest (& largest) condominium residence. And that lighting effect? Vertical strips of LED lighting.



31 October 2015 – Look at that date, it is Halloween — an event heavily commercialized around here, and therefore one to which I am heavily resistant.

Even so, these three street scenes snuck past my defences.

Exhibit One – A family in the comfortable Beaches neighbourhood has ignored all the product in all the stores, and raided their bed-sheet supply instead.

Result? Ghosts in the best home-made tradition, dancing on their front porch.

ghosts on Silver Birch, s. of Kingston Rd.


I particularly like Little Baby Ghost, tucked up there in the middle.

Exhibit Two – A pumpkin, minimally & cleverly carved, thrust into a now-empty sidewalk planter outside the café Green Beanery, at Bloor & Bathurst.

streetscape at Bloor & Bathurst

Here, I particularly like the raven.

Exhibit Three – A skull, what else? Maybe painted for the occasion, not sure about that, & happy to have seen it, either way.

He looms at the corner of Cyril Lane & Borden, just north of College Street.

Cyril Ln at Borden, n. of College

No particular-like about this one — I’m pleased by the whole skull/bike/fire-escape montage.

There. That’s Hallowe’en.


New Art, Street Art

28 October 2015 – So here I am, 40 minutes after leaving the Abbas Akhavan show but still only a couple of blocks from its venue, the Mercer Union. I’m also giggling like a fool, and these two facts are related.

“I can’t find any new street art,” I wailed to Chloe as we left the show. Then, minutes later, I followed some dancing balloons into the neighbouring park, & turned around to see that the entire lane was a-drip with the stuff.

Last post I walked you up & down that lane; now let’s try to move on.

I’ve finally stopped giggling at myself — but reading the small print on the forehead of this doorway mural has me in fits all over again.

the critic speaks, in an alley near Bloor & Lnsdowne

Everybody’s a critic, right? Well, judge for yourself …

the dissed mural: in lane near Bloor & Lansdowne

Soon I’m back out on Bloor, walking east and, force of habit, peering up & down each alley that I pass. I’m rewarded with this great blazing scene, a bit to the east of Dufferin.

nr 1075 Bloor W

Bit farther east again, and this face pulls me around another corner. The alley heads south, and I’m happy to follow.

Bloor nr Bartlett (e. of Gladstone)

See, too, how neatly the scenes divide at that down-pipe? Each artist to his/her own space. There are boors out there who vandalize other people’s work, but mostly what you see is great respect paid by one artist to another.

This is an alley worth following, I discover — lots of garages, lots of art.

I’m struck by a few that offer some kind of critter within the larger mural. A focus for the viewer’s eye? The artist’s alter-ego? A loopy, street-art version of the ancient Greek chorus?

The garage on the left, for example …

alley e. of Gladstone, south to College

has its Owl With Attitude.

detail, garage on left

Then there’s this mural, so perfectly attuned to its environment you’d swear those piles of bricks were part of it.

same alley, another garage

No, they’re not. Demented squirrel, on the other hand, is.

cranky squirrel!


(See how he’s spilling paint on the “ground”? And see how it matches the tones of the bricks?)

By the time I zigzag down more art-heavy alleys to a parking lot just N/W of College & Dovercourt, I’m ready for a “There-there” pat on the head & some words of calming wisdom.

Which the parking lot obligingly delivers.

parking lot wisdom, N/W Dovercourt & College

Along with “Wise up,” it’s a good idea to look up.

‘Cause those street artists sure do like to shimmy to the top of whatever is available.

Bloor W & Dovercourt

What I like best about this tableau, just kitty-corner to the parking lot, is the way the turquoise of the art on the tower so perfectly matches the turquoise of the fire-escape door.

I’m still heading south as well as east, still peering down lanes as I go. One alley-corner on Dundas, a few blocks west of Bathurst, serves double-duty as house number for the adjoining building.

Dundas W, w. of Bathurst

And, as if that were not enough, right opposite is a big new (I think it’s new …) Birdo mural. There’s no mistaking Birdo.

opposite 893 Bloor W

See how dark it’s getting? Not that late in the day, either. But here we are, at this particular latitude, at this time of year, with Daylight Saving yet to kick in.

I slightly hurry my pace.

And promptly screech to a halt. You don’t need a question, as long as you have an Anser!

nr 825 Dundas West

I’m not at all sure this is new, but it is at least new to me. I’m amused at the left-over traces of previous — & multicoloured — artwork, still dancing a jig on bits of pipe & wiring. That streak over the nose, for example!

One last hit as I approach Spadina, and I can only show you this precisely because the sky is now so dark.

There is an elegant new residential tower near Gerrard & Yonge which, by day, is just another elegant new tower, with the usual line-up of windows rising floor upon floor.

By night, the upper floors turn into street art.

condo towers turned street art in the night sky, Gerrard nr Yonge

I don’t know how they project that skyscraper-silhouette into the night sky. I’m sure it’s technology, but I like to think it’s magic.

And it sure is (street + art =) street art.

However …

All well & good, I am happy, I’ve seen a whole lot of new-recent art (or, at least, new-to-me) — but where oh where is the new-innovative?

If you know what’s exciting on the Toronto street-art scene these days, please lead me to it.


New Art (“New”? “Art”?)

25 October 2015 – Title like that demands a choice. Either I furrow my little brow & go all polysyllabic-abstract-noun-Artspeak on you, or I smooth my little brow & have fun.

Chloe & I opt for fun.

Which is why we rendezvous at Mercer Union out Bloor St. West, to take in a show by a young contemporary artist she follows, Abbas Akhavan. Chloe — a friend & volunteer shift colleague at the AGO — is shaping up to be my mentor in contemporary art. She is pursuing a post-grad arts degree, so she knows this stuff intellectually as well as by instinct.

But she wears her enthusiasm with gusto, and her knowledge lightly. You can see why we’re friends.

In my two recent “Dance with …” posts, I told you about my new attitude: the art of this art isn’t what sits there in front of you, it is what it provokes in you. It is the dance between the artist’s expression, and you.

So in I prance, with deliberately slight background for the show. It is called “Variations on a Garden,” and if you want to see & read a lot about it, visit Akhavan’s website, & click on “Study for a Monument.”


Akhavan, "Variations on a Garden"

Tehran-born, Toronto-based Akhavan has researched indigenous plants of the Tigris & Euphrates rivers (thus, perhaps, linkage to the legendary gardens of Babylon), traced species through such sources as the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, then sculpted them, cast them in bronze, and arranged them on white sheets on the floor. Many of these species have suffered great loss of habitat through warfare in the region.

So my personal dance with the installation includes its in memoriam aspect: roots, leaves, flowers & stems laid out as in a forensic lab or archaeological dig. It includes the scientific: the artist’s scholarly respect for accuracy. It includes human interaction: my thoughts spiral away to my ethnobotanist friend Danna, her professional work around the globe & her personal commitment, literally in her own neighbourhood.

And it includes visual pleasure: the beauty of the pieces, the delicacy of their placement.

detail, "Variations on a Garden", Akhavan

Chloe & I leave the show full of energy, chattering first about Akhavan, then about street art — another shared interest. We indulge in a moan. Well, Chloe gurgles sympathetically while I do the moaning.

“Where is the new street art?” I wail. “I don’t just mean new-recent, though I’m not even seeing much of that. I really mean, new-innovative.” Whine, sulk. (At least I have the grace to add that such art may be all around me, and I just don’t know where to look.)

Back out on the street, I’m about to start walkin & Chloe has to head for another appointment.

But before taking off, she discovers some innovative street art for me.

My "Mondrian Daisy" on Bloor West near Brock

Such fun — a metal daisy, embedded in the sidewalk. My own further fun is to sway back & forth, lining up some paving-stone edges in the shot & triumphantly announcing I’ve just created a Daisy Mondrian.

Then bye-bye Chloe, and I cross Bloor West at Brock, to explore the big bold word on the N/E corner.

N/E corner Brock & Bloor West

Frankly, I’m underwhelmed.

A word. That’s it? I’m more taken with the word-in-context — as one element in a larger streetscape “installation” — than with the word itself.

Then I move in closer. Lots of little surprises! Buttons among the geese …

detail, "Haven"

and critters forming the intricate patterns in the “N” …

detail in lettr "N", "Haven"

and a slam-bang big mural, clearly related, on the alley wall immediately to the north.

"Hven" mural in alley n. of Bloor W. off Brock

All this is to either side of the club with the best name in the whole province: “The Ontario Giant Runt Club.” Giant runt? The oxymoron is alive & well & living on Brock St. I explained the name in a post, long ago — but not this time. Look it up for yourself …

By now I’m less sulky about the dearth of interesting new street art. I’m ready to define almost anything on the street that appeals to me as “street art” and despite the drizzle I am having a perfectly fine time.

So of course I cross Brock to get a closer look at the balloons in Susan Tibaldi Park.

in Susan Tibaldi Park, Brock & Bloor West

I don’t know why they are tied to the tree. Doesn’t matter; I take them as a gift from the visual gods, and I am charmed.

Then I see the Toucan nodding his beak at me from the end wall of the garage bordering this end of the park …

end wall, garage bordering Susan Tibaldi Park

and I go look at the door on that same garage …

door of the "Toucan" garage

and I look south across the park to the alley bordering its south side …

in alley to south of Susan Tibaldi Park

and it is full, chock-a-block full, of street art. Everywhere I look. My boots follow my eyes.

Art across three garage doors …

alley n. of Bloor nr Lansdowne

art behind a parked car …

same alley!

art across a single-car garage, and check the motif running across the top. Very classy.

same alley, farther east

I move in close, captivated by Little Green Guy.

detail, same garage mural

Somewhere in there, butterfly art.

Big, weathered wooden utility pole. Small, sparkly butterfly …

pinned to alley utility pole

pinned over a bleached call-before-you-dig notice from Ma Bell, and between ads for some Vintage Crawl tour that’s on offer.


I am surrounded — not just in Mercer Union, but out here on the street — with new art. It is new, it is art, it is jumping all around me.

And I have hardly started my zigzag, south-ish / east-ish walk toward home.

(That’s the promo for my next post.)


The Cat & the Trees (& a Bird)

21 October 2015 – We’re bleary-eyed, the Tuesday Walking Society, but excited as we rumble ‘way west on an Eglinton Av. bus.  So much to talk about, after staying up late Monday evening to watch election returns, victor/vanquished speeches & commentaries.

And then we ring the bell, jump off the bus, cross the street, go through the gates — and pay attention to Prospect Cemetery instead.

Squirrels everywhere, all appropriately dressed in their best black fur, and look — even the cat is wearing black.

cat in Prospect Cemetery

Truth is, we’d already seen another cat, a little black & white guy scampering around like crazy. No hope of getting his photo, so I am suitably grateful to this one for staying put.

Then, along with the huge range of gravestone styles & languages, we start noticing the trees. There are lots of fuzzy little triangular ones like the one on the left above, and many of them — like that one — wear only a few fallen leaves or twigs as adornments.

But then there are the other ones!

e.g.of decorated tree, Prospect Cemetery

A surprising number become an active part of the total visual display around someone’s gravesite. Here, great colourful flowers are the offering, but elsewhere photos or other nostalgic items are tucked within the supporting greenery.

Sometimes, though, it’s Mother Nature herself who creates the display.

blazing fall tree, Prospect Cemetery

In dull light, a tree like this merely smoulders. When the sun bursts through, it is a-blaze.

Soon after, Phyllis & I leave the cemetery by its St. Clair West gates. We’ve walked all the way south through the cemetery from Eglinton, and now we turn east. Our plan, as on the Danforth last week, is to walk until we get tired or bored. And, again as on the Danforth, neither happens, so we keep walking.

Finally we split at Yonge St. — Phyllis goes north, me south. I’m just below Summerhill when I veer west half a block or so, to peer up a lane. And look!

More trees.

thef Rosedale Diner shed, in Crown's Lane

Naah, you don’t believe for one minute that I hoofed up the lane (Crown’s Lane, if you care) to admire those trees. Of course not.

Great sassy flowers on the shed, don’t you think?

Trees worth noticing when I hit Wellesley-Magill Park, though.

Plus a 144-foot sculpture, Forest Walk by Ed Pien, that includes plenty of trees in the imagery used to trace both the seasons and the history of this immediate area. Here, the panel showing vines and trees on the 1848 Homewood Estate (later Wellesley Hospital).

Panel 5, Forest Walk, Ed Pien

See how Pien has included himself in the work? He is the figure perched in the treetop near the upper right, observing … as artists do …

Finally, the promised bird. Safely far from the Prospect Cemetery cat. It is one of three mosaic creatures wired to an apartment-building fence on the S/E corner of Sherbourne & Wellesley.

S/E Wellesley & Sherbourne apt bldg

I’m always happy to see them again, to know they are still there, safe & intact, adding random beauty to the street corner.

Woof Woof

Cat, bird, now dog.

I’ve shown you this Dalmatian before, he does double-duty as a fire hydrant next door to Central Y and right outside Fire Station 314.

Fire Station Dalmatian hydrant

What I’ve now learned is that he’s not the result of some city art project — he was done by one of the firemen, just for the fun of it. “Yeah,” said two guys I asked, when they were out washing a truck, “yeah, he’d just finished his shift and decided to paint the hydrant.”

So I love the dog even more than before.



    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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