The People Behind the Paint

30 October 2014 – Here I still am, walking along Queen St. East heading for the city centre & home. As I said in my last post, I don’t expect a whole lot from the tail end of this walk — always some fun signage to be had as I go through Riverside, but probably not much else.

And really, that holds true until I’m almost at Broadview & the Don River. Then, right at Munro Street, I glance north, and see a new mural. Well, new for me, but it looks pretty new, period. It’s hard to get the whole thing in one shot; it’s spread wide across the side of the building, interrupted by doors & windows, and made devilish (for my camera anyway) by strongly contrasting light & shade.

Better viewed in chunks. Like this.

Riverside Sports Heritage Mural

I see a painted explanation on the wall, & start scribbling notes. It’s the Riverside Sports Heritage Mural, I read, commissioned by the Toronto 2015 Pan Pam & Para Pan Am Games. Then a pleasant woman comes over, & introduces herself. “I’m the artist. I’m Monica.” I look blank, so she points helpfully to her tag on the wall.

I start jumping & squealing. “You’re Monica on the Moon!” Flashback to my discovery of her work in Main Square at Danforth, and also all along an alley south of The Danforth between Patricia & Amroth. I showed some of it to you in my post of 15 November 2013; here’s a reminder …

garage mural by Monica on the Moon

… & another.

alley mural work by Monica on the Moon

I tell her my name, my blog name too, and it’s her turn to squeal. “You motivated me finally to get a website!” It’s true, I’d wailed with frustration when I showed her work, unable to give you a website because she didn’t seem to have one. Apparently a friend pointed this out to her, and it helped spur her to action.

So of course I have to take a photo of her as well:

artist Monica with Riverside Sports Heritage Mural

Then — as if meeting one artist weren’t enough — she tells me to go meet three more.

Shalak Attack, Bruno Smoky & Fiya Bruxa are painting on King St. East, in the underpass near where it joins Queen Street just west of the Don River.

Well! These artists are legendary — often working together in varying combinations, members and co-founders of overlapping international art collectives (e.g. Essencia, the Bruxas, the Clandestinos). I’ve already shown you some of their work, including this gob-smacking house on Bathurst just north of College Street. I looked for it thanks to a tip-off from a guy I chatted with in a near-by alley. “You can’t miss it,” he said.

Bathurst, just north of College

That one is tagged Clandestinos. This cat-garage, discovered on a Garrison Creek walk, is pure Shalak:

a Shalak garage, in a line of painted garages

So I detour south to King, you betcha, instead of heading northward toward home.

And there’s the trio, deep in a very large-scale project indeed, both sides of the T-shaped supports for this underpass, both sides of the street.

underpass opposite 507 King E.

You can see all three of them at work on the left-hand T-support, tiny little figures in the distance. (#SHALAKATTACK, #BRUNOSMOKY, #FIYABRUXA)

Left to right: Fiya Bruxa (silhouetted against the bright stripes on the left arm of that T), Shalak (under the left eye of the face on the centre panel) & Bruno Smoky (visible in his red jacket against the blue of the right arm of the T).

I cross King, pick up one side of one of the supports on the south side of the street as well.

King E. underpass

Then back to the north side, and a few quick words with Bruno. He’s from Brazil, but is now based here with Shalak, his Chilean-Canadian wife & most frequent artistic collaborator. “I like Toronto. It’s a good city.”

artist Bruno Smoky

They work internationally, though; just read those websites. Pick up, also, a common thread I’m beginning to notice among any artists about whom I learn a few details: they do a lot of work with grassroots organizations, with street kids and other “youth at risk” (to use the jargon).

They’re also often extremely well-educated, and well-trained as artists. JAH, for example, with his Masters in Architecture from University of Toronto, and — today’s example — Shalak, with her Bachelor of Fine Arts, with honours, from Concordia University in Montreal.

Shalak (Shalak Attack)

This is my first chance to watch artists attack a large-scale project, and I’m struck by how much sheer physical strength & agility they need — along with everything else — in order to pull it off.

Passers-by crane their necks up and call out compliments. “It’s beautiful!” “Thank you!” “I’m so glad you’re doing this!” Street Art Toronto (StART) will be happy: they’re supporting the project.

I’m happy, too. One last look back, as I continue westward.

looking eastward along the underpass


And …

One last shot for you. Courtesy of Shalak, a detail of a mural I photographed weeks ago in an alley running north from Richmond West just west of Spadina.

by Shalak, in alley leading to 530 Rear Richmond West

Happy Hallowe’en!

Leave a comment


  1. This is great!

  2. Wow – those are such amazing pieces of art. And to finally meet some of the artists you have been admiring…that’s an extra gift.

    • I do love this, and your timing is brilliant because I’ve just had a visit from an Vancouver artist friend, who commented that the street art scene there is not as developed as in Toronto. She’ll be delighted to see this. Many thanks.

  3. jmcguin7

     /  1 November 2014


  4. How special to have met some of the artists whose work you admire…and to find out more about their lives. This art really enriches Toronto’s streetscape – thanks for sharing

  5. How wonderful that these people are sharing their art and involving less fortunate members of the community

    • I find it very impressive, & thought it important to mention, since our usual public image of street artists doesn’t include that kind of civil responsibility. (All is not perfect, There is also a destructive community within their world, but let us celebrate what we can.)

  6. What a great post! And colorful too. Thank you for sharing.


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    "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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