Art With an Echo

14 April 2015 – I don’t mean echoes of sound (BOOM! boom-boom-boom), but of memory. The bounce-back of one image being overlaid with an earlier image, or even with a cluster of emotions. Either way, just for a moment, time & space fly wide open all around you.

And so I stand just inside the Doug Coupland show at the Royal Ontario Museum, and blink at what I see, and at what I “see” superimposed on what I see.

I see stacks of bright plastic (Meditations in Plastic), in front of patchwork walls of slogans (Slogans for the 21st Century).

Coupland show, ROM

The plastic columns are beguiling, and signature Coupland. My mind’s eye leaves the ROM, and revisits Concord CityPlace where much larger variations on these columns fill a kiddies’ splash pad.

Bobber Plaza, Concord CityPlace, artist Doug Coupland


Back to the ROM. Past Meditations to take a closer look at those towering walls of slogans, each in its own glowing plastic square. Some I find silly, some clever-boots, & some thought-provoking, especially ones touching on the technology/human dynamic. (This, after all, is the man who defined a whole generation, and launched his own career, with his 1991 first novel, Generation X.)

I linger, picking out slogans I want to think about. Other visitors do the same, some practically bumping the wall with their intensity.

Slogans for the 21st C., Coupland show, ROM

This time the echo takes me to another wall, not plastic & definitely not in a gallery.

I’m remembering one of the murals that fill “Graffiti Alley.” It’s a Toronto alley but known nation-wide, because this is where CBC-TV’s Rick Mercer films his rants.

in "Graffiti Alley" (s. of Queen St. West)

One final ROM echo, a deliberate detour on my way to the (relocated) main doors. There, still soaring up one of the stairwells, is the first totem I ever saw — long before my visit to the great totems of Ninstints, in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), a long-abandoned village now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

ROM totem pole

Back out to the sunny day, more walking north & west before turning homeward again, and I think I am done with echoes. But I’m not.

Eyes flick right from long habit as I pass an alley heading south from Harbord St. just east of Bathurst. You never know what you’ll see, do you?

I see a mural on the convenience store’s side wall. Goofy-fun-silly.

Croft St. at Harbord St.

Then I see it’s signed “Buck-Teeth Girls Club” — and BOOM! (boom-boom-boom), there’s the echo.

Phyllis & I followed the West Toronto Railpath one day, goggled at all the murals, and giggled at this one.

mural in West Toronto Railpath

Then I discover this alley has not only coughed up another Buck-Teeth Girls Club mural for me (only #2 in my collection), it seems full of interesting garage art all the way south.

Next I discover it isn’t an alley, though it sure looks like one. It is Croft St. where, long ago, through murals at the southern (College St.) end, I learned about the eponymous John Croft, the one fatality in the Great Fire of 1904, still the worst fire in Toronto’s history.

So I start south with anticipation for the far end, as well as curiosity about what might lie in-between. First up, an echo of something we have never seen, but should remember even so, and honour.

garage door, Croft St.

Nothing lost about the subject of the next mural! These guys are all around us.

garage in Croft St.

Also not lost, Harbord Street, half a block to the north.

Croft St. garage art

I am just finding a good position for the next shot, realizing I need to take in a double garage, wondering which owner persuaded the other to make it a joint project, when — Zzzzzzz — up goes the right-hand garage door. In rolls the car. Out comes the driver, smiling at me & my camera. Zzzzzzzz — down goes the door.

Turns out he owns both properties, so no persuasion necessary. “My wife hired the artist, & it was a great idea. If you have a mural, you don’t get tagged.”

garage in Croft St.

He raises a cautionary finger. “But it has to have street-art style, you know? If it’s too pretty, they’ll tag it.”

detail, double-garage, Croft St.

His is not “too pretty.” His wife chose well.

Farther south, there begin to be a few residence doors on the street, rather than just garages. Still lots of garages, though, and a continuing back-alley feel to the street.

garage, Croft St.

Good-news / bad-news about the Great Fire murals. Bad news: The ones facing onto the alley have been defaced: some clown has used opaque silver paint to obliterate the story with his own ID in giant script.

Good news: for the first time in my visits here, there are no cars parked in front of the fire mural on the north wall. Hurray! I can finally see it whole.

part of Great Fire of 1904 murals, Croft St.

I’m happy. I’ve seen new art, I’ve played with my echoes of art,  the sun is shining …

… and it is almost warm.


Leave a comment


  1. Terrific post – and those Coupland works really are wonderful!

  2. Hi Penny – thought you’d enjoy this article about a Spanish village (population 323) having been brought back to life through graffiti

    Can you remember a time when graffiti wasn’t such a feature of the Toronto urban environment – in the sense of giant works of art, not tags?
    All best wishes

    • Thanks for this link, I’ll check it out. You ask a good question re Toronto street art. My guess is that street art (not just tags) is relatively new here, at least in this approved & often commissioned way. But I’m no expert & I’m going to refer your question t to a blogger who knows a lot more about the local scene than I do. If you’re curious, you can visit her blog at I’ll get back to you with anything I learn.

  3. bobgeor

     /  15 April 2015

    Will have to look out for that Great Toronto Fire piece!

  4. Thank you Penny – always intriguing. Amazed that you keep finding more street art. It seems to me that here more and more galleries are forced to close so perhaps street art is the answer here – bet it wouldn’t be tolerated!

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