Surprise, disappointment, and disgust worked its way through my mind when I first saw what seemed to be a plain, dark mural painting of a human sitting on the side of an office building near Yonge and St. Clair Avenue West.
Today was meant to be awesome. I was meant to witness history and be mindblown. I was going to see one of the world’s tallest murals. I was going to see another monument added to the many monuments associated with Toronto, like the CN Tower. I was willing to open the artistic part of my mind, a part of me that I have not really connected with since elementary school—if it ever existed to begin with—to see artistic brilliance on display. Maybe even be able to interpret it within two seconds on sight, to make people around me feel stupid before they are able to do the same to me.
That was the kind of vibe that Phlegm’s coming to Toronto was giving to the citizens of Toronto and other parts of Canada. The world renowned street artist had a project with STEPS Initiative, a public arts initiative for charity, involving a street art masterpiece that was also funded by the City of Toronto.
Phlegm is a British (Sheffield) based cartoonist, artist, muralist, and illustrator. His name comes from one of the four bodily humours of Greek medicine: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm, which stands for apathetic and unemotional temperament. The name “Phlegm” sort of explains the simplistic nature of most of his artworks. His illustrations are meant to tell untold stories and his imagination seems almost childlike. This inspiration comes from his comics, which make his work look more intelligent because he uses cartoonish mediums to bring deep illustrations about life to life. Each of his drawings are a part of a grand narrative that usually continues in his next work and can be made in any country. This has given him world recognition and taken him to places like Norway, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, and Australia to mention a few.
The Bestiary was his first solo show, and it took place in London from February 1, 2014 to March 25 of the same year. He has risen to prominence since then, painting in the streets of the UK. Now attracting a lot of attention, he is known as one of the world’s most appreciated street artists.
Seeing the mural on Yonge and St. Clair Avenue made me wonder who this intellectual Phlegm was and why a whole city would fund what looks to be a sketch from a four year old’s first ever drawing book. I wondered why a man would fly all the way from the United Kingdom to troll everybody in Canada. What perplexed me the most was why everybody else did not just seem fine with it, but rather, amazed by it. I felt so out of place and had a feeling that maybe everyone who brought all the hype to this thing (yes, including the media) were just a tad bit crazy because I could not connect to what they were excited about—just like the first time I saw people dancing to EDM.
But, as I moved closer, I understood what all the hype was about. I was beyond stunned. I was mindblown. The closer I came to the mural, the less it looked like someone sitting, but rather, a city; the city of Toronto itself with buildings and familiar city monuments. I had my personal ‘eureka’ moment because the mural was a perfect depiction of how I see Toronto and how Torontonians see their city; as a life form functioning as one. It is an accurate description of how united the city is, of how diversity acts as a more unifying force than a divisive one.
By Temiloluwa Dada
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