Ask Torontoist: Some Street Art Snooping
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Ask Torontoist: Some Street Art Snooping

Ask Torontoist features questions posed by you, and answered by our elite team of specially trained investigative experts (also known as our staff). Send your questions to [email protected].

Reader Andrea G. asks:

Found these on the streets in downtown Toronto. White one at King/Bay and the red one at King/Simcoe. Obviously, a stencil was used and the paint seems to be the same quality as traffic markings (e.g. permanent).
What the heck are they?

Photos by Andrea G.

Well, Andrea, you’ve happened upon one of the most formidable street art mysteries Toronto has to offer. What is this little stenciled figure? And what can he tell us about the role of anonymity in street art? To get to the bottom of this, Torontoist used technology (the Internet and its cousin, email) in the service of all our baseless speculation.
Our first hunch was that this could be the work of the Urban Repair Squad: Toronto’s own cycling avengers trying to carve out a slice of the American Dream with their two-wheeled knives. But Martin Reis, a spokesperson for the URS, said that while it was not their doing, they “do admire the work of the unknown artist.” Martin also noted that the marking was more enduring than your average spray-paint doodle. “The tape is either burned into the road surface or another type of similar tape can be applied with pressure,” he said. “Cars and heavy vehicles driving over it adhere it further. Very permanent.”

Intrigued (and undaunted), Torontoist turned to our own resident street artist, Posterchild, who was able to shed some light on the situation. Apparently, the stencils are the work of STIKMAN, who has also left his mark in a similar manner on the streets of New York City. In an interview on the Wooster Collective street art blog, STIKMAN (who ditched the “C” because he prefers the flow of the letters without it), explained his stick figure art: “One day I came across a plaster plaque that someone had made by placing sticks into wet plaster and then removing the sticks leaving only the impression of the sticks. It was a stick man…I realized as I stared at this plaque that STIKMAN would represent the absence of personality in art. The little being with no stable form. The unknowable consciousness.” And as it happens, we’ve featured STIKMAN on Vandalist before, albeit without realizing it. (The “unknowable consciousness” indeed!)
So there you have it, Andrea! These little stick dudes are made with heavy-duty tape and represent the nonexistence of a discrete artistic identity in street art and, also, the unknowable consciousness. That’s what the heck it is. And it’s as simple as that.