How One Famous Street Artist is Transforming Yonge and St. Clair
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How One Famous Street Artist is Transforming Yonge and St. Clair

A reason to visit the area aside from Service Ontario visits.

BY: Phlegm
LOCATION: 1 St. Clair Avenue West

Photos: Vincent Luk

Photo by Vincent Luk.

Up high, 12 storeys above midtown St. Clair, an arresting figure is taking shape on a nondescript commercial building. Until the end of July, you can spy Phlegm, the U.K.-based street artist, and his assistant, muralist Stephanie Bellefleur, suspended in the air as they fill in the white-washed form.

Phlegm was enlisted by STEPS Initiative, a non-profit that commissions large-scale public art pieces to help revitalize areas seen as cultural deserts. STEPS also partnered with Slate Asset Management, a real estate company, to carry out the project.

“It’s basically a blank slate…they realized they had this asset they were sitting on,” says Alexis Kane-Speer, founder and executive director of STEPS.

For this mural, Phlegm abandons the fantastical creatures that populate his comic books and street art for a human silhouette peering at its surroundings.

“[With] the human form, he felt that the city is this living, breathing creature,” says Kane-Speer. “It’s more inclusive to the urban environment.”

Staggering in scale and intricacy, the monochromatic mural is thoroughly of this world, this city it inhabits. Spotting familiar landmarks that trace the figure’s outline becomes a scavenger hunt for the sharp-eyed.

Toronto, through Phlegm’s eyes, is a lush landscape—an urban forest, with its enviable ravine trails at a (relatively close) distance from iconic structures. From this unlikely perch, Bellefleur says you get sweeping views of the downtown skyline.

During Phlegm’s month-long residency, he spent time at the city’s summertime haunts, biking to the lake at Harbourfront and around Centre Island to get a better sense of the place, says Bellefleur. “He left some flexibility [in the design] to allow him to integrate local landmarks,” adds Kane-Speer.

Photo by Vincent Luk.

Photo by Vincent Luk.

Yonge and St. Clair, oft-overlooked except for occasional visits to Service Ontario, is now angling for attention.

It wasn’t at all an unusual pairing for Phlegm, who’s equally drawn to “unlikely places,” often perceived as devoid of culture, says Kane-Speer.

“It was really interesting to speak to the fact that there’s a thriving community of residents, people who really feel strong connections to the area,” she says. “It’s an example of how [public art] can be used as a catalyst for placemaking.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the mural is at 1 St. Clair Avenue East, not West. Torontoist regrets the error.