An art gallery for the birds

You're gonna need a very tall ladder to see Toronto's largest new mural.

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Ever wondered what’s on the floor of the Sistine Chapel?

Me neither, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Two words, in giant painted letters.

Look up.*

Not that anyone needs the prompt. Places of worship always draw the eye heavenward, and in the 16th century Michelangelo made it literal with his epic ethereal frescoes and God himself reaching out to touch his blessed worshippers. 

Today’s murals, by contrast, will have us look down from a great height. They’re drawn with a God’s-eye-view in mind. Or, rather, the view from news helicopters, aerial drones and Trump Tower windows. 

Take the simple, brilliantly defiant act of painting “Black Lives Matter” in giant yellow lettering, two blocks long, down Washington D.C.’s 16th Street, directly in front of the White House at what’s now called Black Lives Matter Plaza. 

Black lives have always mattered. ✊🏾 Love seeing the community come together to create such meaningful art. #BLMMuralTO
July 2, 2020

The mural became instantly iconic, and inspired large works of solidarity, including a uniquely colourful version painted along Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market around Canada Day.

But massive horizontal murals need not always be political. Sometimes they’re merely winking skyward at highrises, satellite stalkers and passing falcons.

And so it is with Jerry Rugg, better known as birdO, who is busy this week rolling vivid paints across a hot Yorkville rooftop for what’s purported to be Toronto’s largest mural.

(For the record, he doesn’t paint while wearing that bird head. But he keeps it handy in case nosy newsletter authors come poking around.)

BirdO is easily one of the city’s most prolific large-scale mural artists, though he says he now aims to do “fewer but bigger” projects.

Indeed, it’s hard to miss some of his recent achievements, especially the jaw-dropping “Deer Park” on St. Clair east of Yonge, showcasing his typically surreal fusion of animal heads and colourful video-game geometry, in this case stretching 10 storeys high.

The Monumental Project ✨
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So many thanks to so many teammates, partners, and pals that helped bring this very special one together 🙌
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#birdo #streetart #toronto #torontostreetart #streetartdaily #streetartnews #streetartglobe #streetarteverywhere #urbanart #cbcarts #murals #mmmexplore #artshark #33thirdmedia #beautifulbizarre #hifructose
November 24, 2019

I’m particularly fond of a previous sky-facing mural, the grand transformation of a basketball court at the Mornelle community housing complex in Scarborough, part of the global Project Backboard.

Basketball North.
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It’s been a crazy year for ball up here in Canada and It was an honour to work with @project_backboard to bring this Toronto Husky to life!
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We couldn’t have done it without huge support from @start_streetartoronto & @torontohousing .
So many thanks to @wellandgood & @doublethinkimage for grinding this one out with me.
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And so much love to the residents at 90 Mornelle in Scarborough. Take care of home court eh 🏀🇨🇦🏆 .
#birdo #projectbackboard #streetart #basketball #hypecourts
August 11, 2019

This week’s effort was commissioned for Yorkville Murals, which runs Aug. 28 to 30. From the looks of it, birdO had a lot of work left to go to make that deadline. But he’s got help from a couple of fellow muralists, a roller-skating Kayla “Milkbox” Buium and Jeff Blackburn, carefully painting a mysterious pink creature around the yellow lines of the rooftop parking spaces.

So what’s it gonna be? We won’t truly know until BirdO’s drone shows us the big picture. (Update: It’s a massive seahorse.)

*I had to look up what’s actually on the Sistine Chapel floor. Turns out it’s quite lovely.

Statues wearing masks, exhibit A

Fit for a gryphon, in surgical blue. At the Lillian H. Smith branch of Toronto Public Library, 293 College Street.

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