Toronto artist paints giant rainbow-inspired mural to give back to community

Click to play video: 'Toronto artist paints street mural to brighten up COVID-19 hot spot neighbourhood'
Toronto artist paints street mural to brighten up COVID-19 hot spot neighbourhood
WATCH ABOVE: Catherine McDonald spoke to Andrew Stelmack about why he spent a week painting the massive mural on the corner of Seaton and Dundas Streets – May 3, 2021

Andrew Stelmack says he never imagined the 55-by-five-foot mural he painted outside his downtown Toronto condominium would cause such a stir.

“I have to say one of the most amazing things for me is seeing how people reacted when I was doing this mural because as a visual artist, don’t forget, I paint something and then I walk away,” Stelmack told Global News.

“I never get to see their reaction or talk to people about it. But in this case, they could stop. Honestly, it was beyond my wildest expectations.”

The contemporary artist who makes a living by painting abstracts, which sell online or in galleries around Ontario, said he decided to create a colourful mural at the corner of Seaton Street and Dundas Street East where he lives as a way to give back to his community, struggling during COVID-19.

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“It really just becomes my payback as an artist. Believe it or not, I’ve had a very good year. People are spending money on their homes and art is one of those things that they spend on,” Stelmack said.

“So this is kind of my labour of love, it’s my way to give back not only for a good year but also to give back to my community.”

READ MORE: A closer look at Toronto’s Rainbow Tunnel on the northbound DVP

He said he is aware of some of the challenges faced by those who live in his community, which intersects with Cabbagetown, Moss Park and Regent Park. While the area is diverse, Stelmack said it has more homeless people than anywhere else in the city.

Considered a COVID-19 hot spot neighbourhood, he said the pandemic has been particularly hard on many who live here.

“It has taken its toll mentally, financially and emotionally on many of its residents. Everything seems a bit more dark, dreary, hopeless and endless as of late,” Stelmack said.

In May 2020, Stelmack captured a dramatic incident on video camera at the very corner where he painted the mural.

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“It was almost a year to the day. There was a bit of a takedown that happened and a cop was being attacked and she did a phenomenal job of handling the situation and nobody got hurt,” he recalled.

“But now, I’m hoping that this is like the biggest eraser and takes all the negativity out of the corner and I’m hoping people will come to see it and smile.”

Stelmack, who noted he is travelling to his cottage in Manitoba for the summer since all the art shows have been cancelled due to the pandemic, said he had some free time and did not want to paint more inventory before leaving. So he approached his condo board and asked them if they would allow him to paint over an ugly black wall along the sidewalk that had been covered with graffiti.

“It was not happy. It wasn’t pleasant. No one really wanted to look at it,” Stelmack said, adding condo board agreed and even donated the paint.

The process, which took an entire week in April, began with Stelmack priming the wall with light grey paint, followed by him drawing shapes mostly freehand except he used the lid of a metal garbage can to trace circles on the wall. He then filled in the shapes with colours, using 10 cans of colourful paint.

Stelmack said he began painting with rainbow colours about two years ago and has continued doing it during the pandemic.

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“I like to think we’re in a storm, and the thing about a storm is if you wait long enough there’s a reward, there’s a rainbow,” he explained.

“I’ve been trying to put that hope and that happiness and that joy and that forward-looking thought into my work, so that when you have it hanging in your home or in this case, on this mural, I’m hoping that that thought and that hope of all the goodness that is to come after this storm, is now present.”

Stelmack chronicled his week-long project by recording a time-lapse video which he’s posted on his YouTube channel, later calling it The Toronto Urban Mural Chronicles.

He added commentary through graphics at one point writing, “Not off to the best video start … missed getting the first round of blue. Duh!” Passersby can be seen at points walking into the shot as the Dundas Street streetcar cutting through the frame.

“People would honk in their cars as they drove by, they would roll down their windows and scream at me. One person actually got off the TTC and said ‘I’m sorry, I had to stop. It wasn’t even my stop yet but I just had to see this,'” Stelmack said.

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He said he feels so pleased by all the thanks he received from community members who told him they love the joy his mural has brought to the neighbourhood.

“It was an important reminder to me that on one hand, you go, ‘Another mural, no big deal,’ but that’s not true,” Stelmack said.

“Art is important, art is very important, and people react to it. They see it and it affects them. We need a lot more of this going on in our city.”

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