Street art fest gives Yorkville an edgy facelift

The little square at 99 Yorkville Ave. used to be filled with beige brick, but now it has been injected with colour after 14 artists made their mark for the first annual Yorkville Murals festival.

As you enter the courtyard, every wall is covered in a unique painting by a different artist. A giant red one on the side of the Christian Louboutin store has a flare of folklore, while the one on the front of Taglialatella Galleries is almost like a wash of pastel. 

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"In terms of curation, I tried to select people who had very different styles, very different backgrounds, so all the murals tell different stories," said Alan Ganev, director of  Taglialatella Galleries and Yorkville Murals. 

Half of the artists are Canadian, including Toronto's Ben Johnston, who is famous for his three dimensional word art that pops off the wall. His work for the festival is simple, it's the word OK. 

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"He likes to do funny words that just connect to people in different ways," said Ganev. "If you go on Instagram for example you see people standing in front of the wall with the caption, 'Everything is A-OK.'" 

The event is running this weekend with DJs, food, light shows and live painting by two Montreal-based artists, Mateo and Xray — one is spray painting an elaborate closeup of a woman's face and the other will be using paint to complete a mouse made out of citrus fruit.

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"It's a kind of a reference to my childhood growing up in Florida," said Xray, whose real name is Bryan Lanier.

"So it's a combination of the fresh citrus fruit that the state is known for and another childhood memory of going to Disney."

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"You have to change your style of painting when it's live," said Mateo, whose real name is Mathieu Boryes.

"It's more difficult to focus sometimes but the good part is you meet new people, people interested in art." 

The idea behind the project came from Charles Khabouth, the CEO of Ink Entertainment. He wanted to bring a version of Miami's famous urban graffiti garden, Wynwood Walls, to Toronto. 

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"Toronto is getting a lot of attention, and I'm hoping that we can help with that by making it a big destination for art as well as everything else," said Khabouth. 

Mixing big names like Los Angeles-based street artist Mr. Brainwash with local or up-and-coming talent is the cornerstone of the project, says Ganev. 

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"I think there's so many talented people in Canada but they rarely get to be shown in the context of the most established international names," said Ganev. "It also inspires local artists who want to make a living out of art."

The murals will be up for a year. After that, the plan is to change a few of them, as well as expand the project to other walls in Yorkville.