Artist says city erased mural it paid him to paint
June 01, 2011
Mural artist Joel Richardson was paid $2,000 by the city to do a mural on a city-owned wall on Dupont just west of Lansdowne. On Tuesday, somebody -- apparently the city -- painted over it, likely as part of Rob Ford's graffiti eradication campaign.
Artist Joel Richardson says the city has painted over a popular Dupont St. mural that it paid him $2,000 to create, an apparent misfire in Mayor Rob Ford’s war on graffiti.
A city spokeswoman says the railway underpass wall was returned to drab grey because Richardson’s artwork was unauthorized, uncommissioned, political and may have “referred to (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper.”
Richardson says in 2008 then-Davenport councillor Adam Giambrone’s office asked him to paint a mural on the north wall of the underpass west of Lansdowne Ave., on the funky Junction Triangle neighbourhood’s eastern edge.
The colourful scene of faceless men in suits, dollar signs and hearts, funded mostly through donations from local businesses, proved popular enough, he says, that Giambrone’s staff asked him to paint another mural on the south wall, and helped him get a $2,000 commission from the city’s Clean and Beautiful secretariat.
The painter and filmmaker kicked off work on the new mural last Sept. 25 with a community party. He had spent at least 30 hours on it, with about another 10 to go, when he learned Monday the city had used grey and white paint to completely blot out the mathematical formula incorporating Morse code symbols and grim-faced businessmen with yellow halos.
Reaction to the “commentary on the mathematics of modern finance,” had been mostly positive, he says, noting it was featured on a Jane’s Walk neighbourhood tour in early May.
The mural’s erasure “was shocking, obviously,” he said Tuesday. “I’m hoping that it was a mistake. I can’t imagine the city would paint over something they paid for. I’m still processing that it’s gone.”
Elyse Parker, a director in the city’s transportation services department, said the artwork was erased after a resident complained it was political. City records suggested the older north wall mural was commissioned, but not the one on the south wall, she said.
“This was not approved by the city and we would not endorse any kind of mural with political messaging,” she said. “There was some discussion that the mural referred to Stephen Harper. That’s the suggestion, that’s what it looked like to us.”
Richardson says the mural “had nothing to do with Stephen Harper” — while it is “subversive and anti-freewheeling capitalism” — and his friend Benjamin Blais was the model for the businessman.
Vic Gedris, who runs the Junction Triangle website and led the Jane’s Walk that saw participants question
Robertson about his mural, said the city recently painted over graffiti by “Posterchild” in a different, nearby underpass depicting Harper in riot gear.
Richardson provided the Toronto Star with emails from two of Giambrone’s staff members in 2009 urging him to apply for the Clean and Beautiful funding for the south wall mural.
Parker, heading to a Tuesday night town hall at the Drake Hotel hosted by Councillor Cesar Palacio in response to community concerns over Ford’s campaign to erase graffiti from city property, and force business owners to remove it from theirs, said: “We’ll get to the bottom of this tomorrow.”
Councillor Ana Bailão, who succeeded Giambrone in last October’s election, was also trying to discover why Richardson’s mural was erased, noting “I never found it offensive — I walk by it all the time.”