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Ikea monkey, dart guy immortalized on downtown Toronto mural
Artist Uber 5000 paints a view of the 6ix that’s not to be missed.
Aug. 7, 2017

There’s a tall brick building between Richmond and Queen, just west of Spadina, where Darwin the Ikea monkey climbs the CN tower to reach Drake, who’s perched on top Views-style. Meanwhile, ”crane girl” hovers overhead.

The newest mural in Toronto’s ‘graffiti alley,’ an established haunt for local photographers and artists, reads like a smorgasbord of Toronto stories.

Monday, passerby Kelly Sveinson chuckled as he recognized the iconic Sam the Record Man sign in the corner. But other more obscure local references - like “dart guy” or red touring helicopters - were lost on Sveinson, his wife Susan and their daughter Kya, who were in visiting from Vancouver.

Stella Hsu, who hustled through the alley with headphones on, paused her music to consider the mural. “There are a lot of elements,” she mused, her eyes darting up and down, left then right. A few feet away, a group of teenagers stopped to snap photos with the bustling references as a backdrop.

The wall is a Where’s Waldo of Toronto’s stories. But the real secret comes from the artist himself - an east-coaster who goes by the moniker Uber 5000. The city is the final piece of a larger concept, which began in 2012 when he also painted two other sides of the same building.

The original murals are washed over with technicolour fish. But to Uber 5000, images of a coral reef and images of Toronto go hand-in-hand.

“Originally the idea of the reef section of the wall was it was sort of a metaphor for the city,” he said. While reefs make up a tiny fraction of ocean space across the earth, they’re home to enormous populations of marine life.

The same ideas apply to the city, and especially Toronto, he explained. When he sat down to talk to the owner of the building about how to tackle the third side, a depiction of the city seemed to tie everything together.

The process, which is still underway with a strip left to paint at the bottom, took place largely upon a 15-by-six foot lift that the owner of the building rented, and hoisted into the air with the artist aboard.

Making art is Uber 5000’s full time job, he explained over the phone from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia - where he’s just completed a mural for a local waterfront festival. His work didn’t start with murals - in fact, it began while taking a political studies class, when he took to scrawling political slogans he learned on the school walls.

After school, he moved to Vancouver, where a more experienced artist taught him more about mural art. His first mural there was a 3-storey high depiction of the Ewok Village from Star Wars near Granville Island. After it was finished, he was hooked.

After a year in Vancouver, he moved back to the east coast, where he was approached by a local group in Halifax to do a mural for them. But, neither he nor the group had enough money to fund it. On his way back from that meeting, he passed a wall in the city he’d always thought would look nice as a mural.

Mustering up his courage, he walked in and asked if he could paint it. “And if I got shot down, I already got shot down once today,” he reasoned.

But, to his surprise, the answer was yes.

The building housed an engineering firm, so he set his mind on a “photorealistic” image of Halifax’s Angus L. Macdonald Bridge. “They would come out and smoke, and just point out all the mistakes,” he said.

But with another mural under his belt, Uber 5000 began to build a portfolio. Earlier this year, he worked on a piece for Toronto’s Humane Society, and now has several commissions from local businesses.

The work was exhausting, he said, noting that on the last day he worked on the Toronto city mural, he worked through the night, then had to deal with a broken lift so he didn’t get to sleep until 3 p.m. He woke up that evening, packed everything up, and met his 5 a.m. flight to paint more in Cape Breton.

To him, it’s worth it to live the life he does. “I like zipping around and renting equipment and jumping up on stuff,” he said happily. “And leaving a big, colourful picture in my wake.”

Can you spot the references?

Dart Guy

Crane Girl

Sam the Record Man

Darwin the Ikea Monkey

Drake on the CN Tower (“Views”)

Queen Street West

Blue jay flipping the bat

Red touring helicopters

Canada 150 airplane

Wayward fish from the 2012 murals

Bonus: Uber 5000’s real-life dog Hubble, who appears in nearly all his murals!