Each week in What’s the Meaning of This?, we explain what those weird public-art installations you walk by every day are supposed to represent. This week: the story behind one of Toronto’s most famous and playful paintings.
Name of installation: The Flatiron Mural
Artist: Derek Besant
Location: The back of 49 Wellington St. E.
Date of display: 1980
What’s it supposed to be?: While public art is often commissioned by a property developer looking to receive some type of benefit for the structure they are building (like an increase in zoning allowance), occasionally there is a more altruistic motive involved—namely, improving the aesthetics of a given area. Such is the case with Derek Besant’s Flatiron Mural. Tacked onto the backside of the flatiron building where Wellington, Front, and Church streets meet, the installation isn’t necessarily hinting at some deep meaning through abstract forms and functions but, rather, acts as a playful display giving some life to the backside of one of the city’s most iconic structures. Uniquely, the mural is not painted on the building itself (that was disallowed due of its heritage designation), but rather sits on a steel armature, and resembles a large draped cloth displaying a series of windows. Of his work, Besant has previously said, “context is what is most important to me, rather than imposing one of my works onto a site,” and such is the case with the Flatiron Mural, which employs a trompe l’oeil (“tricking the eye”) style to lend some cheeky character to this property, built by brewers Gooderham and Warts in 1892 (10 years before New York’s famous flatiron, it should be noted).