Global Village Backpackers mural, Toronto, 2003-2004

Artwork by Jason Brown

If you're ever on King and Spadina, Toronto, pop into the Global Village Backpackers and ask to see the kitchen. I spent a couple of months from November 2003 to January 2004 painting murals.

First up, recycling bins. Work-for-stay consisted of hoovering three or four floors of hostel or wiping bathrooms, so I told them I was an artist and was soon asked to do these bins.

See the USA Hostels mural.

Next came the kitchen. I walked into the hostel after a weekend away hoping to do some more work-for-stay when the manager, Sarah, grabbed me and asked if I wanted to paint the entire kitchen. It worked out well. First, I'd spent the weekend with the neighbour of a friend of a friend, but he kept inviting me into his bed if I got cold. After a couple of days he sat me down and said, "This would have been easier if you were bisexual." We decided it was best I leave. He gave me a hug and I walked back to the hostel. Second, during that weekend someone had stolen the master key at the hostel and broken into most of the rooms. Up until that point I'd been in the habit of leaving my laptop of my bed. Third, I hadn't any cash and was hoping to do some more work-for-stay. Sarah didn't seem to care what I painted, just saying that she'd like something with a forest theme. So I drew some trees and filled in the rest with kitcheny things, like pigs (bacon) and chickens (eggs).

We found about 8 volunteers who worked for free board and bagels. They were all long-termers, a right motley crew. I daren't post the picture here, we all look like we've been dragged off the street. We started by whitewashing the walls. I kept meeting people, like a girl in San Francisco, who were horrified we'd wiped off the names of travellers who'd signed the walls over the years. Just following the orders of the manager. I'd design sketches on paper, then transfer them onto the wall, though as time went on, I worked out designs straight onto the wall. The first tree looked horrible when the rest were done, so I repainted parts and they in turn became the best parts. I did all the shading and outlining, while for the rest it was colour-by-numbers. I told them which parts to fill with what colour.

It was a huge kitchen. I'd always intended to spend two weeks in Canada, before taking the Greyhound down to Florida, where a girl was waiting. But that didn't work out, so a combination of finishing the mural and lethargy meant I stayed in Toronto for 4 months.

Someone said there's not one point on the wall that isn't sinister in some way. My favourites were the half-formed chuck in the egg yolk, the chopped pigs and the pig eating a bacon sandwich, and the carrot with a "third" leg. I also tried to wind up the vegetarians, by putting the quote onto the wall, "Plants aren't food, they're what food eats." Made some people puzzle I hope.

Work in progress

Work in progress

I wanted to finish with a fantasy art painting, but with the months slipping by I wondered how long a fine art technique would take compared to the simple cartoons. I was surprised to find it finished within a week. It was based on a poster which had hung on the wall without being marked in any way. Because of that it was another small piece of hostel folklore, like the homeless man who'd lived in the attic above the bar for years. It was suggested the poster had special properties, maybe it was a wall support, so no one had dared take it down. Unfortunately, by the end of the project, it was spotted with paint, torn and a little crumpled. Still, it lives on as a mural, though it did pose one small problem. The unicorns on the poster sure looked funny. Blown up for the wall the flaws looked terrible. To blur the odd proportions, I tried to blend the unicorns into the background. That's when I came across the glow technique, which looked really good and helped hide the flaws.

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