Where artist Alanna Cavanagh finds color and joy in Toronto
Illustrator and artist Alanna Cavanagh has put her designs on just about everything over the past 20 years, from her own screen printing to tea towels, temporary tattoos, magazine articles and postage stamps. Then, during the pandemic, real estate companies started calling on him to create murals, often to spruce up dreary, empty storefronts.
That work picked up steam this summer, literally, with Cavanagh creating five murals called Big City Blooms for QuadReal Property Group.
“They wanted me to create really colorful pieces that would offset all the gray of the past couple of years,” says Cavanagh, noting that the company also wanted to welcome employees and visitors this summer.
The largest mural, measuring nine meters by 37 meters, stands at Commerce Court, illuminating Bay Street with red, pink and orange flowers. Cavanagh created the mural on his iPad and printed it onto vinyl stickers. It took five days for a work crew using a crane to install it. (She filmed the orange tulips entering.)
They arrive in mid-September, a sad fact for Cavanagh, who has received numerous messages from watchers via social media – including one from an old ex who was happy to see she was doing so well.
This fall, Cavanagh is releasing magazine illustrations and collaborating on prints for a hotel. She and her partner, Myles, live downtown in what they like to think of as “Cabbagetown adjacent” — the neighborhood is walkable and they both lived there. This is where she likes to find bright colors in the city.
Near your home, what places do you go to?
My favorite cafe in the world is downstairs from my building. It’s called Page One and they make a wonderful flat white. I also usually get the cheddar cheese scone. Massey Hall is another great place in my neighborhood. I love the new renovation, especially the glassed-in hallway on the second floor and the new bar. I saw an amazing concert there this summer with Charlotte Day Wilson, with surprise appearances from Daniel Caesar and Mustafa the Poet.
Right next to my house is the urban farm of the Met-U (Metropolitan University of Toronto). It’s an amazing green roof that produces vegetables. From my window, I can watch the farmers harvest in the morning.
You often walk towards Cabbagetown. Where are you going?
House on Parliament: it’s very friendly and we know everyone there. The owner ordered some artwork from me which they put on the windows as they were just doing takeout. I made one from someone enjoying my favorite dish: I always get the chicken club. We also love F’Amelia, which has wonderful pizzas and a great patio. Salt & Tobacco also makes excellent pizzas.
What other neighborhoods do you like?
I lived on Queen West. There is the work room. I took sewing lessons there and often I’ll just immerse myself in all the rolls of fabric. I love libraries and sometimes I just pick a library and go. I’m inspired by crafts, so I’m going to go to the folk art section and see what they have. I love the Toronto Reference Library, the architecture itself is so inspiring.
I’m in textiles so I go to the Textile Museum. There’s an amazing show right now called Double Vision that focuses on Nunavut wall hangings. They are sewn in bright colors and very graphic. They really attract me.
What outdoor places do you like?
I love visiting Craigleigh Gardens, which is this secluded gem of a park. It is nestled in the middle of Rosedale. It connects to this pathway, which then leads to the entire ravine system. When you descend into the ravine and are surrounded by all the nature, you feel very far from the city.
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