Entertainment

Visual artists brave cold to create murals

TORONTO - Mother Nature co-operated, sort of, when it came time for a group of visual artists to create a pair of murals inspired by the video game "Far Cry 4."

"Far Cry 4," due out Nov. 18, is set in the fictional Himalayan region of Kyrat. And the artists must have felt they were right there on the weekend, braving chilly two-degree conditions while creating their art in a downtown Toronto parking lot.

David Loran, founder of Monday Murals, and fellow visual artists Nick Sweetman, Bruno Smoky, Shalak Attack and Jeff Blackburn bundled up and brought out the spray paint.

Some prep work had been done the day before, setting the stage for a frigid finish Saturday. Several hours and many coffees later, two large murals gleamed — complete with creatures ranging from an elephant to a four-fingered god-like creature popping out of canvases the size of a van.

"It's a great gig to do because it gave me a lot of room to have fun," Loran said of the video game. "It's a lot of fun. There's a lot of colour."

Smoky is originally from Brazil, Shalak is a Canadian-Chilean from Montreal who now calls Toronto home (and Smoky her husband), while Sweetman and Blackburn are from Toronto.

A native of Regina now based in Toronto, Loran is no stranger to the cold.

He rendered his elephant mural digitally before bringing out the spray-paint cans, finishing in six to eight hours. The other mural went quicker, with four artists attacking it at once.

The artists looked like paint-spattered grunge rockers at work, albeit ones wearing tuques, hoods and painters' protective breathing masks.

Growing up, Loran always had an interest in art. He started experimenting with spray paint in Grade 9 or 10 and soon discovered he had a talent for it.

He moved to Toronto because of the opportunities and says his goal is "pushing the limits of what can be done with spray paint."

One would think it takes a certain kind of mind to create on such a large scale — but Loran says it's the same as capturing a large landscape on a small canvas.

"I'm changing their scale from huge to very small on my canvas. It's the same concept. I'm just changing my reference from small in my reference to big on the wall."

He has done murals dozens of metres wide, as well as five storeys high (on a silo at a mural festival in Rochester, N.Y., called Wall Therapy). He creates both inside and out.

In creating his "Far Cry" mural, which was about six metres by 3.5 metres, Loran used photos from the game as inspiration. The other artists did the same, looking down at their crib sheet as they applied finishing touches.

"I had no idea what I was going to see when I came here and this is absolutely superlative," Matt West of Ubisoft Toronto, the level design director for the Shangri-La portion of the game, said admiringly of the murals.

"It's astonishing," he added.

Ubisoft Montreal was the lead team in creating "Far Cry 4," although sister studios in Toronto and Shanghai as well as Ubisoft Red Storm in North Carolina also worked on the game. Ubisoft Kyiv focused on the PC version.

Saturday's event also allowed the public to try the game out — in a storage container — ahead of its release or have their photo taken sitting on a Buddha-like statue.

Traffic zoomed by metres away, a fitting soundtrack to the street art.

The 22-year-old Loran credits graffiti culture as a huge influence, combining it with classical painting techniques. He admits to doing his fair share of guerilla art with spray paint as a youngster learning his craft.

"I don't really talk about it. When you turn that off, I can tell you all about it," he said with a laugh, pointing to a reporter's tape recorder.

He studied at the Academy of Realist Art in Toronto, then quit at 19 to pursue his mural dream. He formed his company after discovering he had enough work that he could employ some of his friends.

"There are so many talented people I know that are underpaid," he said.

Loran and his business partner Robel Sahlu have done work in Montreal, Toronto, New York, Nunavut and Saskatchewan so far in their first year.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.

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