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Photos: Driftwood giant 'caught bathing' on Toronto shoreline

The large sculpture from artists Julie Ryan and Thelia Sanders-Shelton is one of the latest works of guerrilla art to crop up along the shoreline.

Two artists are putting the finishing touches on a 25-foot sculpture made of driftwood.

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JULIEN GIGNAC

Two artists are putting the finishing touches on a 25-foot sculpture made of driftwood.

A long, silhouetted body reposes on Lake Ontario’s western shore, facing downtown Toronto, as if watching over the city.

The 25-foot, driftwood installation is a tribute to Toronto from artists Julie Ryan and Thelia Sanders-Shelton, 51 and 49, respectively.

“It’s just a figure, an androgynous one caught bathing,” Ryan said. “We wanted to do something sculptural to show that we could do it, to prove to ourselves that we could.”

On Tuesday morning at Humber Bay Park, the reclining stick figure sat in front of a washed out cityscape with slender pieces of wood assuming the appearance of tendons roping around a lean frame.

The duo expect it to be finished on Friday, they said, adding that it’s already taken two weeks so far.

Multiple guerrilla art pieces built of natural objects have cropped up on Toronto shores this summer, some large others small.

A stones throw away from the site stands another artwork the pair made in July, one they consider to be less ambitious, though increasingly popular on Instagram: a Toronto sign with a heart made of the same material. On Canada Day, Ryan and Sanders-Shelton created another sign celebrating 150 years since Confederation, but it was later vandalized and destroyed, they said.

This name sign for Toronto was one of Julie Ryan and Thelia Sanders-Shelton's other driftwood projects. It appeared on a quay in Humber Bay Park in July 2017.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star

This name sign for Toronto was one of Julie Ryan and Thelia Sanders-Shelton's other driftwood projects. It appeared on a quay in Humber Bay Park in July 2017.

To the east, the Leslie St. Spit appears to act as a magnet for creative impulses: you don’t have to walk far to come across delicately stacked rocks by anonymous creators. Brian Pace pieced together bits of concrete debris to make small sculptures on the spit in 2010.

More recently, another artist built towering, villa-like formations there, intriguing — and confounding — locals for years. He too made use of what was most plentiful in the area: bricks rounded smooth by the waves, in his case. A complex made by Robert Zunke was demolished over the summer, but about three weeks ago, he sent the Star images depicting large, elaborate structures rebuilt in its place.

Unlike Zunke, who is seemingly indifferent to praise and prefers to keep a low-profile, the driver behind Ryan and Sanders-Shelton’s project is the enthusiasm and support emanating from surrounding community, they said.

The 25-foot, driftwood installation is a tribute to the Toronto from artists Julie Ryan and Thelia Sanders-Shelton, 51 and 49, respectively.

JULIEN GIGNAC

The 25-foot, driftwood installation is a tribute to the Toronto from artists Julie Ryan and Thelia Sanders-Shelton, 51 and 49, respectively.

“We have scores of people who thank us,” Ryan said. “The community has been fabulous.”

Indeed, during about an hour spent at the site, at least five people stopped to chat and offer compliments.

“It’s amazing,” said Soudabeh Majidi, a nearby resident and art teacher. “I was just telling them it’s amazing to create art using nature without having too much impact (on the environment).”

Roger Weaver, who also lives in the area, has seen each project progress, he said.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s something different to look at. I’m just so impressed by the quality of it.”

The voluntary installation is being completed without charge. The women plan to crowdsource other community art projects in the future.

“We’re working really hard,” said Sanders-Shelton. “We’re putting in long days. It’s physical, mental, emotional, it’s all of that, and while we’re not getting paid, per se, we are in other ways. The response is incredible.”

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