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Toronto poster art a cool way to show hometown pride

Brothers Andrew and Matt McCracken at Doublenaut.

Fred Lum/The Globe and MailNewspaper

For the past few weeks, Dave Murray has been walking up and down Annex streets, making his way along Bloor from Markham to Avenue and back via Dupont, his video camera recording the signs that hang over local storefronts.

Back in his Parkdale studio, he is using the video footage to fill in a detailed map of the neighbourhood, each street a mosaic of words like "coffee," "organic," "vintage" and "bar," chronicling the individual purpose of almost every building.

The piece will be part of his series of popular Toronto maps which so far includes Kensington Market, the Ossington Strip, Queen Street West/Parkdale and Leslieville.

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It will also add to the growing body of fast-selling posters and prints that celebrate the city as artistic muse: Something worthy of a place above the mantle.

"There's a market of people who are absolutely die-hard for Toronto, who want to support the city beyond just saying they love it and shelling out for a Metropass," said Mr. Murray, 25. "It's the driving force behind why I do what I do. I'm a big fan of Toronto."

Ian Gillies, who owns Telegramme Prints, which has locations in Leslieville and on Ossington, says urban pride has established itself as a design aesthetic for many Toronto residents.

"If it's got a Toronto reference on it, people want it," he said. "We have a bad hockey team and the political culture can be a little bit irritating at times, but I think there's just a lot of people who really like living in the city."

Among Mr. Gillies's best sellers are the Ork Posters, city maps created by Chicago artist Jenny Beorkrem that depict urban centres, including Toronto and Vancouver, by assembling the names of individual neighbourhoods.

Posters and prints have become a serious art form in recent years, he said, as well as a booming business, as artists like Shepard Fairey - creator of the iconic Barack Obama "Hope" poster - and messages such as "Keep Calm and Carry On" become home-decor staples.

In Toronto, posters with a local bent have become an accessible entry point to the art scene and a way of demonstrating hometown pride.

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Telegramme also sells a poster of the Ontario coat of arms, which is produced by the Junction decor store Smash.

"I never seem to have enough of them. We've rarely had anything with that kind of hard-core Canadiana, but it's very popular," said Mr. Gillies.

At the recent City of Craft event at The Great Hall on Queen Street West, the booth run by design duo Doublenaut was swarmed by shoppers who wanted a poster commemorating the Hogtown dates of visiting bands.

Run by twin brothers Andrew and Matt McCracken, Doublenaut has become known for its Toronto gig posters, which feature dreamy illustrations promoting shows by The National, The Flaming Lips and Pavement.

But Matt McCracken said many of their customers will purchase the prints even if they didn't happen to be at The Sound Academy the night Massive Attack played there.

To their surprise, Doublenaut has found that their clients aren't really interested in an individual band, but are expressing their support of the Toronto music scene in general.

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Because their deals with bands prevent them from producing more than a limited number of gig posters, Matt McCracken said they are in the process of creating a poster that celebrates the city itself.

"We're trying to come up with some sort of Toronto-centric or even Canada-centric poster as an art print," he said. "I think this kind of thing will just get bigger and bigger."

Mr. Murray, a graduate of the illustration program at Sheridan College, said Toronto maps are by far his best-selling work.

In addition to the Annex piece, which he will release this spring, he is planning to capture The Junction, Corktown and possibly even venture into more uptown locales such as Yonge and Eglinton or Bayview Village.

He has turned down requests to include specific stores and restaurants in his work, preferring to avoid proper nouns and capture a neighbourhood's spirit through the type of businesses it attracts.

In the Annex, he discovered a number of hidden bars on Bedford Road.

"There's a lot of funny little businesses set up in old houses," he said. "There's a strip with four or five bars and restaurants and a laser eye surgeon. It's funny the things you get."

His Queen Street West/Parkdale map includes one area marked simply with the word "Danger," which he says indicates the location of a condo development that was surrounded with warning signs.

In addition to his clients in the city, Mr. Murray said he has received orders from Aurora, Peterborough and Niagara on the Lake.

"I think it's beyond appealing to people in the neighbourhoods, [it's]also to people who have moved away from the city and want a piece of where they used to live," he said. "With all the little nitpicks people can have with transit and everything, you still love it. You can't help but love it."

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