But first the artwork.
Located in the alleyway on the northwest side of Dundas and Spadina, Journey to the West is one of the earliest collaboration between Blinc Studio artists and the Chinatown BIA. The murals were unveiled in 2010 as part of Mayor David Miller’s 20 Minute Make-Over Challenge, which brought together not only Blinc and the Chinatown BIA to create the work, but also the City of Toronto Beautiful Streets initiative, Trinity Spadina City Councillor Adam Vaughan, theWell and Good arts organization, the curators at 52 McCaul Arts Hub, and the Toronto Police Service Legal Graffiti Art Coordinator to document and clean up the space.
Stretching the length of 484 Dundas Street for a total of 144 feet, the mural features some of the characters from the Chinese novel, Journey to the West. Considered as one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature, Journey to the West was first published in the 16th century. There are some conflicting opinions as to who really authored the work, but authorship is currently attributed to Wu Cheng’en, a Ming Dynasty poet and novelist. Featured on the mural are Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King, the Buddhist monk and hero of the tale, Tang San Zang, and his disciples Zhu Ba Jie (left) and Sha Wu Jing. They are accompanied by the White Dragon Horse. Near the back of the painting, we see a young girl running away from a dragon. She appears to have stolen a pearl and is making her escape. I can’t find any reference to this character in my research, but I’m going to guess she’s a representation of Miss Duan, a demon hunter from Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, the 2013 movie adaptation of the book.
Having two different styles in one mural make sense when you consider that the inspiration comes from two different source materials. The characters at the beginning are very classically and realistically drawn. Well, as realistic as you can get when painting a dragon and a man with a pig’s head. This reflects the regard and venerated nature of the book within Chinese culture. The figure at the back of the work looks like it would be very comfortable on the pages of a comic book, which suits the campy nature of the movie that inspired her inclusion.