By Sean Botti
One Saturday morning, I was passing by Domestic Foods on Gladstone when I noticed a new mural going up on the corrugated wall. I was intrigued to learn more, and asked if I could ask the artist a few questions.
The artist, Bruno Smoky, was gracious enough to oblige. Bruno is a Toronto-based artist who originally hails from Brazil. He and his wife, a well-known visual artist who goes by Shalak Attack, were visiting family in Ottawa. We agreed to meet up.
I showed up the next day to capture some photos of the mural before cars parked along Gladstone. I was looking forward to learning about the story behind this mural, and what inspired Bruno to share this particular scene with the neighbourhood. Bruno arrived in a blue truck, with music blasting. He greeted me with a big smile on his face and said, “Skoden!”
We chatted a bit about his Latin American roots, and some of the murals he’s been able to do for Indigenous communities across Canada. He frequently co-creates art with his wife, Shalak Attack—in fact, the two of them completed a mural depicting a creation story for members of the Indigenous Commons at Algonquin College in 2018.
The Gladstone Avenue mural is a freestyle piece. Bruno explained that the mountains represent strength, and that the toucan serves as a guide. “The mural is supposed to be a kind of totem.” Bruno likes doing freestyle because he can create whatever he wants. He feels there are fewer restrictions, and that he can be freer in his creativity. It also allows him to promote his work, which I’m sure is important during the COVID-19 crisis, especially for artists.
Despite not following “politics” that intensely, Bruno says that his art usually has political undertones. I can appreciate that. I myself gravitate more towards art that has a message. I noticed during the pandemic that a lot of people around town were taking the opportunity to make lawn signs and draw messages in chalk in their neighbourhoods. Art can be a political act as well as an expression of the artist.
I was curious what drew Bruno to this particular spot. He said he is friends with Ottawa artist Pat Buck, with whom he collaborated on murals tucked behind Spaceman Music. Pat gave him the lowdown of the neighbourhood, the previous mural Bruno was painting over, and the public showers for the homeless community. The owner of Domestic Foods was okay with him spray-painting as well, which is an obvious plus.
It was cool to see how people stopped to compliment the mural. Lots of cars slowed down, and people would roll their windows down to sing the artist’s praise. Bruno said he likes that interactive part of street art. He can chat with the community.
I was grateful to learn the story behind the mural, and also to get to know the man behind it. He’s a newish dad, and he said his daughter loves to paint. His wife was helping with childcare that day while he hit the streets to paint. He made sure to mention several times for me to check out her work and the stuff they’ve collaborated on. They are an incredibly talented team, and I’m grateful I had the chance to meet him and ask about the mural.
Follow @brunosmoky on Instagram.
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