We recently began selling a groovy pair of socks by the Canadian artist Mr. Hydde. What do socks have to do with an iconic mural in Toronto, you ask? Well, Mr. Hydde happens to mention artist Al Runt and his mural on Lee's Palace, an infamous alt-rock venue in Toronto. The subject came up because of socks. There had, at one point, been a psychedelic pair of Runt's socks on the market. Then, just like that, Hydde says he and Runt are friendly and happen to live five minutes apart from one another in Etobicoke. Wha?!?
What resulted from this serendipitous conversation was a rabbithole web dive into Al Runt and his Lee's Palace mural.
In the mid-1980s, Runt (neé Alex Currie) was drawing band posters around Toronto when he was tapped to paint the front of the new music venue, Lee's Palace. His first mural on the site was painted in 1986. It got painted over, so Runt executed a new version in 1992. This one remained in place for 17 years, inextricably twining together the legacies of both Runt and Lee's Palace. During that time, the music venue established itself as the THE place to see breaking alt-rock acts and introduced Toronto to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Arctic Monkeys and The Magnetic Fields. When the mural was torn down in 2009, Runt's Facebook was inundated with lamenting howls about the travesty, and folks scrambled in dumpsters to retrieve parts of the now-landmark wall. It was rumored that someone offered $5000 at the time for a substantial piece of the mural. Runt went and did it again and painted a third version of the mural in 2010.
Sometimes, the location of a mural provides necessary jet fuel to propel an artist to prominence. As in the case of Eduardo Kobra's interpretation of Alfred Eisenstaedt's iconic photo "V-J Day in Times Square," which became one of the most photographed pieces of street art by strollers on New York's High Line. The effect of such prominent placement is akin to throwing a curling stone in the water--big waves! The waves generated by his succession of murals for Lee's Palace created a legion of Runt fans, the most adoring at the local level in Toronto. But talk of his work and images traveled farther afield, reaching a young Mr. Hydde in Belleville, about 2 hours northeast of Toronto. Runt was an unwitting inspiration to the young artist, demonstrating that staying the course can lead to success and recognition. During his nearly 40-year career, Runt has probably unknowingly played this part many times.
If you want to know more about Al Runt's work, check out this documentary made about him in 2014 by Augusto Monk. Find him on Instagram: @alrunt. Mr. Hydde is currently exhibiting at Chicago Truborn in a show that opened 1/22/22. Find him on Instagram: @mrhydde_artist