The Toronto legal community has its very own Banksy // Secret Life

Kate McGrann
This litigator installs textile art pieces throughout the city under the cloak of secrecy

By Luc Rinaldi

On Wednesday May 29th, 2019

Kate McGrann

Kate McGrann
Crawley MacKewn Brush LLP

Six years ago, Kate McGrann walked into a hardware store in Toronto and bought a piece of chain-link fence. It was her version of a sketchbook. The 37-year-old partner at Crawley MacKewn Brush LLP moonlights as a guerrilla textile artist, surreptitiously using yarn to knot phrases like “Don’t Fight It” into fences and scaffolding throughout the city. In her new patch of fencing, she weaved the words “True Love.” She wasn’t completely satisfied with the piece, so she just left it on her balcony. When she rediscovered it a year later, the yarn was discoloured and torn. “I liked it better,” she says. So she left it there to endure another four years of Toronto weather. “I think it’s a pretty good picture of how the feelings you have for a romantic partner change over time,” says McGrann. “They’re not perfect anymore, but there’s a different kind of beauty.”

McGrann flirted with art as a teen (“I indulged in some really melodramatic drawing,” she jokes), but it wasn’t until the end of law school at the University of Toronto that, with the encouragement of some artist friends, she pursued her creative interests in earnest. “I had an idea, and it wouldn’t go away,” she says of her first piece, “I Miss You” stitched into a schoolyard fence. “All of my phrases are incredibly obvious and Hallmark-greeting-card cheesy. I try to abstract them to a level where they’re empty buckets that people can fill with their own stories and experiences.”

Though some of her pieces have been exhibited in galleries — “True Love” appeared in a show at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel — most of her work remains anonymous, unexpected bursts of colour and emotion on grey city streets. “Anonymous public work is my preferred mode,” she says. “I like that it’s not about me. I can’t explain why, but that makes it easier for me to get joy out of it.”

This story is from our Summer 2019 Issue.

Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth, make up by Michelle Calleja