“The first rule of boomeranging—Safety,” says Bill Wrigley as he tugs a black and white golfing glove over his right hand.
Wrigley is one of the few individuals in Ontario’s small community devoted to the skill of boomeranging—they’re called “boomers” or “throwers,” he tells me. He sits across from me in a rustic café on Bloor Street West. His long blonde hair is tied back into a ponytail—a physical feature that he later notes his pride for. He munches on a shortbread cookie as he explains his unique hobby. Essentially, he says, it began as a solution to one persisting problem: boredom. “I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t I just throw a boomerang? I don’t have to worry about calling friends, and it will always come back to me,’” Wrigley says.
Not only does he throw, but Wrigley also designs and sells custom boomerangs. Each one is hand carved, hand warped and hand painted, and each takes about four months of test throws to achieve marketable perfection.
At 56 years old, designing custom boomerangs is only the latest of Bill’s creative ventures. Primarily, he is the muralist behind Wrigley Designs, an original fine art mural company that has been beautifying commercial spaces for over 30 years. His journey through creativity and success has been adventurous, to say the least. Travelling the globe to paint, Wrigley has achieved widespread recognition through a career that was launched with none other than one of the biggest companies in the world. It all began in the basement of a McDonald’s in 1974…
When Bill was 15 years old, his family moved from Montreal to the Jane and Finch neighbourhood of Toronto. Here, Bill got a job at the local McDonald’s. “I was a really shy teenager,” he tells me. “I didn’t know how to talk, but I knew how to draw. So I sort of used murals to segue into society.”
Without being asked, Wrigley painted an exterior picture of McDonald’s in the basement of the restaurant. Mesmerized gazes and nods of approval from management gave Wrigley the motivation to pursue his talent even further. In 1979, while he was attending university in Halifax, he painted his first commissioned mural for McDonald’s. The project foreshadowed nearly a decade of partnership with the booming global company.
He eventually moved back to Toronto and founded Wrigley Designs with the help of his ex-wife. Like most budding artistic careers, the beginning was a financial struggle. “We hitchhiked all over Ontario to do jobs because we didn’t have a car,” Bill says. However, as one of the most free-spirited men I’ve met, I wasn’t surprised when he continued his story with a positive spin. “I had never felt so free in my life. I felt amazingly, just, liberated. I thought, ‘it’s just [my wife], and me…and the potential for a future of creation and doing art.’”
At the time, Bill was averaging about 10 murals a year, each with their own theme and style. Scrolling through his website, it’s clear that there are influences of impressionist paintings within his murals. “Impressionist painters used natural light. They worked against the tracking sun, so shadows were changing every second. They had to work fast. Secondly, a lot of them had bad eye sight,” Wrigley tells me. “So you see, diminishing eye sight and a tracking sun—[impressionist paintings] were a natural phenomenon.”
Bill mixes these historical influences with the modern technology of 3D modeling. This allows clients to see their mural designs from various angles before it’s produced, and allows him to construct it with a more realistic look. It’s the same technique that helped Wrigley re-create one of his most famous murals ever. You probably see it every day when you flick on the morning news before work. Bill painted a series of satellite dishes for CityTV (now owned by Bell Media) in 1990, and the mural is still televised every day in CP24’s opening segment. “I mean I’m watching the news and there it is! My mural on TV every day.”
The CityTV mural was created with John Fraser, a local film artist. “I liked John,” Wrigley says with a giggle. “He was one of the only guys I knew who talked more and faster than me.”
Eventually Bill and I’s conversation has strayed miles from the questions of the interview, and we find ourselves passionately entangled in a discussion about technology and society. But, just like a boomerang, the interview finds its way back as I ask Bill for one final piece of advice.
“Be a coconut,” he says. “Coconuts can’t sink. Coconuts can float in the ocean for twenty years. They roll with the tide and they roll with the waves…until one day, they find a perfect beach to plant. Be a coconut.”