The idea for THE GOOD BIKE PROJECT came to me as I was cleaning the windows of the OCAD U Student Gallery on Dundas Street West. I was lost in thought, staring at this old rusted Raleigh bicycle, which is locked up to the bike post outside the gallery. It occurred to me that I’d never seen that Raleigh moved from that spot. It is a permanent fixture on the street, a gorgeous skeleton of an antique bicycle long forgotten. While I continued to clean the windows, I thought about the bike and generated questions in my mind: Why had someone left such a beautiful bike behind? Who was its owner? How long had it been there? I began to feel sorry for it, and decided that Vanessa and I should reclaim it. The Student Gallery is on a grey, dismal strip of Dundas overwhelmed by cement and void of an greenery. Vanessa and I agreed to plant some flowers in bike’s basket. Soon the ideas escalated and we were on our way to buy several cans of neon spray paint.
On the only day that it wasn’t raining last week, I set myself to work on the Raleigh. I sanded it (a laborious task since the entire frame of the bike was covered in rust) and then I primed it. As the bike went from rusted brown to white, people began to ask me about it: What are you doing? Is it a memorial? etc. The long forgotten bike was creating some buzz. Once the primer was dry, I spray painted the bike in a neon orange colour that Vanessa and I picked out together at Montana Colours (also known as The Bomb Shelter).
Come late afternoon, the bike was glowing and so was I. It looked better than I had imagined. In fact, it looked fucking incredible (excuse me, but the F- word is absolutely necessary here). When Vanessa came by to see the finished result, the two of us danced around the Gallery squealing with pride and joy. We agreed that this would be the first of an ongoing project called “the really-fucking-cool-urban-street-project” — or just THE GOOD BIKE PROJECT.
Two days after the bike was completed it had been tagged and talked about more times than I can count. People stop outside to take photos. One father took a photo of it last week and brought his son back to see it in person. Another little boy told me I had a beautiful bike and that he wished he had an orange bike like mine. A woman shook my hand and thanked me for brightening the street. Two police officers came by on numerous occasions to see the transformation of the bike unfold. By the end of the day they were suggesting what types of flowers to plant in the basket and honking and waving as they rode by in their cruiser! The bike has propelled a wave of positivity and interest on the street and in the Gallery.
Yesterday, I arrived to the gallery with flowers ready to plant, only to find a notice from The City stapled to our bike. As it turns out, it’s illegal to store bicycles on public property; and so we have been given seven days to remove the bike. If we fail to comply, the bike will be taken away to be destroyed. The funny thing is that this bike has been sitting in the same place for months, unnoticed by The City; however, once it is brightened and made beautiful, it’s got to go. I am determined to save the neon bike that has clearly made so many people happy. Please help me by emailing your petition letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us why the neon bike is A GOOD THING, and why it should remain! We’ve got 6 days!!!!
Sunday morning are glorious — especially when you meet your friends for a ridiculously amazing brunch at Saving Grace at 907 Dundas St W. (just next door to Ezra’s Pound, another favourite). If you know what you’re doing, you’ll show up in time for opening at 10am because this place gets packed on the weekends! Admittedly, 10am can seem mighty early on some Sundays; so it’s a good thing that this place knows how to make a wow-worthy coffee! These javas are a cloud of airy milk foam and cinnamon dust. It’s the perfect treat to tide you over until the main event comes. Bon appetite! YUM!
Who are you? my name is Peter Thomas Ryan. My initials are P.T.R – sounded out, they say Peter. I am overly proud of this fact. ————- What is on your ipod / bookshelf? I seem to listen (almost exclusively) to the Beach Boys, and Motorhead. In a perfect world these two groups would have somehow joined forces and solved all world problems with their laid back, extremely fast, surf metal. ————— Where do you seek inspiration? I stare off into space a lot, half expecting to see something others don’t. That aside; dogs, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, sandwiches, screen printing, photocopying things, illustrators, bears etc. ————— When did you start creating? I’ve drawn longer than I’ve done anything else. Its my best friend, worst enemy, and occasional frenemy. ————— Why Toronto? The noise and the hustle steady me.
Spent my sunny Saturday wandering around downtown and buying (serious) silly things, like these wonderful Canadiana inspired alphabet collage postcards by local artist Laurie Kang, which I found at the Drake General Store. I picked up L[oonie on the rise], 0[utdoor enthusiasm] and N[ation of diversity]. ——- I first came across Kang’s work at the Artist Project Toronto fair, which took place at Exhibition Place in early March. When I saw her playful paper dreams, I’m pretty sure that I let out a squeal. They’re the perfect blend of geometric abstraction and surrealist wit and I just love, love, love them. A trained and practising photographer, collage is a new medium for Kang; but it looks like she’s a natural.
Speaking of Fieldguided, I received my very own locally printed Anabela tote in the mail yesterday! I ordered it on Etsy last week, and I’m so thrilled to have it in hand. It’ll be the piece of home that I take with me to Italy next week. Ciao tutti!
Before seeing Bill Cunningham New York (which, for the record is a totally fabulous documentary), I went over to my friends’ apartment for a summer salad and a glass or two of white wine. I had to take some photos of their lovely, curated vignette; the dusk sunlight against the whites and pinks looked oh so Fieldguided. I am especially fond of the dusty-pink bong in between the petite disco balls! Erin and Malcolm also have a giant disco ball hanging above their dining room table, when the sun hits it in the right place it’s a glorious stand in for a chandalier.
MADE is one of Toronto’s leading hubs for innovative and playful (and mostly local) design. Owners Julia Nicholson and Shaun Moore are an extraordinary duo: they design and build their own furniture; they sell the work of other designers; they help clients decorate their homes; and they curate major design events like Radiant Dark and DO DESIGN. On top of this, they are both immensely generous, kind and knowledgable. I am a huge fan of theirs.
The majority of the products in the store re-appropriate everyday objects in one way or another -– a trend in contemporary furniture design that I just can’t get enough of (see Droog, Boex and Stuart Haygard for more on this). MADE sells coat hangers made from hockey sticks (Stephen Lindsay), chairs made from raw tree branches (Ryan Legassike), quilts made from left over fabric scraps (Philip Sparks), a tapestry made from old sweaters (James Fowler), a chandelier made from florescent light tubes called “This is not an F-ing Droog Light” (Castor designs) and a stool made from a milk crate (in house). The British painter David Hockney once said, “art moves people and design does not, unless it is a bus.” MADE Design proves Hockney wrong.
I recently bought my first piece of milk crate furniture from MADE. I have long been infatuated with Julie Nicholson and Shaun Moore’s milk crate designs, and after visiting the store for years and writing a twenty-five page paper called “The Milk Crate Stool: The Biography of An Object”, I simply had to have one. When I proudly announced that I wanted to buy a milk crate bench, Julie and Shaun lead me into the back yard of their store. To my surprise and delight the yard was full of reclaimed milk crates. I chose a few options, and Shaun and Julie helped me move them around to see which combination of colours worked best together. We all agreed on the final three crates and I left giddy with anticipation for my bench.
The idea for milk crate furniture came to Julie and Shaun while they were preparing to open their store. It is interesting to note, that upon their opening, they did not remove the sign of the Chinese restaurant that had been there before they arrived. Instead they simply put metal letters spelling the word MADE over top of it, leaving the biography of the building exposed. The store contained no furniture at the time, so Julie and Shaun brought in some milk crates that they had found to sit on. They were both drawn to the bright colours of the crates, their patterns and their interlocking structures. Their milk crate furniture was first produced for The Gladstone Hotel’s “Come Up To My Room” exhibit in 2007 and became a big hit. “People find them charming and quirky,” said Nicholson. “A lot of people seem to have histories with the milk crate or just appreciate their colours and patterns.”
The growing number of blogs dedicated to the milk crate is evidence of this (see www.milkcratedigest.com or http://milkcrate.com.au/). The overall form of the stool references the Queen Anne style; however the grid-like patterns on the milk crates themselves are reminiscent of oriental lattice patterns. The designers feel that the latter association is a witty play on the mass production of commodities common to China, and that the combination of styles alludes to the East/West binary as well as that of local/global.
The juxtaposition of the banal crate, associated with student furnishing, with the antique legs is what gives the piece its humor and wit. The milk crates come from basements, from curbsides and from alleyways. Occasionally, Julie and Shaun will ask a storeowner for a specific milk crate, because of its distinctive colour or patterning.
A growing number of designers are realizing the importance of humor and wit in design. Humor is not only used to bring people happiness, but is also effective in communicating a message that is often not a lighthearted one. The Spanish designer Víctor Juan observes that humour, whether used in art, design, or advertising, “gives a powerful boost to the message one wants to send. And all the more so when the aim, for example, is to make social criticism.” Juan is inspired by artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, sculptors such as Tony Cragg and Damien Hurst as well as other designers such as Achille Castiglione, Enzo Mari and Constantin Boym. They all “appropriated reality, flirted with vulgarity, with the minor and with kitsch.” He believes that their inclusion of “contaminated everyday objects” imbues their work with a sense of humour and emotional overtones.
The Milk Crate Bench expresses a relatively new idea among designers: a product does not have to be new to be fashionable. Newness can come from a new idea rather than the thing itself. The stool allows us to see the milk crate with fresh eyes, and in doing so it exposes the excess of objects that surround us, in a manner that is playful and fun.
This is my beloved milk crate bench. When Shaun dropped it off, he told me that this bench is his favourite so far! I am totally in love with it.
Who are you? Jill Wood. Some people call me Jillian, I think it makes me sound more distinguished. I design and manufacture accessories under the name Headmistress.
What’s on your ipod/bookshelf? My iPod hasn’t been updated since I graduated 3 years ago because I’m very lazy and have started streaming talk radio more. But lately I’ve been revisiting a playlist from a ‘Pop Music After 1945’ class that I took. For one class the prof performed (by himself) Weezer’s entire Blue Album to a 300+ lecture hall.
Where do you seek inspiration? I get a lot of inspiration from Liberty fabrics. They are the undisputed masters of the unexpected colour combo. Their swatch books give me chills.
When did you start creating? I grew up in a creative home (my dad can fix anything and builds airplanes in his spare time, my mom is a seamstress, stone carver, totem pole carver, cement sculptor, abstract flower welder, the list goes on and on). I’ve been known for my glue gunning prowess for a long time and fell in love with that medium when attaching macaroni to christmas ornaments at age 5 or something. I really didn’t start to be legitimately creative on my own terms until after I graduated in 2008 with a sociology degree and serious anxiety about the future.
Why Toronto? I’m from Stratford (Ontario), I went to school in Montreal and soon after, I moved to London for a stint. When my boyfriend and I returned to Canada, Toronto seemed like a good option for us: it’s close to our families; and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the centre of the universe in terms of Canadian headband design.
This is a pack of sixteen postcards that I bought at Function13 last week. The gallery’s fundraiser, To Japan With Love, displayed prints and postcards made by a collective of artists, all of whom have strong ties to Japan. Although the show ended on May 7, you can still donate to the cause by visiting the collective’s website. Lately, the media has been rather distracted from Japan in the wake of the Royal Wedding, the Federal Election and the death of Bin Laden; however it is important to remember that Japan is still suffering enormously and we must continue to help them in whatever way we can, even if it means just buying a few pretty postcards.
Last weekend, the Toronto Reference Library played host to the sixth Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Featuring more than 200 exhibitors from home and abroad, this was the largest TCAF to date; its size and diversity was a testament to the feel-good optimism inspired by the comic-book form.
In American author Michael Chabon’s 600-page love letter to the so-called golden age of comic books, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, two young protagonists invent a superhero capable of battling the most serious threat to their known world, Nazism: “He doesn’t just fight it. He frees the world of it. He frees people, see? He comes in the darkest hour.” Though comics have long ceased to be superhero-centric, the same romantic idealism continues to define the medium.
Edward Kanerva, the Power Plant’s programs and publications coordinator, was present at TCAF as a representative for the Toronto publishing house Pop Sandbox, which specializes in original graphic novels. (Disclosure: I work part-time at the Power Plant as well.) When asked why he feels strongly about such projects, Kanerva replied, “I love comics for their potential. Their combination of text and image offers an incredible range of possibilities. We might not have seen the Gesamtkunstwerk yet, but comics get us pretty close.”
At the Pop Sandbox booth, Kanerva and his comrades were promoting their newest publication The Next Day, a “graphic novella” that delves into the depths of suicidal minds and begs us all to consider the power of tomorrow. Written by Paul Peterson and Jason Gilmore, and illustrated by John Porcellino, The Next Day conveys first-hand accounts of near-fatal suicide attempts and asks, “What if they had waited just one more day?” In its own way, this novella is an abstract version of the superhero imagined by Joe and Sammy in Chabon’s book, reaching out to people in their darkest hour.
True to the democratic spirit of comic arts, many of the TCAF booths were manned by self-publishing artists selling small batches of zines and other multiples. Wowee Zonk’s small-press exhibition on the library’s second floor was the hub for such exhibitors including Shannon Gerard, the celebrated local behind the hyper-hipster Plushtache. Gerard’s Unspent Love, or Things I Wish I Told You zine series is a touching example of the honest, poetic and personal voice that finds strong footing as printed ephemera. Reading “I am still scared when I get up in the night to pee” in Unspent Love # 6, for example, one feels rather as if they’re the peeking inside a limited edition of the artist’s own diary.
The importance of sharing and connecting was at the heart of TCAF. Hugh Frost of Landfill Editions, who travelled all the way from London, England, for the two-day event, said, “TCAF is a nice opportunity to meet people. It brings a social aspect to the generally introverted world of books, and it’s the perfect excuse to travel to new places, see old friends and make new ones.” Frost began Landfill Editions in 2009 with the aim of connecting like-minded graphic artists and developing a strong collective voice. To that end, he’s published the inaugural issue of Mould Map, which promises to be a regular comics and narrative art publication. Mould Map 1 is a beautiful large-scale zine in vibrant blue and fluorescent orange that features work by 15 international artists.
Brooklyn artist and TCAF exhibitor Caitlin McGurk describes the power and popularity of comic arts best in the introduction to her A Field Guide to Edible Roadside Plants: “It doesn’t take much to draw a speech bubble on a doodle and convey something. With that in mind, share your ideas. Spread your personal knowledge in any way you can. Study the things you’re interested in, and tell someone about them. Make something real.”
Our wonderful city through the eyes of Cecily Vessy — UK based illustrator and creator extraordinaire! I received this wonderful illustration/note in the post today and I can’t stop staring! It perfectly captures what Cecily said of Toronto’s skyline during her recent stay in the city: “it’s positively space-age!”
On May 1 — to celebrate International Dance Day and the then upcoming election —the esteemed Canadian dancer and choreographer Brian Solomon, along with his dance partners Mariana Medellin-Meinke and Whitney Hewitt, took over the streets of Toronto in a chaotic, fantastic performance called Vote Us that was inspired by the city’s most loved and hated politicians.
I was lucky enough to encounter the performance on Yonge Street at Dundas Square, an area of the city that attracts a diverse range of people (many of whom are not accustomed to performance art). “Vote Us” began with “Stephen Harper” stumbling through the intersection and dancing his way to the sidewalk in front of the Eaton centre. People shouted and cheered out their car windows. A crowd formed around the dancer almost instantly. Soon after “Rob Ford” and “Obama/Bush” penetrated the crowd, gyrating to Harry Belafonte’s “Hosanna,” which sounded from a graffitied ghetto blaster. Later “Obama/Bush” was replaced by “Anonymous woman” who was beaten to the ground by the dancing politicians. The Elvis and Charlie Chaplin impersonators, who had been performing on the sidewalk prior to the performance, froze, begrudgingly as the dance continued. The song’s lyrics rang loud and true:”House built on a weak foundation will not stand, oh no! Stories told through all creation will not stand, oh no!”
As I watched the dance unfold, I was filled with hope for the upcoming election. Surely our federal election could not be as devastating as the city’s municipal election last September. Watching “Stephen Harper” leap into the air and grab his crotch and Rob Ford pliet and ride a tricycle unsuccessfully, I couldn’t believe that we would have to endure another four years of the Harper government. I mean, wouldn’t it be great to have a government that actually supported artists like Brian, Mariana and Whitney?
In hindsight, Brian’s dance is full of empty hope. One thing is for certain, for the next four years there is going to be a lot less dancing in the streets; and if you want to dance, you better be willing to do it for free because Harper’s not going to pay for any of it.