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ICYMI: Margaret Priest’s Construction Series

Toronto artist Margaret Priest engages with ornamental patterns of building materials to create the amazing works in Construction Series.

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Margaret Priest. The Construction Series: The Monument to Construction Workers - Terrazzo, 1994. Etching on paper, Framed: 57.3 × 57.4 × 3.2 cm. Gift of the Artist, 2019. © Margaret Priest 2019/2304.5

When we associate art and construction, it’s normally to celebrate architectural design. While admiring museum façades and grand foyers, rarely do we acknowledge the integral work of those who lifted the cinder blocks and hammered the nails. In 1993, Toronto-based artist Margaret Priest did exactly that, canonizing the important work of local skilled tradesman with her 85-foot long steel grid, The Monument to Construction Workers. The next year this monument would inspire Priest to create Construction Series   

With The Monument to Construction Workers, Priest asked 27 Ontario trade unions to fabricate a panel that would represent the specific material they work with. These panels were placed within the large steel grid, creating a mosaic of unique tiles and acting as the centrepiece for downtown Toronto’s Cloud Gardens. In response to this collaborative achievement, Priest completed 27 etchings on handmade paper, representing each of the trade union panels. 

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Margaret Priest. The Construction Series: The Monument to Construction Workers - Granite Tile, 1994. Etching on paper, Framed: 57.3 × 57.4 × 3.2 cm. Gift of the Artist, 2019. © Margaret Priest  2019/2304.8

Construction Series is a subtle yet striking collection of shapes and patterns, all of which carry a distinct personality, highlighting the artful complexity of the building materials they personify. Priest developed her fascination with construction, architecture and design as a child growing up in a working-class neighbourhood in London, England, in the years following the Second World War. Her interest in how structures are made was fuelled after witnessing the city’s robust post-war redevelopment efforts. She would go on to create unique drawings inspired by architectural photographs, as well as sculptures, paintings and prints, all of which explore the material qualities of modern structures.

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Margaret Priest. The Construction Series: The Monument to Construction Workers - Bronze Pipes, 1994. Etching on paper, Framed: 57.3 × 57.4 × 3.2 cm. Gift of the Artist, 2019. © Margaret Priest 2019/2304.1

Priest’s work is indicative of her commitment to insightful observation, personal memory and feminist philosophy. Her influence and impact have been felt internationally, exhibiting in many countries across the globe and having work placed in permanent collections at institutions such as Tate Gallery, Dallas Museum of Art and at the AGO. In 2011, Priest explored similar ideas to Construction Series in her exhibition of graphite drawings and cherry wood sculptural objects called HOUSE.  For her contribution to The Monument to Construction Workers, Priest was awarded a Governor General’s Award for Architecture in 1994. 

Don't miss Art in the Spotlight: Margaret Priest happening Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 4 pm. Priest will be appearing live via Zoom to discuss her drawings, sculptures, paintings and prints. Margaret Priest: The Construction Series and Other Concrete Matters is on view now at the AGO until Sept. 13.  

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