Image by Bret Kelly, courtesy of Ness Lee
We’re continuing to explore notable street art, and this week we venture into the unique realm of Underpass Park in Toronto’s West Don Lands neighbourhood. Equipped with a skate park and basketball courts, this beautiful public space is painted with a mosaic of murals and graffiti. One of the contributing artists is Toronto’s Ness Lee, whose intimate character illustrations are responsible for some of the city’s most interesting murals and works of public art. She was one of the AGO’s recent artists in residence, culminating her time at the Gallery with an interactive installation entitled We Have Together.
We recently connected with Lee to discuss her mural in Underpass Park and the philosophy of street art.
AGOinsider: Can you explain the concept and inspiration behind your mural in Underpass Park?
Lee: At the time I was mourning many things; the passing of my grandma, the loss of friendships, having to say goodbye to a lot of innocence and trust I innately had for people and my environment. I was thinking about support, having structure and stability—which is something my Ahpo was to me, we had a very intimate relationship. Especially along the lines of mourning and grief—how uncomfortable it makes people feel; how quickly in society we are expected to move past it. It was an incredibly hard time for me to feel like I had anyone.
AGOinsider: It’s hard to mistake the similarities (specifically hair) between yourself and the characters you often depict. How has creating art influenced self-exploration for you?
Lee: I completely understand how it looks like me — with the long hair. My reasoning I often say is especially learning how to draw human features we can often refer to the mirror. It reminded me how features can reference a specific background or race.
I do identify with the figures as a feeling. I have always felt my body was a feeling I couldn’t quite grasp. The way a figure can move, be free on a page, exist and take up space has always felt freeing to me in ways I feel like I couldn’t ever be, or embody.