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A public perspective

ArtworxTO: Toronto's Year of Public Art 2021 has finally arrived—here are some thoughtful insights from artists making public work.

TO Sign Patterns of the People

Image courtesy of Danilo Deluxo 

We have now officially entered the City of Toronto’s Year of Public Art. Throughout 2021, this initiative will highlight Toronto’s diverse collection of existing public works, while also commissioning a number of exciting new pieces by both local and international artists. This year kicks off the city’s 10-year public art strategy, focused on Indigenous place-making, land acknowledgement and community engagement. 

Since July 2020, we’ve been speaking with Toronto-based artists who make public work, garnering insights about what inspires them and why they believe public art is so important. We connected with graffiti writers, abstract painters, muralists and architects—all of whom are prolific creators with unique perspectives. 

Artist Danilo Deluxo’s Patterns of the People – which is the new artwork on City Hall’s famous Toronto sign – was created as a beacon of representation for Black Canada. When asked about his artistic motivation in crafting the iconic sign’s new look, Deluxo replied, “To paint ourselves in the picture and equation of Canada. I will continue exploring this relationship between portraiture and patterns in future work. In our fight to confront anti-Black racism, I hope we see this piece as one of those incremental victories moving forward.”    

For artist Ness Lee, painting murals has been a practice more rooted in personal reflection. Lee’s intimate piece in Underpass Park in Toronto’s east end was inspired by the complex experience of loss. She candidly shared with us what she went through and how it informed her work: “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.”  

It may be future generations that stand to benefit the most from public art. That was artist Tannis Nielsen’s guiding motivation for her Lower Simcoe St. underpass mural. Made in collaboration with six students/emerging artists from OCAD University, the massive piece is a shrine to local First Nations teachers and elders. Nielsen shared her thoughts with us about the function of the work: “These murals act as markers of place and allow pedestrians a means to enter into accessing some of these teachings and will also hopefully inspire the pedestrians towards a greater sense of achieving environmental sustainability.” 

Artist Javid Jah is known for public art with an architectural flair that focuses on the connection between human beings and the Universe. During our interview, he shared how his interest in this conceptual direction was sparked by researching some of his own ancestral traditions: ”I really feel that research into the realm of the unseen is part of my ancestral tradition. I dedicate considerable time to learning to read and write the languages of my winding ethno-linguistic heritage (Sanskirt, Arabic, Swahili, Farsi, Gujurati) – a journey that has led me to take great pride in understanding that my inherited religious tradition as a Shia Ismaili Muslim takes a clandestine role in preserving esoteric cosmology through art and architecture.”    

This colourful spectrum of inspiration, principles and perspective clearly illustrates the important function of public art, and the impactful messages that it often carries. Stay tuned for more stories and candid conversations with artists as we continue to celebrate ArtworxTO: Toronto's Year of Public Art 2021.

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