Somewhere in between the last dredges of winter's polar vortex and cooler spring temperatures, the Drake Hotel's curatorial team has been hard at work overseeing the installation of three new public murals by Julia Dickens, Micah Lexier, and Luke Ramsey. The works, which will be seen in public (Sky Yard, Drake Cafe) and not-so-public (if you've been a guest of our hotel, you're likely familiar with our third floor window courtyard) spaces, demonstrates the Drake's commitment to contemporary art, and playfully exhibiting these works for all to see.
Curatorial intern Marra Katz gives us an update on these in-progress works, and talks with Dickens and Ramsey.
How to describe Julia Dickens' work? In the artist's own words, consider it "contemporary psychedelic". While the Ottawa-born, Toronto-based artist and illustrator is still in the midst of finishing her Bachelor of Design in Illustration at OCADU, you've likely encountered her work on the street via the colourfully trippy flyers she does for local bands and spaces, including June Records and Double Double Land. (And then there's her music blog, The Loving Echo, which is regularly updated with playlists from female contributors).
Julia works primarily in 2D mediums, using figurative drawing, painting and text work to explore representations of memory and personal experience. When we spoke to Julia, she was in the home stretch of her mural on the North Patio fence in the Drake Cafe's patio. Currently, she's at work on the next part of her installation project — a wooden fence facing Ross Bonfanti's "Concreatures at my Window" in a small court yard that can be seen from the third floor window of the Hotel.
Marra Katz: Where was the text for this piece derived from?
Julia Dickens: This is sort of about chance encounters ... the uncanny and the connections that you kind of make with other people, or the lack of connections, but because of the setting, it's kind of romantic.
I feel like it's also a bit ominous, because it's in a dark forest with creepy eyes peering out, and that’s meaningful as well. Someone said recently that it reminded them of missed connections, and I think that's really interesting to place in a setting like the Drake Hotel, because its such a huge part of urbanity and modern life — walking around seeing strangers everywhere and the opportunity for a chance encounter, or for the unknown to affect your life is a really big part of living in a metropolitan city, especially here on Queen West.
MK: Where else can we see your public art?
JD: I did some mural projects with a Montreal collective called En Masse, and that was my first experience doing murals. I also did a mural project at Xpace Cultural Centre last summer, and then another one at the OCAD U Student Gallery.
Other site-specific projects also sometimes involve text: I did an installation of text bunting at Long Winter at the Great Hall in January, and also reused one of those pieces for back drops for Feast in the East, an experimental music event that happens once a month in the east end.
I also did a sight-specific [installation] for Ghost Hole, a yearly Halloween art party that I help curate in Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island.
If you were enjoying the few rays of patio sunshine in the Sky Yard last week, you likely encountered a big red "Artists At Work" sign, scaffolding, and Luke Ramsey. Known for his detailed drawing-within-a-drawing gestures of fantastically comical creatures that look like they're straight out of a sci-fi tableau, the Pender Island-based artist is swings between public murals in Edmonton and Norway, and illustrations for a clientele that include the New York Times and Mountain Equipment Co-Op (The Edmonton mural, done in collaboration with Josh Holinaty, won a National Urban Design Medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada).
Marra Katz: What is the primary focus of your art practice?
Luke Ramsey: I consider all the work I do [is] derived from drawings ... when I work on a mural, I think of it just as a really large drawing.
MK: How long have you been practicing art?
LR: I've been doing it since I was a kid but I’ve probably been doing it more seriously for the past twelve years.
MK: What inspires you?
LR: I'm really inspired by a balance of organic organized chaos coming together. I like playing around [with] ideas about duality and simplicity meeting a mess of patterns and different things.
MK: Where did the idea for this piece derive from?
LE: I think the space itself is really influential — just looking at the wall and environment and just seeing what I thought would be the best image. I definitely think that given the opportunity to work on a large wall, I want to create a large piece, so I basically approached this with having a giant face as the central character in the mural.
MK: Are there any specific artists that have or do inspire you?
LR: That would be an incredibly long list but off the top my head, Picasso and Paul Clay are huge influences on me. But there are so many - friends and other artists that are doing stuff today.
M: Where are you from?
LR: I live [on] a very small semi-remote island — so I’m surrounded by lot of nature — called Pender Island, and it’s about a two and a half hour ferry ride from Vancouver. I like spending a lot of time in nature, but when I get the opportunity to come to the city I just absolutely love it, because there is such diversity in culture and events going on and people watching. I really embrace it when I come to the city — I love it. Toronto is a good place to be.