Drawing a Local Art Scene in Toronto
From larger-than-life murals to head-turning architecture, art has always played a crucial role in the urban environment. The growing presence has created more opportunities for artists, but with the scale, often favors more-renowned names. What about the little guys?
Look no further than Toronto. Canada’s most populous city has always had an art scene, but with creative outlets both long-standing and new, the city is fostering a community of independent artists in bigger and more diverse ways than ever before.
ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND ART
The colors stand out most vibrantly in Kensington Market, arguably the cultural center of Toronto. It’s also home to the Kensington Market Art Fair, an outdoor event that happens six times a year and is a hotspot for local artists. Walking through the aisles, you’ll find everything from painting to photography, and jewelry to sculpture, but wander off into town and you’ll stumble upon eccentric street art in all sizes. The downtown neighborhood is “known as one of the outdoor museums of Canada,” says director and curator Rafi Ghanaghounian. “A lot of artists have done cool work here, whether they're commissioned or not.”
Of course, in the digital age, the way we shop for art is changing. Many artists turn to the homemade success of online platforms like Etsy, but those looking to push it further than the booths can turn to another unique marketplace. Nuvango, a Toronto-based manufacturer, sources work from independent artists and prints everything from iPhone covers to leggings. Art is also available on canvases and in frames for those seeking traditional formats.
When Nuvango began nearly a decade ago, it looked to places like New York and California for artists to collaborate. Now, the company has increasingly sourced art from its own home turf in Toronto. With the opening of their first brick-and-mortar location, their local influence is stronger than ever.
Cale Fair, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Nuvango, is excited to be a part of this local renaissance. “From day one, we’ve had artists from Toronto, but in the last year or so, we’ve made a concerted effort to bring in more from the community,” he says. “We're a part of this really exciting time where Toronto's art scene is really blowing up.”
MAKE YOUR MARK(ER)
An energetic part of that scene is Trio Magnus, an eccentric illustrator group that formed in the city. In 2007, artists Steve Wilson and Aaron Leighton started to go to cafes and draw together for fun. As they invited other illustrators and artists to join in, they began meeting every two weeks at Future Café & Bakery, which became known as “Pen Club.” Not long after, Trio Magnus' third member, Clayton Hamner, became a fixture.
“We liked the way we worked together,” says Wilson. “We found that when we started drawing on the same paper rather than in our own separate sketchbooks, we liked the result. We just kind of complemented each other’s styles.”
Fair knows the benefit of this collaboration. “There's a lot of great things happening in this town, and most importantly, everyone is kind of on the same team,” he says. “There's a lot of community, and people banding together. I don't know if that's a generational thing—I think it partly is.”
As the trio moved from small-scale paper on café tables to large canvases pinned to giant walls, others in the art community began to take note. They received invitations to do live drawings at events, and eventually published a book, Equally Superior, with one of Toronto’s key figures of the comic scene on Koyama Press.
TAKE IT TO THE STREETS
But an unconventional group deserves an unconventional canvas. These three groups banded together to create Zipcar's most colorful set of wheels. With illustrations by Trio Magnus, a custom print job by Nuvango, and a display at Kensington Market Art Fair, this collaborative ride came to life, and now roams around the city as a mobile art exhibit for all to enjoy.
How do you translate flat drawings to a three-dimensional platform? According to Wilson, treat it like a giant (car-shaped) doodle. “The whole thing is to do everything spontaneously without thinking about it too much,” he explains. “We don't plan anything out—we just let the subconscious go and let it flow out.”
Trio Magnus' process was an exciting departure from the usual business of printing artwork to canvases, cell phone covers, and clothing. Fair explains that “with most of our products, we use a digital image and tweak it until it looks good on the product,” but this image was custom-made for Zipcar.
While most artists will stick to more standard displays, it’s undeniable that there’s a lot in store for the creative landscape. With so much talent igniting within city limits, outlets like Kensington Market Art Fair and Nuvango have a newly inspired motivation to nurture the local community.
Says Fair, “We're really excited about what we can do in Toronto, and I think that's the first time we've been able to say that.”