The Alley, the Exhibit, the Book

23 March 2014 — Oh, let’s start with me keeping my promise from the previous post. Let’s go all along…

The Alley

“Subway Alley,” that is, quote marks showing this is my nickname not an official name. (I forgot to check whether it has one or not.)  On Tuesday, Phyllis and I were close enough to satisfy my curiosity about this place that everyone — dahhhling, everyone — kept telling me to visit: a graffiti-filled stretch of back alley, visible from the Bloor subway line between Dundas West & Keele stations.

It’s also accessible on foot, to my joy, a busy service lane between the subway line and the backs of buildings on the north side of Bloor St. West. We find our way into it just west of the Dundas West station, and look around.

Subway Alley, nr Dundas West stn

Not the same intensity of art as in some downtown core locations, because not the same intensity of buildings — but still plenty to see. And it has its own texture & context, energy bouncing between art on the lane’s south side to chain-link fence on the north, bracketed by the rumble of cars on Bloor St. & of subway trains beyond the fence.

As always, lots of moods, lots of styles, lots of themes.

in Subway Alley

That’s for movie buffs, but maybe you’re in permanent leprechaun mode. Yup, we can do that too.

in Subway Alley, on lane curb

Buildings rarely march straight-line down the alley, or anyway, not for long. There are ells back here, creating space for parking and for different mural pile-ups, as you can see below.

I eventually notice the clock, ‘way up top at the back on the left, but that comes after I make out the RIP in the large mural on the wall beneath it. You see a lot of memorial artwork in the alleys; I never know anything about the person being honoured, but I always feel touched by the tribute, & glad that someone does know, does care, & shows it.

behind Peggy Nash constituency office

Even that wasn’t the first thing I noticed in this crowded space. First came the great graphic by EGR, the faerie-woman portrayed all across the back of Peggy Nash’s constituency office. (She — Peggy, that is, not EGR — is the New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for this riding.)

Sometimes there’s a sequence of images. Start with this guy on his cell, for example, in an almost-real world. Not real, but despite the cartoon elements somehow so close to real, maybe because of the angles, both physical & painted. It’s almost as if you could poke your head around the corner to the right, as well as to the left …

in Subway Alley

Now check the next panel, and ask yourself: that car… in the mural or in the alley?

in Subway Alley

Yes, of course it’s in the alley. But the dance is there, isn’t it.

A final sequence swoops us close to Keele Street. First UBER (I think with others, but don’t know them) bringing us “now with lazer vision…”

UBER & "lazer vision" in Subway Alley

… hurtling that vision across some grillwork into a canary coffee klatch…

UBER's canaries, with coffee

… and leaping yet again, all the way to another of those wise ELICSER faces.

ELICSER, Subway Alley nr Keele

Which is the end of Subway Alley so back out to Bloor St. we go.

I discover, as we continue west, that all that dance between art & reality is having an after-effect. Phyllis & I are walking along the northern boundary of High Park, at the end where we have in past explored some large sculptures set in the woods, and I stop to point admiringly at this one. “It’s new!” I say, “very striking, a great spear of rusted metal, overlooking Bloor.”

tree "sculpture" in High Park

Then I start to laugh. Art by Ice Storm, thank you, the remaining half-trunk of what was, pre-storm, a great big tree. (But… isn’t it handsome?)

Speaking of transformations brings me to…

The Exhibit

Courtesy of my AGO colleague, DJ, I had a comp ticket for the current show at Toronto’s Design Exchange. “This Is Not a Toy,” it’s called, and that’s right, even though the exhibit consists of toys — reimagined, reworked designer & art toys, the title playing on their new identity as well as echoing the René Magritte’s painting, Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe.

The show is terrific, full of energy & play, go see it. Curated by Pharrell Williams, it is (to quote the brochure), “at the intersection of fine art, marketing, pop culture, product and graphic design.”

There are dazzling pieces, panorama tableaux, big goofy pieces, like this one at the entrance …

entrance to DX exhibition

… and window-ledge-size pieces as well.

"Companion (1999) by KAWS

I look first at the figures — Companion (1999), by KAWS — but then look past them, between & above their ears, across Bay St. into the Commerce Court courtyard & settle my gaze  on the sculptures over there emerging from the snow. You’d have to already know them in order to see them from here, but I do, so I do. (Still with me?)

After taking in the rest of the Exhibition, I cross the street and pay a return visit to Tembo, Mother of Elephants, three bronze figures by Toronto artist Derrick Stephan Hudson. Here they are up close, from the same angle as the mini-glimpse above …

Tembo, Mother of Elephants by Stephan Derrick Hudson

… waiting like the rest of us for snow mounds to disappear and water once more to dance in the fountain just beyond Tembo’s trunk.

Then I reverse directions and take a picture of the Design Exchange building. It was home to the Toronto Stock Exchange when it opened in 1937, and its sleek Art Deco lines suit its new life perfectly. I zero in on the massive doorway, and the frieze above it.

234 Bay St, now DX once TSE

One of the city’s great long-running jokes centres on that frieze. More specifically, on the 4th & 5th figures from the right. (I’m counting the group just before the 4th figure as a single entity.) You’ve found them? Okay. So. The 4th man wears a hat, he represents Businessman. The 5th man, the guy in front of him, does not wear a hat and represents Worker.

Now look at Businessman’s right hand, thrust forward so vigorously. Where is it? If you have a good imagination, or love a joke, or identify with Class Warfare, you will answer: “The Businessman’s hand is in the Worker’s pocket!”

Phew, what a lot of language to decode an image. (There must be a lesson in that observation.)

And now finally — and I can think of no clever link, so I won’t fake one — finally, we come to…

The Book

A couple of posts ago, I told you I’d just completed a new book (through Blurb), a book on Toronto street art called Walking the Streets & Lanes.

Blurb book by Penny Williams

I invite you to go have a look, riffle those pages, walk the streets & lanes with me:


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Leave a comment


  1. i’ll look at your book…such good work…congrats Penny 😀

  2. Fantastic tour! And I loved the mural story. Congrats on your book, I will check it out! ~SueBee

    • Glad you like the mural story — it’s always such fun, learning the jokes people tell about some public monument or artwork in their city. And thanks too for your curiosity about new book.

  3. What a great idea to put a book together….I enjoyed another fun filled artistic ramble with you in this post Penny 🙂

    • Thanks –it really amused me, to catch a glimpse of the Tembo sculptures like that, framed by those designer toys. Two totally different artistic worlds & intentions, dancing with each other…


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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