23 February 2015 – Basquait is not top-of-mind on Saturday morning, though in general he is very much in my mind, since the Art Gallery of Ontario has just opened a spectacular retrospective of his work.
Top-of-mind is the weather: it is mild, and very grey, and snowing. It looks like this.
You see? I need colour. That’s why I’m trundling west in a College Street streetcar, heading for a couple of small art galleries up Bathurst Street, near Dupont. I pity the streetcar drivers, and private car drivers as well …
… digging themselves clear. But I’m just fine, I’m in my tall Sorel boots, veterans of the Canadian Arctic, I can mush through anything.
If you ignore all the inconveniences that come with a snowfall, it is also very pretty. It highlights line & shape, turns everything into a sculpture. Quite Mondrian, this grid-composition of stairway framed by gate & narrow laneway walls.
That could even be quite a Mondrian-inspired punch of yellow, bottom left. (Sorry, it’s a snow shovel.)
In & out of a couple of art galleries, good art, well displayed, why am I not more grateful? I don’t really perk up until I see this pawn shop window. Specifically, what stands between the bird house & the Mike’s Hard Lemonade advertisement.
I am now fully perked-up. I go in. I must here confess that I’m not yet registering the mannequin’s Basquiat references. I’m drawn by the torso’s vibrant energy and — once I’m inside — gob-smacked by the abundance & eclecticism of Annex Pawn. It’s definitely “more than a junk shop” as its slogan promises, and I’m not surprised when staff later tell me it’s also more of a consignment store than pawn shop.
I do wander around — Lalique & Tiffany here, war memorabilia there, neon signs & a knight in shining armour & vinyl records & guitars (including a Fender Stratocaster) & vintage clothes & art & stuff & stuff — and then I make my way back to that front window mannequin. When I ask permission to photograph it, the young saleswoman points out it is a tribute to Basquiat.
A piece of found art, she says: brought in by someone at multiple degrees of separation from whoever so lovingly painted it. And, presumably, who also composed the tribute poem on the bright green thigh. (“I searched online, but couldn’t find the poem,” she adds.)
By now, of course, I can see the Basquiat style & imagery.
The face on the other thigh, for example …
… jumps at me again the very next day, when my partner & I spend hours in the AGO exhibition. There it is — identified as Untitled, 1981 — large & powerful, bursting from the gallery wall.
This is a tough act to follow!
Good thing I next discover Weird Things, still on Bathurst & just a bit farther south. “It is a place with all the weird things you need,” promises its Facebook page. The first thing I notice isn’t all that weird, but it sure is colourful.
I ask owner Jonathan Peterson, a cheerful face through a little hatch at the back of the space, if this is one of the Pan Am Games “Play Me” pianos. No. It’s one that he himself painted, commissioned by TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) for an event. “When they finished with it, they gave it back. I store it here — it’s too big for anywhere else.”
We talk a whole range of things, from piano art, to 19th-c pottery urns (Farrar a name we both quote), to keeping frisky kittens out of Bathurst Street traffic, to Soviet-era cartoon characters.
Really! Not a topic I would have thought to raise, except I am fingering my way through a tin box full of bright enamelled pins. I comment they seem like Disney characters, only .. well … to borrow the adjective … weird. By now Jonathan has emerged from the hatch & we’re exploring the pins together.
“A local guy brought them in, didn’t know anything about them. Later a Russian guy identified them — Soviet TV cartoon characters got their start when a Russian artist saw some American cartoons around the end of World War Two, and went from there.” Beavers with chain saws, rabbits with scary black eyes, very stylish bears & roosters, some sweet folklore characters, and — Jonathan singles him out — the wolf who started it all. (Think of Disney’s Pluto, gone bad.) Check out Nu Pogodi.
So I am having a very good time, I am highly entertained, and I decide that my Arctic boots & I will keep on mushing for a while yet.
Past bikes turned Bike Art.
Eventually down an alley near Bloor, between Bathurst & Albany. From Bloor, it looks promising …
… but no, it disappoints me. To my eye it looks like the original murals have been (my judgmental word) vandalized with tags by other hands over the lower half. Vandalism or not, the later additions certainly destroy the coherence of the original work. I am somewhat cranky by the time I reach the Albany end.
And then I laugh, & cheer up.
Oh, thank you Matthew Del Degan and your “lovebot” campaign! This particular random act of kindness has just worked its magic.
The artist had planned to add a lot more lovebots to our streets this February, and what better month to choose. He seems to have achieved his goal. By now I’m around the corner, on Bloor West near Spadina, and look.
Over there, across the street, snugged up next to Lee’s Palace of alternative & rock music.
By now I am so pleased with the world, I don’t even snarl at the signs on the fence around this very private club, firmly telling non-members to keep out.
I just admire the snow on the fence.
I suspect they’d like the beauty of their snow also to be available only to members, but HAH … it’s right there for all of us to enjoy.