Posts Tagged ‘ugly’

Let’s talk about this couple

mural on a subway wall, close up of a man and a woman. The man has an orange coloured face and is wearing a green jacket and cap. The woman has long black hair and a long pink dress

If you ride the Toronto subway you’ll probably recognize them from the walls of Queen station.

looking across the TTC Queen subway platform and tracks to the opposite wall where there is a mural, enamel on steel, of a couple as well as some buildings. An ad for shoes is blocking part of the mural

A couple of weeks ago I was standing beside them when I overheard a woman telling the man she was with that the people in the mural were Lord and Lady Simcoe.

I was fairly certain that she was wrong so I checked.   This is a picture of John Graves Simcoe.

A portrait of John Graves Simcoe

There could be some resemblance and John Graves Simcoe did play an important part in Toronto’s history.  He was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (1761-1790).  He established York (now Toronto) as the capital of Upper Canada in 1793 and he gave us Yonge Street.  But note the military clothing in the above portrait; he was a British army officer after all and I doubt he’d be depicted in a mural wearing a green jacket and matching cap.

There aren’t many pictures his wife Elizabeth, or Lady Simcoe, but suffice it to say that they don’t look like the woman in the mural.

A few minutes online provided the following information:   The title of the mural is “Our Nell” and the people are supposed to be William Lyon McKenzie and Nellie McClung.  Three buildings are shown, the old Simpsons building (now the Bay), City Hall, and the Eaton Centre.  The artist is John B. Boyle.

This is a photo of William Lyon McKenzie; I guess there’s a resemblance.

A black and white picture of William Lyon McKenzie

McKenzie was born in Scotland in 1795.  He emigrated to Upper Canada as a young man.  Although he held a number of jobs, he seemed to like writing for newspapers best.  After working for newspapers in Montreal and York, he established his own newspaper, the ‘Colonial Advocate’ in 1824. Although that paper went bankrupt and he fled to New York for a short time to evade his creditors, he used newspapers as a vehicle to promote his political ideas for most of his life.  To a large degree the story of Upper Canada politics of the early 1800’s is a story of the Tory governing elite vs the Reformer upstarts.   McKenzie was solidly on the side of the Reformers.

Toronto was incorporated as a city on 6 March 1834 and the first municipal elections were held later that month.  McKenzie was elected as an alderman.  At that time, the mayor was elected by the aldermen from their own ranks and in 1834 McKenzie was appointed mayor.  He lost the next election in 1835.

McKenzie was also a leader in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.  It was not much of a rebellion, more like a skirmish near Montgomerys Tavern (near Yonge & Eglinton) that the Reformers lost badly.  The rebellion leaders were allowed to flee to New York state.  Once in Buffalo, McKenzie declared himself the head of a provisional government of the Republic of Canada.   He even convinced some Americans to help him invade Upper Canada from Navy Island in the Niagara River.  Bombardment of Navy Island late in December 1837 by the Royal Navy destroyed the S.S. Caroline, an American ship that was helping to supply McKenzie’s followers on Navy Island.  And that was the end of McKenzie’s rebellion.

Okay then, that’s the man in the mural.  What about the woman?  I went looking for picture of Nellie McClung as well as information about her.  I recognized her name but I couldn’t remember what her role in Canadian history was.   First, this is her picture:

 black and white picture of a woman, Nellie McClung, sitting at a desk

I didn’t see any pictures of her with long hair or as a younger woman.   Nellie McClung was born as Nellie Mooney in Ontario in 1873 but moved to Manitoba as a child.   One of the causes that she worked on was woman’s suffrage and she helped Manitoba in 1916 to become the first province to allow women the right to vote and to run for public office. By 1922 women could vote federally and in all provinces except Quebec.  Quebec women could vote federally but had to wait until 1940 before they could vote in a provincial election.

McClung was also one of the five women who campaigned to have women recognized as “persons” by the Supreme Court so that they could qualify to sit in the Senate.  In 1930 Cairine Mckay Wilson was appointed Canada’s first female senator, just four months after the “Persons Case” was decided.

Now when you pass through Queen subway station you can think a little about the history that it represents, and not so much about how ugly it is.  Because it is ugly.  Especially this section of the mural:

part of a mural at Queen subwaystation in Toronto, a misshapen Eaton Centre with a grotesque looking woman bending over in her garden in the foreground.

Is that a woman in the foreground?  Or a slug with appendages?

There will probably always be some controversy surrounding graffiti and and street art.  Some people like it and some don’t.  There is street art with a lot of artistic merit.  There are a number of drab grey places in the city that are improved by adding street art.

Graffiti is temporary by nature.    Time and weather affect it.  Sometimes it evolves over time as others add stickers or comments.   This is a strength and a weakness.  All it takes is a marker or a can of spray paint to make your mark on a wall, a doorway, or any surface you want for that matter.  Unfortunately, there are people who destroy rather than create.

There are many examples of the juvenile nature of some taggers so these are just a few.


Stupid and clueless. The mural on Croft street commemorating the Fire of 1904 has also been tagged over.


a black tag over a grey and white painting on the side of a set of stairs

The word 'lame' is written on blue letters on a large black and white tag.

Great comment. Written on a black and white tag that was painted on top of a street art picture


The City of Toronto has a Graffiti Management Plan.
They try to encourage Graffiti Art while getting rid of Graffiti Vandalism.

Where the West Toronto Railpath meets Dundas West.

Where the West Toronto Railpath meets Dundas West.  The graffiti and street art that were here were painted over with grey paint, probably by the city.


An art exhibit in the Great Hall at Union Station, January 16 to January 23

I’m going to out on a limb a bit here and say like most contemporary or modern art, this exhibit was combination of  some shoddily thrown together nonsense and some well executed and interesting pieces.
One of the things that caught my attention was how people reacted and/or interacted with the different parts of the exhibit.  Union Station is not an art destination.  It’s a space that people walk through on their way to somewhere else.

A view of the Great Hall of Union Station with the provincial flags along one wall, the archway over the window at the end of the room, and an art exhibit in the main part of the hall.  Two woman are looking at sculptures on one side.  A video screen is showing a video about the exhibit - a man sitting in a chair is what is seen in this picture.

In the above photo, the women are using a computer monitor to learn about The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach, an installation by Iris Haussler.  In 2006 she turned a house on Robinson St. in Toronto into a ‘discovered’ home of a reclusive older man who had filled his house with over 100 sculptures that he had made.  At that time there was some controversy when people learned that there was no real Joseph Wagenbach, that his story was fiction.   There is a  Joseph Wagenbach Foundation with its own website.

A colletion of small sculptures of life like figures in grey and black.

Some of the Joseph Wagenbach sculptures.

A relief sculpture of a woman's head, on the ground.  In the background are people and some of the booths of Union Station.


A corner of a dimly lit white walled room. In the

‘Marbled Meanings’ by Navid Nuur. 
top right: ‘Broken Diamond’  made of neon, broken glass, argon neon blue light. 
center: ‘Threshold’ made of green florist foam blocks

With the above collection, I found that the light and shadows were more interesting than the green column.  I don’t know whether or not this was an intentional part of the exhibit.

Neon art piece on a wall.  It is shaped like a V, it's turquoise blue in colour and it is a bit bigger than the size of a hand.  It is mounted on a wall with the electrical wires visible.  It is shadow.

close up of ‘Broken Diamond’


part of a piece of art that is a pillar like structure cover with bits of colourful paper.  There is also a child's drawing in pencil on an 8 by 11 piece of paper.  Also a sign in blue letters that says .  In the background there are a couple of people walking past.

“I’m going to use the two hundred dollar artist fee from this project to pay my phone bill and with the money left over I’ll probably buy a pack of smokes and maybe order some Chinese food.” 
Is this a statement about the value of art?  Is this a f*ck you statement – if you, or society, don’t value art why should I (as the artist) care about my work?


A large translucent rectangular piece of fabric hangs from the ceiling.  It sort of has a face on it, yellow eyes and a small slit mouth.

Floating overhead and watching us with yellow eyes.


This photo was taken looking into a mirror.  A man in a long black winter coat and red scarf is taking a photo of some art on a wall.



Four people, two are standing together while one texts, and two others are walking past.  Four large square paintings (or photos?) are behind them on a white wall.

I know that art is subjective but I fail to see the appeal in large monochromatic pictures in an ugly shade of green.  They aren’t profound; they’re not making a statement; they elicit no emotion.


The projector is playing a loop of blank screen to a garbled soundtrack.

The projector is playing a loop of blank screen to a garbled soundtrack.


An art piece, a shiny silver coloured porta potty stands in the middle of the floor.  A trash container (real) is behind it.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the juxtaposition of the arty porta-potty and the real trash container behind it.  Someone tried to open the door of the potty but it was either locked or not real.  Note to artist: Why?

video art installations at an art exhibit.  The large clock and departures board of the train station are seen over the top of the temporary walls of the exhibit.