As the tall shadow of pop culture looms large across our collective memories, most people know Toronto for two things: The rapper Drake, and former-mayor Rob Ford’s (R.I.P.) out-of-control, and very public crack addiction. Entertaining (though underlyingly sad) as both these unintentional mascots may be, we can assure you, Toronto has a lot more to offer when it comes to cultural exports. With over 160 languages spoken throughout the city, and minorities making up 50 percent of its residents, Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Reflective of that diversity is an incredibly rich cultural community that fosters remarkable talent, and artists whose practices are as multitudinous as the city itself.
Not only does Toronto host some of Canada’s largest art institutions (see: MOCA Canadian Art), but galleries like reference: contemporary, Stephen Bulger, Cooper Cole, and The Power Plant have been integral in supporting local, emerging artists. So regardless of how you might feel about Drake (or public officials doing crack cocaine), here are six Toronto-based artists whose work can be a part of your own collection of “Views from the Six,” even if you're not Photoshopping yourself gazing out from the top on the CN Tower like Drizzy (Drake).
Though Edward Burtynsky hails from Toronto, his works documenting the visual impact mankind has on the natural world tell a global tale—one that is as dazzling as it is incalculably depressing, no matter how much we try to compost, recycle, and buy local. The strange, unsettling tension between beauty and desecration presented in Burtynsky’s vivid photographs are poignant reminders that we are indeed living in the Anthropocene epoch. Burtynsky has been featured innumerably by The New York Times Magazine, Forbes, The New Yorker, and The Guardian to name a small few, and his work can also be found in the permanent collections of countless museums, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Guggenheim, TATE Modern and MoMA. The recipient of four honorary doctorates, in 2006, Burtynsky was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of Canada—basically just shy of being a Canadian Knight.
Comprised of three Canadian artists, Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal, and AA Bronson, the Toronto-based artist collective "General Idea" was formed back in 1967 as a way to collectively critique and subvert popular and media culture. By inhabiting its forms, General Idea produced unexpected works that parodied and ridiculed its commercial subjects. Though the group worked in a variety of media, they found a particular love for the do it (and sell it) yourself capacity of print. Between 1972 to 1989, the collective published "FILE" magazine—an ongoing critique of "LIFE" magazine, seeking to "interrogate the production and consumption of art as commodity"—and in 1974, began the non-profit space Art Metropole, which to this day focuses on the production and dissemination of artist-initiated publications. By the late 1980s, General Idea began to create work involving the AIDS crisis, including the above print. A powerful repurposing of Robert Indiana's iconic Love, it underlines the largely ignored tragedy of the disease which ultimately took the lives of both Partz and Zontal in 1994. Their work, as well as their actions as a collective have been a seminal force in artistic production, with retrospectives held at the MoMA, the Andy Warhol Museum, and Munich Kunstverein.
Not entirely unlike General Idea, artist Jesse Harris' practice is similarly rooted in counter culture, a do-it-yourself ethos, and an unapologetic love for printed matter. Taking the form of fanzines, buttons, street-art, screen prints, drawings, as well as the occasional painting or sculpture, Harris' work is endlessly collectable, often meant as tokens of community. As seen in the work featured above, Harris' work also often (and not without exceptional irony) expresses the cultural limitations of expression—an artist preparing to kick a football through a painted end zone, all painted so sweetly and succinctly it almost makes one forget the overriding tone of futility. The pervasive ease and tongue-in-cheek humor of Harris' work has made it to gallery walls around the world, including recent exhibitions at COOPER COLE in Toronto, The Journal in Brooklyn, and Night Gallery in Los Angeles.
A highly regarded up-and-comer in the Toronto art scene, Georgia Dickie makes found object works that demonstrate a keen, finessed, and profoundly intimate understanding of materiality. Each of her objects is created in a cycle of interaction as Dickie experiments with tension and relief with devoted attention so that each piece may realize its own individual potential. Dickie's remarkable sense of balance and poise is present throughout her body of work, be they sculptural, or in the case of Sundae, on paper. She is represented by COOPER COLE in Toronto, and has had recent exhibitions at Jeffrey Stark in New York, Springsteen Gallery in Baltimore, V1 Gallery in Copenhagen, and MOCA Toronto to name a select few, and in 2015, was the Canada Council for the Arts artist in residence at Acme Studios in London, UK.
Inspired by the Op Art movement of the 1960s, Vanessa Maltese's work utilizes minimal, often Autumnal palettes to create dizzying, playful arrays of pattern and dimensionality that seem to animate themselves on the canvas. Like a radioactive isotope, Maltese's dynamic works find the friction between positive and negative space, vibrating color, and flat tonality. Also represented by COOPER COLE, Maltese's work has been exhibited throughout North America, with recent shows at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery in New York, The Power Plant, and Halsey McKay in East Hampton.