Category Archives: Public/Shared Art

Looking Slowly, Watching “Rising”

Zhang Huang, Rising - photo by R. Mair

Zhang Huan, Rising – photo by R. Mair

On visits to Toronto I watched this sculpture as it changed from simpler elements to complex combinations of shape and surface.  We would walk along University Avenue, already rich in public art, and pass this new and very different piece.

At first it looked like twisting, thrusting vines, or like the limbs of some great sinuous, headless creature rising and bowing and bending.  Then it began to sprout birds.  And then the birds were flying up the building.

It fascinated me.  It was something that I wanted to stop and look at, to walk around and see from different perspectives.  I wanted to, but I didn’t have time.  Now I’m waiting till I go back again to take another look – or several.  I want to see it in different light, at different times.

Zhang Huang, Rising, photo by R. Mair

Zhang Huan, Rising, photo by R. Mair

Because even though I’m not there it still stays with me. There is the sinewy underlying shape. It touches the ground, rests in the water, reaches up toward the sky. The vines/limbs contort like muscles working, twist and curve. They are more strong than peaceful, nature demanding attention.

They are also a strong, supple support. The birds rest and preen on them, land and take off and fly away upward. Their wings are multi-faceted and gleaming, reflecting the light, reinforcing a sense of business and activity. They want to fly away, and yet they can’t – the vine underneath and the building above must support them. They are, in the end, as earthbound as we are.

Zhang Huang, Rising, photo by R. Mair
Zhang Huan, Rising, photo by R. Mair

Birds and branches respond to the light. Sunlight moves across and reflects off the multiple surfaces. They change with the light around them, reflecting bright sun or cloudy skies or the gleam of lights at night. And the sculpture itself is reflected by the water beneath it.

It was created by Shanghai artist Zhang Huan, as a commission for the developers of Living Shangri-La, Toronto. Almost complete, it was officially unveiled last May (2012) after an incense burning ceremony and a poetry reading by the artist. The stainless steel sculpture is called “Rising”; the birds are peace pigeons and the twisted branches are designed to resemble the body of a dragon. According to a press release on Marketwire it represents the artist’s wish for a beautiful city life to be shared by man and nature.

I know that, like me, many people walk past it, sitting as it does beside a busy sidewalk. I wonder how many stop to really look at this sculpture, and wonder what lies behind it? Or do they walk past without looking, or glance and mean to stop one day?

Browsing through some of my favorite art blogs I came across a phrase that described what this piece needs: “slow looking”. When I read that I knew that was the phrase I’d been looking for. Slow looking – savoring what you’re looking at. Taking time. Exploring with your eyes, opening your mind and letting it wonder – and wander.

It’s a wonderful way to look at art. Or at life.

Wishing you all time to enjoy some slow looking…


I wanted to explore the idea of slow looking, so I put the phrase into my favorite search engine. I found Peter Clothier, who encourages and demonstrates a combination of meditation, engagement and contemplation that allows you to explore every part of a painting as well as the painting as a whole, just as it is. He encourages everyone to see art in a way that is completely their own.

And I found out that there’s a Slow Art Day, on which groups of people are encouraged to get together and look at five works of art for ten minutes each. Ten minutes is longer than most of us spend in front of a painting! This year (2013) Slow Art Day is April 27th.

Or you could do what I try to every now and then, give yourself the gift of time and use it to immerse yourself in a work of art. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Without the Archer

Henry Moore, Three-Way Piece no. 2 (The Archer), Toronto City Hall

Henry Moore, Three-Way Piece no. 2 (The Archer), Toronto City Hall

Henry Moore, Three-Way Piece no. 2, Taxiarchos228

Henry Moore, Three-Way Piece no. 2 (The Archer), Toronto City Hall

A few days ago I listened to part of a discussion on whether taxpayers should pay for public art (as I listened I thought back to hearing Toni Morrison say she preferred to be thought of as a citizen, not just a taxpayer). There were pointed and sometimes heated arguments made on both sides.

Public art is a contentious subject. People feel strongly about what they should be asked to pay for (or contribute to paying for). It’s even more contentious when the work itself seems difficult to understand, an abstract object like the sculpture Henry Moore created for Toronto’s New City Hall.

Henry Moore called it Three-Way Piece no. 2. Most people call it the Archer. It was commissioned by the architect Viljo Revell, the man who designed Toronto’s New City Hall in 1958.  His design was unusual and futuristic with it’s curved towers and circular council chambers above the public entrance and lobby. He wanted a sculpture that would complement his unique building.

Henry Moore seemed the right choice, drawn as he was to organic shapes, shapes inspired by the natural forms around him, by land and stone and bone. The power of his monumental sculptures lies in their size and the beauty of their forms; they invite you to touch them, to feel as well as see their beauty. They ask to be appreciated on a visceral, rather than an intellectual level, to be felt in the bone rather than explained in the mind.

The building had been inspired by and designed to fit into and work with its surroundings.  So who better to create a sculpture that would complement the flowing lines of the New City Hall?

Toronto, New City Hall (Taxiarchos228)

Toronto, New City Hall

New Toronto City Hall
Toronto, New City Hall

There was a hitch, however. The funds that were to be used to purchase the sculpture had been set aside from public funds – and many people in the city did not take to the abstract bronze sculpture that Moore proposed, nor did they agree that the (then) large amount of money required should be used to purchase it. There was much discussion, and in the end City Council duly took note of those objections and the funds were withdrawn.

But the mayor at the time, Mayor Givens, felt differently. When the funds were withdrawn he undertook a successful private fundraising campaign to purchase the sculpture. It was then installed in front of City Hall – but the mayor lost the next election.

Contentious then, now it is what it was meant to be – an integral part of City Hall, its presence taken for granted by residents, sought out by visitors, much photographed.

Henry Moore, Three-Way Piece no. 2 (the Archer), Toronto

Henry Moore, Three-Way Piece no. 2 (the Archer), Toronto City Hall

But if not for Mayor Givens and his campaign we would never have seen it there, its strong curves warmed by the sun on a summer’s day.


Image Credits:

First image of Henry Moore sculpture exhibited at the Toronto City Hall Plaza, View looking North, Image by User:Leonard G. and available under the Attribution Share Alike Wikimedia Commons License

Second image of Henry Moore sculpture by Taxiarchos228 from Wikimedia Commons, Copyleft Free Art License.

Toronto, New City Hall, first image by Taxiarchos228 from Wikimedia Commons, Copyleft Free Art License.

Toronto City Hall, second image by Antoine Cadotte, 2008-08-22, available under the Attribution Share Alike Wikimedia Commons License.

Third image of Henry Moore sculpture by User:Leonard G. and available under the Attribution Share Alike Wikimedia Commons License.

More Than Meets the Eye

Sundial, from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark

Sundial from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, photo by R. Mair

A simple sundial might catch your eye as you walk through Sir Sandford Fleming Park in Halifax. A closer look and you see that it is part of a public art project by David Clark called “Meantime in Greenwich”. Look around and you might see another one close by. Walk further and you’ll likely find more.

There is a particular reason that you’ll find them in this park. This is where Sir Sandford Fleming, the man who shepherded the idea of standard time through to its adoption around the world, lived and died. It is thanks to him that we now have time zones to help us adjust to the changes in the timing of day and night as we travel around the world.

So there are twenty-four of these sundials, twenty-four for the twenty-four time zones around the world. Each of them has a different title and a different theme. Each sundial face has a different picture on it, a different muted image merging into its circular background.

A few:

New York Times, Meantime in Greenwich, by David Clark

New York Times from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, photo by R. Mair

There’s New York Times, bringing together the city of New York (image in the background), the New York Times (the type of its masthead, the journalist’s typewriter, the anonymous face hidden by hood and dark glasses), and the idea of time (the pocket watch).

Hard Time, from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, photo by R. Mair

Hard Time from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, photo by R. Mair

There’s Hard Time, this pocket watch containing an image of a barred door/gate with its lock, suggesting the barred door of a jail cell. In the background the image suggests rough seas.

Real Time, from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, Photo by R. Mair

Real Time from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, Photo by R. Mair

There’s Real Time, with its old time television set with the number 24 on its screen and in the background the soft images of lights, action, camera… Incongruously, the 24 looks like the numbers on the screen of a digital clock, linking us again to the idea of time and of the present and of each day’s 24 hours.

Time and Time Again from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, Photo by R. Mair

Time and Time Again from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, Photo by R. Mair

There’s Time and Time Again, with white clock hands against a black Hitchcock silhouette within the confines of yet another pocket watch and the snake (or ourobouros) swallowing its own tail, its body circling within the watch frame as our lives are lived within the circling hours. Among other images in the background we can see the words “Outright terror… Bold and Brilliant”.

Time's Up from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, Photo by R. Mair

Time’s Up from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, photo by R. Mair

And of course it ends with Time’s Up, with a satellite within a group of circling objects, a diagram of satellites circling the globe. GPS satellites circling above the earth, using time to figure out where each GPS user on earth is.

There’s more to this set of sundials than meets the eye. As I learned when listening to an interview with David Clark on CBC Radio, this public art installation is meant to be listened to as well as looked at. Meantime in Greenwich has its own website/page, from which you can download twenty-four mp3 files, one for each sundial. None of the files is much longer than two minutes; each one takes what you see and expands on it. They contain an interesting mixture of ideas, stories, historical nuggets, facts about time, and riffs on different ideas and words related to and expanding on the images on the sundials. Characters and ideas recur, tying the spoken pieces together.

The sundials themselves invite you to examine them – the more you look the more you see. The spoken words delve further into the idea behind the installation as a whole, and the particular idea behind each sundial. They tease the thoughts, widen the ideas and invite exploration.

There is another component, but this one, sadly, I cannot comment on. An iPhone app, also downloadable from the website, is designed to allow iPhone users to experience ‘virtual sculptures’ when they point their phone at each sundial. An interesting idea, but one not easily available to those who have other smart phones – or do not have a smart phone at all.

Of course, many who come across the sundials will only see what meets the eye….

Which is interesting enough – but I wish that everyone could enjoy the complete experience.


For more information about David Clark, click here to visit his website.

Sundial from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, Photo by R. Mair

Sundial from Meantime in Greenwich by David Clark, Photo by R. Mair

Art of Communication – Graffiti reflects hope in Haiti –

M. Mair, Thinking, Black and White, Original Art

M. Mair, Thinking, Original Art

I follow the Repeating Islands blog because it is full of news from and information about the Caribbean and its artists, writers, musicians and film makers.  Sometimes it shares a story that touches me,  and that I want to share with you.  In the midst of devastation, violence, cholera and bad weather the only way to move forward is through hope.  Here is a story of one artist who puts that hope into images that everyone that passes can see, feel and understand.  Let us be grateful for artists like Jerry Rosembert, whose work helps those around him.

Graffiti reflects hope in Haiti –

More Art in Passing

The other day, driving through Halifax to work on the boat, we noticed that boards were being erected over the windows of a real estate office on North Street – an odd thing, we thought.  Then we learned why – faced with consistent problems with tagging and broken windows, the real estate broker had decided to do something different.  He was covering his windows and had hired two street artists to fill the surfaces he was putting up with their work.

Over the next few weekends we saw the artists at work – first one, then the other.  Here’s their completed artwork – it certainly brightens up the area.  Now we’ll see how much the taggers respect their work.


The first piece of art that was completed.


Here is another view.

The second piece was more difficult to take pictures of, since there were no good, uncluttered sight lines.  Here it is from an angle:


As you see it approaching from downtown...

Other pieces of art in passing:

The Mi’kmaq canoe by Lake Banook, the Dartmouth lake on which there is a world class paddling course.  I love the canoe for its simplicity, its elegance and the intentions behind its creation.  The words written on its rims say it all:  A gift from the earth to the Mi’kmaq – and from the Mi’kmaq to the world.


The Lake Banook canoe, looking from the pavement.


The bow of the canoe.

The totem pole on the island on Sullivan’s Pond, just down the way from Lake Banook.  It was carved by the Kwakiutl of the West Coast  and presented to Dartmouth by the government of British Columbia during the Canada Summer Games held in August 1969.


The totem pole given as a gift from west coast to east.

Hope you enjoy seeing them too!

The Value of Shared Art vs. Owned Art

Some art is clearly meant for sharing.  It’s found on building walls, along roadways, in public parks and gardens, even in places it was never meant to be, like tunnel walls and the sides of train cars.

Some art is created to be owned.  It’s meant to be sold, because that’s how the person who creates it sustains themselves.  Whoever pays for that art helps buy the artist who created it food and shelter and the tools to keep making art – and sometimes a lot more besides (how and why that money gets shared with others is a different discussion, I think).

Some shared art is paid for – by building owners, by governments, by funding groups, by business groups.  Sometimes the intent is clearly to help an artist share their work; other times the reputation of the artist is a large part of the motivation.

Art in museums might be considered shared art.  It has the disadvantage that it will be seen by fewer people than art outdoors or in public places, but at least it is there for those who want to and choose to see it.  Art is shared with those when artists exhibit in shows and private galleries, usually for a short time and with the hope that it will find an owner.  And whoever owns it will have a say in who else will get to see it.

The internet is another place where many share their art – or rather the best representation they can produce of the complexity, depth of color and texture of the original piece.  Some share freely; others with the stipulation that the image be used only for personal enjoyment.

I enjoy shared art.  I visit museums and galleries when I can.  I browse the internet to see what others are doing.  When I am out and about, I like to take the time to see the art around me – officially sanctioned or otherwise.  Sometimes when I stop to look, someone else will as well.  I notice that most of the time I don’t see many others doing the same thing (though I suppose if someone identified a Banksy creation that would be different).

Which makes me wonder about how most people see shared art (when they see it).   Is shared art seen as less valuable than owned art, simply because it is shared and accessible?

Does a work of art become perceived as more valuable because fewer people have access to it?

Dartmouth Walkway Shared_Public Art

Shared art on the harbour walk in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia