Historical Cities, oil on linen paintings, 2012-2015
Between 2012 and 2015 I created a series of black-and-white cityscape paintings inspired by my research into the urban histories of Montreal, Toronto and New York. For my hometown of Montreal, I began investigating how the physical layout of the city developed from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries using historical photographs and street maps I curated from les Archives de la Ville de Montréal, les Archives de la Société de transport de Montréal, and the Notman Photographic Archives at the McCord Museum. Mount-Royal 1896 (2013) is my creative interpretation of a photograph taken by an employee of William Notman & Sons, showing a panoramic aerial view from the top of a smokestack in lower Griffintown looking north over the city towards Mount Royal. One of the things which struck me in painting this image was how the socio-economic divisions in place today were already well established over a hundred years ago. In the lower part of the painting we see a working-class residential neighbourhood, cut off from the central market and burgeoning areas by railway tracks and train stations; the further we go up the hill, the more we see large churches, tree-lined streets and institutional buildings, until we get to the mansions of Westmount overlooking the scene. By painting each and every facet of the streets and buildings, but removing the actual people, animals and vehicles, I wanted to create the feeling of a ghost town, as a way to bring attention to how built barriers and neighbourhood divisions framed the urban geography. For me, these paintings represent a creative research approach to interacting with my environment: they are material manifestations of a process of familiarizing myself with the place I call home; through a combination of researching public archives and my own observant walks in the city, the images produced are an ode to the complex history of occupation, immigration, industrialization and expansion which has led to my own roots in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. Realizing these compositions allowed me to establish a deeper relationship to the city and a better understanding of my presence within it. This series was presented in a solo exhibition at Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto, in 2015.