Atomic Toybot co-owner Cory Bartlett insists that he wasn’t looking to make a political statement when he sent out the call for Rob Ford-inspired art. He was just trying to put on a show that would capture the mood of the city’s artistic community.
“We started to notice that there were a lot of caricatures of Rob Ford popping up all over the place, so he was definitely inspiring the art community. We wanted to capture that,” he says. “The political statement was meant to be made by the artists. We tried to stay neutral.”
Bartlett may not have been looking for anti-Ford art, but he certainly got it. The pieces in the resulting show, Fordmania, are with a couple of exceptions almost all critical of Toronto’s chief executive. They range from gentle prods—the Ford brothers as Tweedledee and Tweedledum—to the outright vicious, such as Ford re-imagined as a butcher’s diagram of a pig. In fact, the only overtly pro-Ford piece in the exhibit, which closes this weekend, wasn’t even submitted as part of the original call. That said, when Bartlett received a letter complaining about the show, he couldn’t help but put it on the wall with the other works.
“[That] was really the only negative response [to the show,]” Bartlett said. “But it was also the only pro-Ford piece, so we hung it on the wall.”
The most positive response, he says, came from a man who went on a buying spree, and was shocked with other people weren’t doing the same.
“There was one guy who came in and bought up so much stuff, and he was like ‘I can’t believe people aren’t buying more,’ and I was like ‘I can, it’s pictures of Rob Ford.’”
While the art is generally anti-Ford, Bartlett says that his favourite piece in the show is actually one of the less critical ones. “His Burden” is a rather traditional portrait of a rather beleaguered looking Ford, accompanied by a candle bearing the same image.
“It’s not pro-Ford, but he’s definitely trying to show that he’s human, it’s more in the middle,” he said.
For artist Cindy Scaife (who created the piece in the lead image above), Bartlett’s call for Ford-themed pieces was easy to incorporate into other artistic pursuits. “I’m very interested in kids’ illustration, particularly vintage imagery,” she said. “So it was that, but with a twist on Alice in Wonderland and the unusual kind of co-mayorship that Rob and Doug Ford seem to have.”
Scaife says that one of the reasons artists like her find Ford such a rich source of material is because some of his proposals for the city are oddly visual in nature.
“Some of his idea are sound, but some of them are sort of far-fetched, like his idea for the waterfront, with the Ferris wheel and the tram and whatnot,” she said. “With things like that, the imagery comes kind of quickly.”
For his part, Bartlett says that the show is just part of a broader mood in the city, as evidenced by the fact that the response to the show was “much bigger” than he expected.