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Off The Wall: Mat Hand

Portrait of a grey lady.

Mat Hand puts the finishing touches on Trace (2009). Photo by John Muldoon.

Toronto has its share of gadabout graff writers who, when stuck by the travel bug, wouldn’t think twice about stuffing a suitcase full of spray cans and hitting the road. Riding the rails, hoping on planes or washing up on distant shores, YYZ aerosol creations are displayed in numerous cities around the world.

It goes too that graff writers from lands yonder routinely visit Toronto and put up their works, legal or otherwise.

One such writer is Berlin-based UK native Mat Hand. In the autumn of 2009, the talented Englishman blew into town. This brief visit resulted in an impressive mural, more than a Trace of which remains today.

Mat Hand’s impressive portfolio can be seen on walls throughout Europe. Equally proficient in media ranging from paint to chalk, stickers, packing tape, and even tattoo ink, his work really got rolling with this unique photography project on wheels.

A contemporary arts graduate from Nottingham University, Hand has been enamoured with mural work since painting his first in 1999. Inspiration came from the late Mexican muralist, David Siqueiros who said, “We must ferment public painting in the streets, in the sunlight, on the sides of tall buildings instead of the advertisement that we see there now.” With this in mind, Hand works under the moniker, publicpainting.

While attending the 12th annual National Mural Symposium in Toronto in 2009, Hand spent two days painting Trace on the brick exterior at 2195 Gerrard Street East. The undertaking was legal. It was supported by Mural Routes and completed with the assistance of local artists.

In preparation for the mural’s application, Hand photographed Torontonians residing in his adopted Berlin. From these images, he selected the one that best captured “ideas of absence, identity and belonging.”

The individual in the portrait requested anonymity.

If the concept of using locals as subject matter sounds familiar, that’s because Toronto’s Dan Bergeron works on a similar premise.

Trace as it appears today.

Trace measures five by three metres. Located in a blunted alleyway, the portrait is best viewed from a distance—a telephone booth across the road, on the northwest corner of Gerrard and Main, is an ideal vantage point. Intentionally or not, from here the subject’s downcast gaze becomes squarely fixed on the viewer, further reinforcing Hand’s themes.

Even though Hand spent less than five days in Toronto during his visit, his mural nonetheless manages to capture the psyche of the neighbourhood. Like the intersection upon which the grey lady casts her gaze, Trace is melancholic, yet loaded with promise.

Besides his artistic endeavors, Hand has gained a global reputation for other reasons. Hand holds Guinness World Records in two categories: consuming the most canned peas using a cocktail stick in three minutes (211), and catching the most beer coasters flipped from the elbow (112).

As for graffiti, Hand hasn’t broken any records yet. There are, however, other benefits to creating in the public realm. His line of work allows him to “meet and talk with people I would not usually encounter.”

It’s a thrill, he adds, to be able to “create something out of nothing.” Income and travel are additional benefits.

Except for being tagged by Oface, Toronto’s grey lady has held up well. Noting the success of his previous visit, Hand said he wouldn’t be against returning to Toronto to do more mural work. In the meantime, the owner of the Gerrard property will be arranging to have the tag on Trace removed.

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