“Tara,” on Keele Street.
If you’ve strayed from Toronto’s main thoroughfares in the past decade, down the city’s oft neglected alleyways, chances are you’ve encountered the work of Dan Bergeron. A prolific street artist also known as fauxreel, Bergeron is best known for his multi-story wheat-paste portraits of Regent Park residents that decorated the walls of the social housing complex before it was redeveloped. If you’ve spotted a towering black-and-white image of a stranger’s face on a wall where it shouldn’t be, chances are it’s his.
And though Bergeron maintains he’s most comfortable gluing his photographs to outdoor walls, in the past few years he’s been invited to move his work inside—to some very prestigious locations. His installations have been featured at the ROM, the MOCCA, and the AGO, and, as of this past Friday, the Show & Tell Gallery on Dundas Street West.
“I’ve been waiting for the right work,” says Bergeron of his first commercial gallery exhibition. Much of his past art has focused heavily on issues of homelessness and social disenfranchisement, but Bergeron says this body of work, titled Faces of the City, is different. “A lot of my work has a very heavy social commentary, and for this show I wanted to take more of a fine art approach—to focus on the abstract,” says Bergeron.
“Frankie,” on wood.
The show includes photographs of several outdoor portraits as well as four large original mixed-media pieces on wood created specifically for the show.
Each piece—whether fabricated for the gallery or a city wall—features an enormous photograph of a face, cut from black-and-white paper with sections omitted to reveal the textured multicoloured surface below. For Bergeron, the surface of the wall or wood is as important as the photographic image that he lays on top of it.
“The detritus on the wall—the scrapings, the paint—these elements parallel the character that develops over time in the human face. I’ve incorporated the walls we see every day with the faces we see every day—this is what a city is made of.”
The outdoor pieces came first in this project, and Bergeron developed a sophisticated process to produce them. Once he had found a wall with the “history and character” he was looking for, Bergeron would photograph it. Back in the studio, he created a large grid, and then projected a life-size image of the chosen city wall onto the grid. Then, he attached the paper portraits to the grid with magnets so that he could play with their placement. This way, he could plan exactly where the portrait would lay and which sections to omit to reveal the evocative textures or colours on the wall below.
“It was great to develop that process, because when it came to doing these gallery pieces, I knew how to match everything very precisely,” says Bergeron.
The resulting indoor pieces created for this show are easily Bergeron’s most aesthetically sophisticated body of work. More dramatically manipulated than his typically straightforward black-and-white portraits, these pieces demonstrate a deliberate use of colour and composition that is likely far more difficult to achieve when working in the more volatile setting of the city street.
“When I work in my studio I’m in a controlled environment,” says Bergeron. “I felt I owed it to myself and the subjects to really take special care, because I had the time and opportunity to do so. The result is definitely different from my outdoor work as a result, but I’m happy with that.”
Faces of the City runs until October 3 at Show & Tell Gallery, 1161 Dundas Street West.
Images courtesy of the Show & Tell Gallery.