Saturday, May 12, 2012

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes

by Michael Cho

The first time I ever attended the Toronto Comics Art Festival was the last year that it was held at Victoria College, on the University of Toronto campus.  While looking around for comics to buy, I came across Michael Cho's table, and was blown away by the prints he had made of some of his drawings and paintings of back alleys of Toronto.  I bought two, and they have been hanging in my house ever since.

Now, Drawn & Quarterly has published Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, a collection of Cho's urban scenes, which means I get to own all of these fantastic pieces of art, at an affordable price.

I have always been drawn to quiet or forgotten urban settings.  I have long been fascinated by abandoned buildings or spaces where progress has marched on.  The back alleys of Cho's book are neither forgotten nor abandoned, but they often feel like they are.  The areas that he draws and paints are frequently shabby and devoid of human presence, just back walls, fences, and detritus.  There is a timeless quality to many of his pieces here, and save for the proliferation of satellite dishes and large plastic garbage and recycling bins, they could have been drawn at any point in the last hundred years.  These are the old neighbourhoods of Toronto that Cho captures here, and his record is appreciated in a city that is so determined to constantly reinvent itself.

These pictures were made using a variety of tools, from paints to ink markers, and they are largely organized by time of year and colour scheme.  His evening pictures perfectly capture the orangey-yellow of life under mercury vapor street lights, while his winter scenes, tinted blue, evoke the cold of a Toronto winter (okay, not lately).  Spring is filled with greens, while his autumn pictures are more reddish and yellow.

Every page of this book feels familiar, although there are few scenes I can identify with any certainty.  Cho has captured aspects of my city that I love, and I am certain that this is a book I am going to treasure.  It is a beautifully designed book, and I'm pleased that Drawn & Quarterly put this together for us.

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