Artist in Review: Sean Martindale

From the moment I met Sean Martindale in a street art tour coordinated by through the AGO Next, I knew right away he was doing something thoughtful and thought-provoking in our city. I instantly had a predilection for his plant poster installations that he so patiently and with gentle hands demonstrated for the group of eager art hounds that day, and then realized after perusing his website I had seen so many of his pieces around the city such as Outside The Planter Boxes.

He uses our city to engage the viewers in rethinking on ecological and social issues as he redesigns public and environmental spaces. I was able to catch up with Sean as recently collaborated with some like minded artists to create more permanent visual works that make us think as we pass by and in the same instant make us smile.

What was it that peaked your interest to explore ecological and social issues using the city streets as your backdrop?
I feel social and ecological issues are inextricably tied, and I’ve been interested in these areas for as long as I can remember. Of course, my concerns continue to evolve over time. I feel it’s important to not artificially separate what I do from my interests and beliefs, and I also think that my best chance of making positive impacts is to use my skills and to engage in these issues through my practice.

To me the city streets are more than a backdrop. Currently, Toronto is my home. The city is frequently the medium, form, and content of my work. I’ve been drawn to work in public spaces for a very long time due, in part, to my love of other things unexpectedly found when exploring the environments around me such as the graffiti I saw as a child.

I feel there are many reasons to intervene in the public realm. It is our shared space and the sphere where politics exists, but our society often lacks a sense of communal ownership. Public spaces are frequently taken for granted or treated as immutable, however, it is in and through these realms that greater change is shaped – be it positive or negative.

Outdoor contexts are usually much different than the white cube of a gallery. Works created in public are generally free to access, and are often encountered by chance. Interventionist works can elicit surprise and present a compelling mystery. The audience for these projects isn’t necessarily coming with any expectations or common background. In many cases, works in this sphere are not just seen by those who are already like-minded, but by a more diverse population. It is important to open and maintain room in these spaces for different and oppositional voices.


What are some new and exciting projects that you are working on right now that you would love our young professional readers to know about?
Although I’m a full-time practitioner, I always have more project ideas than available time and resources allow me to pursue. Currently, I’m working on contributions for a couple large upcoming public exhibitions in Montreal and Markham, and I’m also excited about a bunch of new street projects I’m planning for here in Toronto. While these endeavours need to be kept under wraps for now, I look forward to introducing and sharing these soon.

If you’re interested in learning more about my practice, I was profiled for the first episode of the CBC’s Great Minds of Design, and one of my lectures was filmed by TVO for their Big Ideas series, which should still be available to stream for free online. Some of my advertising takeover work is also included in the feature-length documentary This Space Available

What has been one of your favourite collaborations thus far?
Many of my projects are solo initiatives, but I also like to explore different types and levels of collaboration with individuals and groups both large and small. It’s impossible to choose a favourite because there has been such a variety, and I’ve made so many great friends along the way. One of my more long-term and continuing Toronto collaborations has been with Eric Cheung for our Poster Pocket Planters project. Another, more recent collaborator is Pascal Paquette, with whom I was paired by Katherine Dennis for our two-person show at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Pascal and I met for the first time while preparing for that exhibition, but collaborated closely on it and continue to work together on other projects. The most recent large group initiative to which I contributed would be the cARTographyTO advertising takeovers and public space reclamations. Some of my interventions for this project involved also working more closely with artists Courtney Parks, Adam Krawesky and Keith Cole (among others). In addition, I’ve collaborated with organizations such as the Whippersnapper Gallery


What the best part of what you do?
Determining my favourite part of what I do is really dependent on the individual project. Generating ideas is always high on the list, if not at the top. It’s usually the most creative part, and it’s often what makes me most excited. There are always challenges and forms of problem solving involved throughout both the conceptual and production of works. The research, experimentation and exploration – the learning – that is required by my work is very rewarding as well. The less-conscious flow that can be achieved while producing work can also generate a fantastic feeling, but this process can sometimes be a mental and physical test of endurance.

People are an incredibly important part of what I do, too. Meeting people, sharing ideas and taking part in engaging conversations is key. This occurs both through direct forms of collaboration and participation, and also through others experiencing or unexpectedly encountering my work. Through my practice, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some really interesting and wonderful people and to form lasting friendships. Seeing and hearing about the direct impacts of my work on individuals and communities helps keep me motivated as well.

Should ART need to be explained?
There are no hard and fast rules about art and whether it should need to be explained. However, I try to create art that usually doesn’t need to be explained (especially beyond basic context), but rather is enriched by further exploration, additional information or explanation. Generally, I strive to allow for multiple non-hierarchical levels of access so that everybody can engage with it regardless of their personal backgrounds and education. This doesn’t mean that I water down or dumb down my work, but rather that I try to engage more people in critical conversations through a variety of different entry points. I strive to create works that can be experienced and interpreted in different, but perhaps equally interesting and relevant ways.

What do you think Toronto’s strong points are as the art hub of Canada? What’s lacking?
This city is home to multiple strong and overlapping arts communities. As with other hubs, the incredible people involved are the most integral element of the arts scene here in Toronto. I’ve made wonderful friends in this city, and collaborated with many. Overall, I’ve found it to be a welcoming environment, but somewhat paradoxically, it can be incredibly insular at the same time. This inward focus isn’t necessarily a negative. In fact, it often produces wonderful results and fosters a very warm atmosphere for those involved. However, I’m generally more interested in larger and more diverse discourses. There are many others here in the city, especially emerging artists and curators, who seem to feel the same way, so it’s possible we’ll see a shift in the future.


Support in Toronto is also a mixed bag. I’m extremely grateful that there are some amazing individuals and independent groups championing the arts such as the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts, but in general, we need to see more assistance in all areas and at all levels. Although the arts are essential to our culture, and are proven to be a massive economic stimulus, the vast majority of cultural workers and artists in Canada live below the poverty line (even those working secondary jobs and careers).

We currently have neither the market nor institutional and government support of other major cities with vibrant art scenes around the world, despite our relatively strong economy. Arts funding accounts for a miniscule fraction of our government’s budget at all levels, but cuts to it are somehow heralded as major savings. For artists and organizations already operating on bare bones and stretched budgets, these cuts continue to have very real and major immediate negative effects. Moreover, the full impacts of such loses will only be felt in the long-term. Still, it’s not too late to turn things around.

Be sure to check out some of the Sean’s recent works while you are wondering the city.

“Time is on our side – yes it is” – Sean Martindale and Pascal Paquette. Mural work in progress. Kensington Community School fence on College between Borden and Lipincott. Funded by the office of Councillor Adam Vaughan.

“Love or Love” – Ranee Avenue Murals, 2012. Lead artist and designer: Sean Martindale in consultation with local youth and community. Painted by Sean Martindale, Joshua Barndt, Rocco Ursino, Salim Yislam, Michelle Collins, Jaden Beckford, Tamika Smart, and Hassan Mohamed. Produced by Art Starts in partnership with Toronto Community Housing and the office of Councillor Josh Cole. Funded by StreetARToronto, TCH and Lowes.

Also, mark your calendars for the art party of the year: AGO MASSIVE PARTY GOLD on April 18th, 2013.

Have fun and HEART ART!