Toronto sculptor and installation artist Kim Adams has won the $50,000 Gershon Iskowitz Prize for his contribution to visual arts in Canada over the past 40 years.

Adams is known for his moving vehicle sculptures and miniature cityscapes and landscapes, many of which are humorous and fun.

He combines a variety of ready-made objects in his work, including both consumer goods and industrial-grade hardware.  Among his creations are Dragon Wagon, an artwork on wheels created for the family program at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Bruegel-Bosch Bus, a 1960 Volkswagen bus pulling a futuristic diorama that is owned by the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Adams takes inspiration from street life, models and machines. Some of his installations involve him maneuvering his creations, such as Chameleon Unit and Gift Machine, like a carnival operator.

The Gershon Iskowitz prize was created in 1986 in memory of the late abstract expressionist painter. Since 2007, the Iskowitz Foundation has worked with the Toronto-based AGO to award the annual prize to a Canadian artist.  

Adams told CBC News he is very honoured by the win. "It’s a pretty special prize especially as it’s by a well-known artist who set it up," Adams said, adding that he recalls seeing Iskowitz at work when he had a studio on Queen Street in Toronto.

Adams, who works out of a studio on an acre of land near Orangeville, said he used to get his art supplies from Canadian Tire, but now occasionally gets items directly from the manufacturer – as when he ordered a panel van directly from Ford for a large light installation.

It can be expensive to find the parts and objects he needs, particularly for the dioramas. Adams works from model kits – he started as a boy and confesses he’s surprised that he can still be so absorbed by them. He plans to sink his cash award into his art.

 "Miniatures – that’s where the addiction lies," he says. "It got to the point where I started taking one piece to another – and putting them together and it’s another world."

The 61-year-old artist said he finds it hard to tell when a sculpture is finished and will play with several at a time, both large and miniature – at least until they’re sold.

Adams is "a sculptor of great invention and originality," Jeanette Hlinka, president of the Iskowitz Foundation, said in a statement released Thursday.

"He has investigated the use of playful yet formally brilliant reconfigurations over many years, yet remains fresh. Adams is known around the world for this work."  

Born in Edmonton, Adams studied at the University of Victoria and the Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson, B.C. His work has been shown in solo exhibitions in Toronto, Zurich, Utrecht, the Netherlands and other European cities as well as in group exhibitions in France, Spain and Mexico. He participated in the 2002 Sydney Art Biennale, Skulptur Projekte 97 in Germany and the Chicago Art Fair.  

His work was featured at a solo show at the AGO in 2007. The exhibit Bugs and Dragons included the aforementioned Dragon Wagon, a colourful vehicle that contained art supplies and activities for children and youth.

As the latest Iskowitz winner, Adams will be featured in a new solo show at the AGO and receive the $50,000 cash award.

Multidisciplinary artist Michael Snow was the 2011 winner of the Gershon Iskowitz Prize.