Toni Hamel fights for the underdog with her surreal and subversive paintings

Her work shows people, nature and unusual props in uncanny relationships with each other and with the world.

Her work shows people, nature and unusual props in uncanny relationships with each other and with the world

(CBC Arts)

Artist Toni Hamel sits in her studio outside Toronto, surrounded by paintings in which very unusual things are happening.

A bunch of men try to capture a spotted unicorn; a kid on a dock tries to tow a tiny iceberg in from the sea; an artist paints the spots onto a giraffe. Together, her paintings create a disorienting world where people and nature have started to lose their boundaries and animals are the sad subjects of weird human intervention. In this video, Hamel takes you into her surreal and subversive world.

Watch the video:

Toni Hamel's surreal paintings

5 years ago
Duration 3:31
Toronto artist Toni Hamel: "I fight for the underdog."

Hamel has painted these startlingly sympathetic scenes for years. Her concern for the natural environment is the driving force behind the surreal artworks, and her experience with mental illness has helped to inform her sensitivity to "things that are deeper than the surface." The artist confides: "I fight for the underdog and maybe that's where it's coming from — my psychological predispositions."

From climate change to global warming to the social and political issues that form the heart of her new series "High Tides and Misdemeanours," the artist uses her talent to shine a light on some of the inexplicable relationships and unfortunate injustices that are part of our world.

Follow Toni Hamel here and check out more of her work below!

(Toni Hamel)
(Toni Hamel)

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on CBC Television. Tune in Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT).


As a young child, March Mercanti would play with his action figures for countless hours because he was obsessed with telling stories...to himself. Currently, March is a filmmaker living in Toronto, ON. He works at CBC Arts creating documentaries for artists across Canada.