Nova Scotia

Quinpool Road art explained by Joseph Drapell

Quinpool Road's Life was designed by Joseph Drapell, who spent two years in Halifax in the sixties after escaping Soviet rule in Prague.

Artist Joseph Drapell has never seen the completed work in Halifax

A small plaque honours Josef Drapell who arrived in Halifax as a refugee just two years before he designed Life. The Toronto-based artist now goes by Joseph Drapell. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Quinpool Road's Life was designed by artist Joseph (Josef) Drapell who spent two years in Halifax.

In 1966, Drapell arrived in the city from Prague as a refugee during Soviet rule.

"I fulfilled my dreams of freedom and of studying in art in the West," he said. "I had to leave my family and escape."

Two years later, Drapell was commissioned by Ben's Bakery to create Life, but it turns out, he's never seen the completed piece.

"I produced working drawings for it. I did experiments with Plexiglas. I know how it may have looked, I have photographs. But I was never once rich enough to visit Halifax again."

Drapell says it is up to the people of Halifax to determine what should happen to his sculpture. He says he does not own it, so he has no preference for a final decision.

The artist says he looks at his brief time in the east coast as being one of the best times of his life.

"I cannot forget the people in Halifax and in the Maritimes."

Drapell is now a Toronto-based artist. Since creating Life, his work has been shown around the world. His work has been displayed in New York City's Guggenhiem Museum, and the National Gallery in Prague. There's now a scholarship in his name at Toronto's York University.

It's been 47 years since Drapell came up with the concept for Life. Here's how he describes the piece: 

"Life" was commissioned by Ben's Bakery in 1968. It spans 20 metres wide and 3.6 metres tall along Halifax's Quinpool Road. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

"The central form 'male' is tall, impenetrable; the central form 'female' is shorter and receptive. From the left and from the right 'the forces of living' compress both sexes with reality (concrete walls). The three glass boxes represent our intelligence, our feelings, our emotions and our rationality.

On sunny days, the sun plays in them with that extra uplift, on cloudy days everything is back to 'normal.' The pairs of Plexiglas rods cast into the concrete walls represent our curiosity and symbolize our desire to see beyond the concrete reality of our limited world.

In our explorations of the universe we sometimes succeed, or pay with our blood (the fluorescent red Plexiglas)." 


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