Metro Morning

An outdoor art gallery, coming to a neighbourhood near you

If you've been through Toronto's Swansea neighbourhood recently, you may have noticed pint-sized paintings popping up on utility poles.

Swansea paintings part of 416 paintings going up in Toronto

Jorge Molina's neighbourhood paintings caught the eye of his local councillor. (Jorge Molina/The 416 Project)

If you've been through Toronto's Swansea neighbourhood recently, you may have noticed pint-sized paintings popping up on utility poles.

The paintings depict neighbourhood intersections. And they were hung as if they were in a gallery — with one exception: no artist signature.

Some began calling the unsigned installations Toronto's own version of Banksy, the anonymous public artist who has painted wall murals in the West Bank, London and Toronto.

The art caught the eye of the area's city councillor, Sarah Doucette, who publicly asked who was behind the neighbourhood art.

That's when the artist revealed himself. Jorge Molina is a local artist, actor and filmmaker, and those paintings were just the start of something he's calling The 416 Project.

In an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday Molina told host Matt Galloway that he's inspired to depict the mundane: hydro poles, fire hydrants and manhole covers. 

"I see art in that stuff," he said. "There's art everywhere."

From Instagram to the corner

Molina didn't start out wanting his project on utility poles though. And he wasn't trying to be mysterious.

He first imagined a showcase on Instagram. He wanted to transfer photos of the streetscape to canvas and then Instagram. "It looked cool," he said.

The idea to put it on poles in the west end neigbourhood was more of a social experiment. Would anyone take the art?

He put up three paintings, and they stayed up for almost a month. That's when people in the neighbourhood started wondering about the art. They posted on Facebook, asking if anyone knows the artist.

Molina simply doesn't sign his art. He never has. So revealing that he is behind the art wasn't a big deal.

But the attention got him thinking he wanted to expand the project across the city.

"If I stick them on the wall the only one who's going to see it is me and my wife and two dogs," he said. "If I stick them outside, then I get a chance for everyone to see it. I just wanted to put a smile on everyone's faces. It just brightens things up."

He phoned an art store to order 500 blank canvases but then thought, 500 has no significance. And so the idea for 416 paintings began.

His goal is to hang the mini paintings in all of Toronto neighbourhoods by the end of spring.

He lives in Swansea, so he started there. His ultimate goal, to transform the city into an outdoor gallery, is a ways off.

"I'm so scared right now," he says of the huge undertaking.

Molina has decorated the west end Swansea neighbourhood with art thus far. He plans to put up canvases in 35 neighbourhoods in the city. (Jorge Molina/The 416 Project)

The neighbourhood, art

Molina will visit a neighbourhood he wants to hang art in and take a number of photos.

Then he gets one of his 416 six-by-six inch blank canvases and transfers the photo onto the canvas. He then uses acrylic paint and markers to add his own touch and details to the work of art. Then adds a clear coat of paint to weather-proof the painting.

The neighbourhood scenes the paintings depict are generally everyday items, overlooked on a day-to-day basis, like garbage cans, street signs, gas metres and so on. "Very utilitarian stuff," said Molina.

The artist hangs the canvas paintings on utility poles. Free to those who want them! (Jorge Molina/The 416 Project)

Finder's keepers

Molina doesn't just want passersby to notice the paintings, he wants people to take them home to keep.

He then will track his paintings online, hoping the people that take a canvas contact him to let him know that they have it.

And it's all in the name of art. He emphasized he's not hanging the paintings to make a political statement or for later financial gain or notoriety. 

"I love art," he said. "I love making art. I love sharing art. There's really no other motive than that. It's art for art's sake."

"I had no idea how big this would be until I started getting into it," he said. "The whole city is my gallery."

For more information about Molina's work, and to see when his art could be coming to a hydro pole near you, visit The 416 Project.