10 artists raising the bar for indie culture in Toronto
On Sunday, art spilled out of 918 Bathurst every which way as Broken Pencil magazine's 14th annual Canzine festival brought indie culture makers from all over Toronto and beyond together in a cramped, congested, claustrophobic, chaotic, overwhelming, terrifying, anxiety inducing, absolutely wonderful gathering of colourful handmade and micro-produced items. As you might have picked up, the rooms were packed, yet amid the assorted programming such as radical readings and a zine-themed musical, I managed to make my way through all the vendors without knocking anything or anyone over.
Here are 10 standout artists, writers, distros, and DIY creators from Canzine 2013 worth paying attention to.
I've been following Deep Madder since 2009 when their minimal, monochromatic table stood out amid the colorful melee at the Gladstone Hotel, and I've grown along with them every since. C. N. Hubbarde & A. R. Arvelo McQuaig tout their monthly zine as a "production club for shy, sensitive, and curious freaks who don't fit in anywhere else," but that loops them in with the general indie sweater crowd and sells them short — these guys have a true gift with words and are, to be blunt, really fucking funny. A quote from their October 2013 issue, which focuses on embarrassment and humiliation: "whenever I'm not completely candid about my vulnerability, I'm overcome with shame." Wait, maybe you need context for that to be funny.
Tara Bursey is one of those artists who does it all — and does it all so well you have to see it to believe it (check out her website). Her illustration and book binding work is delicate and precise, and the content contained within has a strong and developed voice. I picked up "Goin' Down the Road," a self published zine which retells a story narrated by her grandfather about his migration from Newfoundland to Toronto. The half title page is a map, and the pages are carefully bound. I could have spent an hour at Bursey's table alone.
In 2011 photographer Garett Walker put together an exhibit pairing ordinary looking shots of Toronto with captions detailing unknown stories; in one shot, an unassuming plot of grass is exposed as a pauper burial ground near what was the Mimico Asylum. Walker offers sets of five postcards showing selections from the show, which offer a slice of hidden Toronto, and serve as highly unusual, emotionally charged tourist swag. Additionally his photo book "Dome Sweet Dome," documenting his world traveling obsession with curvature, was strangely beautiful. Walker is a photographer who understands how to make a picture that will resonate meaningfully with an audience.
Marta Chudolinska's stylized linocuts are symbolic to me of Toronto's indie arts scene, but her talents don't end at print making. Any drawings, prints, zines, and books created in her tender hand show a world of emotion and deep understanding. Back and Forth, her book published by the Porcupine's Quill is a novel rendered in 90 black and white linocuts: if you've ever cut lino, I think I can imagine your face right now. She often pops up at arts and small press events around Toronto — and her work is an almost sure find in the homes of Toronto zine collectors.
We've highlighted Toronto art subscription label Papirmasse in the past, and Paper Pusher comes from the same minds. The "small-batch publisher and craft print service" puts out tactile looking stylized art and literary mini books, plus posters, post cards, and more via a special Risograph stencil duplication process. Artists and writers they've published include Canadian talents Jacob Wren, Anna Leventhal, and print artist Bill Mavreas (one of the figures behind Montreal's Expozine.)
Ian Sullivan Cant
Though Cant is an illustrator and graphic designer first (check his website for some lovely work), it was his short story zines that pulled me in. Hand-bound in paper covers, the tactile fragility of Frank and The Morning hinted at stripped down, introspective stories worth reading for their insightfulness, which is generally what I'm hunting at zine fairs. In general, though, Cant's was one of those tables where everything is treasure, like the Papercut Heart zine collection on Conundrum Press.
Great Worm Express
Great Worm Express is a book, magazine, and zine distro that have been helping promote DIY artists from all over in Toronto since 1999. You can find Great Worm at most Toronto small press art fairs, plus if you'd like, you can check schedule a visit to see the library in person. Some titles are listed by genre on Great Worm's website.
Toronto Zine Library
Have you been to the Toronto Zine Library? Anyone interested in poking through organized stacks of countless zines of every genre at their leisure can drop by their location at The Tranzac during select hours. The volunteer run organization also document their new arrivals online, and appear at just about every local small press fair.
Fox Xoft makes glossy-covered zines for cheap as well as stunningly colorful fine art for lovers of horror aesthetics, from dark magic and occultism to Halloween-y pin ups. I was drawn to Fox Xoft because her bold images show a playful, punk rock, and compellingly strong voice, rather than just existing as exploitative or shocking outsider art.
Before I even got inside Canzine, Aaron Levin of Weird Canada (and now Offerings too) was pushing a copy of this free, legal sized Toronto music zine toward me. Printed on newsprint and not very flashy, the essential paper offers listings by the month of under the radar and underground shows, plus local album reviews and profiles of musicians, bands, and visual artists. Offerings is under new (still volunteer) management now, and it looks like the font is bigger (way bigger.) This month they feature interviews with Inyrdisk Records and venue Soybomb HQ. Find it around Toronto.
Aubrey Jax manages her anxiety threshold on Twitter.