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Books & Lit

Toronto's back alley beauty gets the book treatment

Posted by Derek Flack / June 3, 2012

Michael Cho Back AlleysForget ravines. It's back alleys and laneways that make Toronto's urban landscape unique. Hidden in plain sight, these capillaries are far more intriguing than their pragmatic function may indicate — they're the quintessence of what Shawn Micallef likes to call our "messy urbanism." A hodgepodge of coach houses, garages, and various DIY infrastructure, our alleyways are more gritty than beautiful, but they're always fascinating. And now there's a lovely new book devoted to them.

Local illustrator Michael Cho has been documenting this particular aspect of Toronto's urban form since 2006, which has culminated in the recently released collection Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes. Featuring pared down drawings and paintings, the images that make up this book capture the untidy subject matter just about perfectly.

Michael Cho Back AlleySome drawings feature more detail than others, but Cho's sketch-like style remains mostly consistent throughout the book. This lack of polish is, of course, wholly intentional — mirroring as it does the subject at hand. A drawing of a Toronto laneway should be a little rough around the edges if the artist hopes to capture the feel of the place, which is something that Cho has down pat. The lack of people in these images is also fitting in that it confers a certain stillness that's typical of our laneways.

Primarily a visual collection, the book isn't heavy on text. But the brief passages that we do get offer snippets of insight into Cho's artistic process and his love affair with Toronto's back alleys. In some sense, Back Alleys can be viewed as a companion to Patrick Cummins' Full Frontal T.O., which also focuses on aspects of Toronto's built form that are often overlooked.

Both would make excellent additions to the Toronto lover's book collection.

Sample Images:

201263-backalley-fall3.jpg201263-backalleytone7.jpg201263-cho-1.jpg201263-summernight8-backalleys-cho.jpg291263-cho-vert.jpg201263-cho-night-annex.jpgBack Alleys and Urban Landscapes is published by Drawn & Quarterly and available at TYPE and other bookstores across the city for $19.95



Elaine / June 3, 2012 at 07:02 pm
I first came to love Michaels' work when he did the old signage inside Pages Bookstore. Seriously one of the best ink brush artists around. I was lucky to meet and pick-up a signed copy from Michael at TCAF - super nice and most congenial guy you'll ever meet.
Sasha / June 3, 2012 at 11:33 pm
Incredible work! This must look great in a book format...must get!
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Hollace henry / June 14, 2013 at 10:45 pm
i was looking for a Tagines and suddenly I'm looking at the cover of this wonderful book ..
My niece has an lley behind her n Shaw..dieectly on the other side looks like waht used to be a buiding and i wold consider a shed.
Oerhaps it was a blacksmith shop but i always hoped some kind Guerilla Gardner would plant flowers or that it wouldn be sketched.
Now she's moving to Palmerston and i already miss the alley . will find yur book as memories of playing in vinecovered alley ways as a kid in the early fiftiesare amoung the best I have of the world beyond our home..wishing you success in all yur iendevours. holly Henry , Niagara Falls , Ontario.
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