December 21, 2012

There Goes The Neighbourhood!

Things got a little too hot on King last week.

If there is any city in Canada that is heating up its real estate market right now it is Hamilton!  All happy thoughts aside though, Hamilton's councillors better double check that things don't start catching on fire.

Mo' rubble, mo' problems.

There is no questioning, one of Hamilton's most vital yet delicate features it has to offer are its beautiful feats of architecture.  As anyone from the GTA with the bad taste of faulty glass towers in their mouth will gladly agree that this city is refreshing.  Almost everywhere you look are the storefronts, towers and homes built by masterful masons and bricklayers nearly a century ago.  Most of the architecture is much older and in better shape than anything else in Ontario.  Buildings in the city's core are comparable in age and stature to those in Quebec and the Maritimes and for a fraction of the price too!  Hamilton is dead centre in the middle of Canada's Golden Horseshoe and there is no doubt things are starting to pick up.  People are flocking to the city for the urban feel they only wished they could afford, until now.

 The original CNR Station (built in 1931), now LIUNA Station banquet hall.

Many officials may read the growing statistics and simple numbers that equate to more highways and cookie-cutters in the burbs.  And when a striking 72% of the Hamilton population lives at a higher altitude than the downtown core, things don't always turn out in favour of the lower half.  An ongoing problem in short term Canadian politics has been just that, everything now functions on a short term basis.  If Hamilton is to succeed in the future, everyone needs to plan ahead.  This is coming from the city that sold its train station only to sluggishly come back to it as a flourishing new banquet hall they can't have.  Now the city will attempt to build a train platform and kiosk across the street on a likely miniscule budget.

GO's new generation of stations: a simple platform, shelter, kiosk and vast parking lot.

In the depths of municipal politics there is ongoing debates over land use and development in Hamilton, and many of the ideas seem to contradict the overall growth of the city and nobody seems to be stepping in.  Where's the ref?

It's becoming evermore evident that large numbers of historic buildings in the city are being demolished and turned into parking or gravel lots.  The common safety card is pulled to excuse the large number of losses, and Hamiltonians are told 'we can't save 'em all' from almost every angle of city hall.

Sanford Avenue School to be demolished for green space.

Take the Sherman School at 149 Sherman Ave. N. for example, coming close to heritage status on the city's Inventory of Buildings of Architectural and/or Historical Interest on page 94 and now it is being ripped down to build a park.  Now don't get me wrong, parks are great, but there are developers who want to revitalize the space and turn it into a community and cultural centre.  If public centres of this sort are being denied in order for more park land, we won't have any spaces left for cultural development.  This neighbourhood is already home to a vast assortment of empty lots that could be used for park space.  See CBC.

An easier venue for green space that is practically building itself.

In the heart of Hamilton's Gore Park four large historical buildings in a row are going to be demolished with no future developments planned.  These buildings are just subject to destruction so the property owners will not have to face any restoration challenges when they're deemed historically significant.  The Gore Park will not only lose several historic buildings, it will also gain another gaping void if the city council doesn't act by January 9th.  How can a city function properly when its landlords are allowed to vacate residents and successful businesses to avoid gaining heritage status turning the most vital parts of the city into wasteland?

And how does the city figure a casino downtown is going to help matters at all?
That will be a whole new can of worms.

 Everything you see here is to be vacated and demolished before it can reach historical status.

Hamilton has been given a second chance at reinventing itself and this time it wasn't the steel industry that broke its back for the city, it was creative arts and cultural sectors that pulled the weight.  With the 'new steel' in town, assets of the arts and culture should be embraced and shared to investors and most importantly this includes the historical real estate the city has to offer.  Drive-thrus, big box centres and commercial parks can be built anywhere and there is plenty of questionable open spaces to develop parkland.  Let the prime retail locations foster new pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods and retain the large vacant schools and warehouses for more ambitious cultural developments.

 Liberty Village and The Distillery District in Toronto

The success of Toronto's restored Distillery District and Liberty Village neighbourhoods can been seen as great examples of reinventing large industrial spaces that might otherwise be demolished.  Try poking around the north end of Hamilton and you'll discover massive districts of abandoned facilities much larger and older than Toronto's.  Just imagine the opportunities available to create flourishing new cultural micro cities.  Imagine what they could offer back to the community!

Some of the many spaces just begging for development.
Not demolition.

Let's hope the next time the hammer is raised it will fix something, cause these places aren't coming back.

Congratulations, to those who fought and worked hard to bring life back to the Lister Block! 

Pearl Company, Staircase Theatre, 270 Sherman, Gallery on the Bay, and the WAHC just to shout out a few more!


Almost two years ago I started working a really interesting position creating professional mascots for large sports teams and TV characters.  At first thought, the job was a far fetch from the regular due service in the food industry that many artists dread.  Located in the Lakeshore neighbourhood of Etobicoke between large empty rubble lots, social housing complexes and Ontario's newest super prison were five of us hired to construct a gnarly array of bizarre and ridiculous costumes.  If you can think of a mascot, there is a good chance one of us made it.

At first, the work was energizing and full of very informative and innovative construction techniques and materials.  However, as a result of the increasingly repetitive and monotonous work, it all began to take its toll on us.  The sweatshop feeling was becoming evermore present as we were pushed to work harder and harder.  We no longer found it amusing to wear the costumes for fittings and developed more intense exercises amongst ourselves to increase the level of excitement among us.  It is hard to explain the thrill you get watching your nodding coworker jump when you slap his desk as you walk by.  You know it is going to come back at you.  It really keeps you on your toes.  In an environment with high powered saws and precision blades, the old boss giving you the run down on your performance and justifying your financial shortcomings just wasn't quite lifting our spirits enough to keep us awake anymore.

A couple of slingshots and a crossbow.

That year, all of the mascot builders developed a close bond as a group, sticking together, yet withholding a subtle resentments cowardly expecting each other to stand up against the company.  Gradually, it wasn't that uncommon to have an 8 foot block of foam barricade you into the washroom, or returning to your desk to find everything you own glued in place.  As the bar rose and little antics escalated, it became a necessity to have a slingshot and a pocket full of chopped glue sticks at all times.  Slingshots turned into cannons, and eventually it just wasn't fun anymore unless you trapped your coworker in a giant box or something.

One day, I was at my desk assorting large bins of mascot parts when I was unexpectedly trapped in a cardboard box.  This day changed the prank game for good.  It was way more humiliating having a box hammered down on your head then collecting small welt wounds from glue bits being shot at you.  The key was to construct a box trap that would stay on someones head.   After a week or so the razor box head trap had evolved, equipped half inch thick rubber shoe treads cut in triangles facing upwards inside the box which would lock around a person's neck when pushed down far enough.  Same idea as the razor box from Saw II, but with rubber.  On the outside it was decorated with spare mascot eyes, a propeller hat and a couple of floppy arms that would flail about as one of us struggled for a good 10-15 minutes to get it off our head.  It was the utmost humiliating thing and it was worn with discontent at least twice a day.  You can imagine the paranoia of working in a sweatshop in constant fear of getting trapped, tied up and shot at with glue pellets.

The real deal: don't get this guy stuck on your head!

The razor box trap from Saw II.

As our cabin fever-like state raged on, particular rivalries formed.  For proximity reasons, the target of my choice was the coworker that sat the furthest from me, Eugene.  Our relationship was both calm and tense at times.  Eugene was the oldest employee having worked there for 7 years and considerably more experienced.  He often touted about his time in the trade, but nevertheless he had the expertise to back it up. Despite our frequent assaults on one another, the space between us gave good grounds for cooling off when things went too far.  When it came down to business, we could always call a truce and brainstorm new ideas.  During downtime, we put our workplace differences aside and went out to one of the nearby derelict properties or to the lake where Eugene would often meditate.

If you are still reading by now, I will keep a long story short.  Later that year, the five of us all found our jobs to be a meager waste of time and quit one after another to go our own ways.

Eugene and I have kept in touch and occasionally share a laugh about the past, but for the most part, the boxhead days are over.  Eugene is still consistently creating costumes and masks of his own, inspired by easily accessible materials and with little bits and pieces from the mascot making world.

Corp Bot

When I found out that Melody and I would be opening a gallery, Eugene's masks came to mind.  Recently, Eugene had contributed large cardboard creations to Manifesto shows at both the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Regent Park Arts and Culture Centre.

As part of plan to include various other ex-mascot creators we created our first annual mask and costume Halloween show at the gallery.  Experienced artists can showcase their talent by creating completely unique costumes never seen before, for sale too!  Just in time for Halloween.  Anyways, that's a whole other story, I will get into that later.  In the meantime, we needed a poster boy.


Eugene Paunil was raised in Markham and lives in Toronto.  He is currently working as a freelance mascot maker and artist.  Having studied industrial design at OCADU, Eugene has learned how to carefully render objects in 3D and has a strong passion for furniture design.  In recent years, Eugene has primarily been working with cardboard, creating full head masks reminiscent of various recognizable animals and other creatures.  The cardboard in each mask is left bare, creating a unique skeletal effect exposing the materials and process to the viewer.

From Cardboard at MANTA Contemporary in October 2012.

Eugene included a collection of five large cardboard fabricated masks both wearable and decorative for our October exhibit titled, "From Cardboard" due to the lengthy history of the material in Eugene's trade and the importance it plays in his work today.

The Crazy Cockatoo and Ramasaurus Rex

For more of Eugene's work go to

November 18, 2012

Free Hamilton

Did anybody else this notice this?
 I don't think it existed for any longer than couple of days.

Designed and painted to further enrich the corner of Colbourne and James with the grit of Detroit for a RoboCop setting.  The mural was more than just a backdrop for a movie set, it proved to be an interesting addition as an authentic looking vandalized wall created of fictional tags and bombing foreign to Hamilton's street art community.  It goes to say that regardless of taste, if you have the money and permission for a mural, anything goes.  Even if it looks like it was peeled off the dilapidated backside of a distant city.  The mural's lifespan was short, as it was blasted from its surface only days after it was painted.  Like any other artistic contribution to the city, this mural required a great deal of time and expertise, which made me wonder... what would it take for the community to embrace this?

I assume a collaboration of the city's broken window paranoia syndrome and the community's patriotic displeasure of having a piece of Motown on their favourite part of James Street could have only resulted in a quick ending.  However, picturing a circumstance in the which the mural might have been allowed to stay wouldn't be that hard, but it would have had to adhere to a lot of demands.  I can just imagine the higher echelons high-fiving over an agreement to cover the word Detroit with Hamilton and coordinating the local schools to contribute their anti-bullying awareness campaigns as a series of brightly painted silhouettes of children holding hands or painted plywood scraps cut out in the shapes of fish.

A shockingly realistic mural of illegal graffiti could help open the dialogue about aesthetics, boundaries and censorship in our culture.  The majority of permitted graffiti murals are very carefully curated and never accurately represent the roots of the discipline.  An approved mural of vandalism, could perhaps be the avant-garde pylon that Hamilton has been waiting for, smack dab in the centre of the art crawl too!

All artistic criticism aside, keeping a mural of this sort as a token of the film industry's hard work and growing precedence in our community can be thought of as a souvenir.  The development of a city with the quirky odds and ends of Hollywood props scattered about could prove itself to be great treasure hunt for tourists.

When it all comes down to it, the fate of the Free Detroit mural would ultimately have been between the property owner and production company, and I imagine it would not be in the best interests of either to keep it, but I think it has allowed us the opportunity to see the versatility of our walls.  As building owners shuffle and gentrification begins to set in, Hamilton will soon house an expansive array of mural venues, and the creditability of Hamilton's emerging art scene will likely rest on the first impressions of its art in the public view. 

November 16, 2012

September Events

As busy as we had been in September, there was more to come.

Open Streets Hamilton
Sunday, September 23rd

The day was off to a chilly start as people leisurely began appearing on the streets.  James Street North was closed to regular traffic and being so close to the south end of the road closure, we were only able to witness the action from one end.
The festival was intended to promote people to leave their cars behind for a day and actively walk or bike to reacquaint themselves with downtown Hamilton.
Overall, after a bustling Super Crawl, Open Streets is a great idea and successful attempt at luring folks away from sluggish Sunday routines.
With no time to coordinate with the organizers, we still made time to contribute.  After an hour and a few boxes of sidewalk chalk we added a hopscotch from James to Hughson Street.  The only thing more rewarding than watching an overly ambitious jumper hop eagerly for a block, is being that person and completing it flawlessly!

King William Art Walk
Saturday, September 29th

An exciting feature about moving to King William Street was surprisingly hearing about the Art Walk.  The James Street Art Crawl has proven itself a great success for many years now and smart investment among those in control has been to help branch off of James' good fortune.  King William being so close to the downtown is a great candidate to help move things east and strengthen the downtown core.  The unfortunate use of King William as the 'back-alley parking lot' street should see its end nearing.    Hopefully, we can encourage walks and crawls onto Barton and King too.

Although small, this year's Art Walk proved to be a success as a crowd gathered and moved about down the street jumping from installation to installation with exhibitors discussing their work.  As soon as we learned about the Art Walk in August we excitedly requested to participate and gathered some artists together to take part.  After never hearing back from organizers we continued to coordinate our own plans.  Two days prior we had an installation artist restlessly awaiting response, two performance artists falling back on the gallery as a venue and a full exhibition of new artwork on the gallery walls ready.  On the day of, the space directly in front of the gallery was issued to a participating artist and we still had heard no response leaving us with no jurisdiction to install or perform.  In a matter of minutes, the walk was directed to the exhibit that was placed in front of the gallery and directed to proceed down the street to the next exhibit on their pamphlets. Fortunately, the curious ones didn't miss us, and surely came back.  Despite having lost the presence of our three artists after the Art Walk, we welcomed anyone who wanted to check out our brand new art gallery on their route.  We are always more than ready to take part in art events in our area, especially if they are scheduled to stop in front of our business.  After trying to further explore the miscommunication we were greeted with shrugged shoulders and a circle of pointed fingers.  Although disappointed, we were not really upset at anybody's decisions, but we truly hope we can all come together in the future to help better organize events of this sort so streets like King William can truly flourish and prove its potential.  The next time a new art gallery opens during an art event, we want to help them take part.  Thanks to the curious ones who looked beyond the boundaries, keep looking around the corners every art crawl and we can branch out our community.

November 14, 2012


September 14 - October 7, 2012

We had short notice on taking up the lease for the gallery and even shorter notice to assemble a collection of art to show. As a practicing artist myself, I was anticipating the moment I would be in dire need and developed a collection of work over the summer to show in case of these circumstances.

Titled Megacosms as a reference to the many geographical drawings that oftentimes resemble floating worlds or organisms on white backgrounds. There were 29 drawings in total, drawn in ink on paper, then mounted on wood panels of all different sizes.

After spending many years experimenting with the design and construction of many map-like and cellular drawings and installations, I have decided to integrate a stronger colour theory to my work to help emphasize certain aspects.  Previously when showing my Germination collection in 2011, colour was merely supplemented by a select few pieces to maintain a strong focus on forms and patterns of growth.  Lately, I have been drawn closely to the relations between colours used in my recent work and how they relate to the different surrounding shapes and forms.  This time around, I am really looking at the various perspectives from microscopic to intergalactic.  It is interesting to see where the viewers see themselves in relation.

Inevitably, such detailed works are a subject from many outlying influences.  A large variety of imagery comes to mind when thinking of visual inspiration, but to name a few I would start by stating what many claim to be the obvious.  Maps.  Yes, they tend to be among my primary interests when creating these works, and not just regular old cartography, I mean everything geography.  From tectonics and geological observations to urban planning and infrastructure design, I can stare at maps from morning till night.  Geography has been a huge interest of my since I was just a pod.  That being said though, I can not justify maps as the sole influence in my work.  A great deal of passion for me when looking at maps are the inherent comparisons between both natural and human growths existing harmoniously.  Or, sometimes seen in other perspectives as a parasitic relationship, but I am not going to get into that right now, the point is I have many other influences, I swear.  For a look at more organic patterns I often look at biology diagrams and for more technical reference I turn to circuitry design.  I also draw a lot of ideas from previous work in architectural and graphic design studies and a vast interest graffiti too.  All of those little details and accents that give life its attitude and style are what put me in danger of crossing the street without looking. 

Overall, to many, these new works may seem like a very colourful new rendition of the previous black and white drawings I have made in 2011.  However, when looking closer, there is a stark difference in the line work techniques used and a stronger general feeling of motion among the Megacosms drawings compared to the Germination drawings.  I believe I have found new ground in producing a much faster and more dynamic body of drawings with bright colours and long sharp stretching shapes, and I plan to take it much further.  In fact, I have already started, I actually have several new drawings at my side right now for my newest series titled Tranmission, an in depth examination of a more aggressive and intense adaptation of both Megacosms and Germination.

Unfortunately, this blog entry is long overdue, so I can't just say go check it out, but I can drop you some links.  The Transmission collection won't show its face until late 2013, but there will be a brief preview in Toronto this weekend and Megacosms will resurface this coming spring at Rebecca Gallery in Toronto.  Send me an email if you are interested.

Email me at

To see the full Megacosms collection click here.

To see the full Germination collection click here.

To see more of my art visit

November 12, 2012

Grand Opening

Friday, September 14, 2012

6:45pm - Last minute cleaning has pushed itself late into the early hours of the crawl.  Tensions ran high and the race to hang all of the art as soon as possible became a struggle as crawlers began peering through the slits of the paper covering the windows with an odd tug at the door handle.

7:30pm - Unveiling began and in flowed the curious people.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day 2 proved itself the most popular among the crawlers, there was probably 5 times more people than the Friday.

The gallery swelled with large crowds of people washing in and out like waves well into the late evening.  Loud bass, balloons popping and the sounds of dozens of simultaneous conversations became the ambient tone over the weekend.  Like music to our ears, the combination of relaxing from the week's hard work and finally opening to the warm air and droves of excited people was the utmost rewarding feeling.

An F for getting things done on time but a A for being open for the Super Crawl.  We apologize to anyone who may been on the other side of the glass during those early hours that never had the chance to visit.

Renovations Begin

Early September shows its face and 51 King William still sits as a compartmentalized collection of rooms.  A quick ambitious decision arose to make one big room and before anything else could be said transformations had already begun.

Although pressed for time to open for the Super Crawl in one week, carefully dismantling the walls was crucial to save extra resources for later. 

A five person team working around the clock created an ongoing mess.

 Finishing touches on trim and flooring.

Although unfinished, with only one day remaining, renovations are wrapping up.

New floors, new walls, trim, lighting and a fresh coat of paint adorn the new space as it sits empty on Super Crawl eve only hours away from installing the very first exhibit.

October 25, 2012

The Beginning

 AUGUST (the treasure hunt)

Right off the top, I will say it... Hamilton is an awesome city.  It is blossoming with potential, especially for artists.  Rent is cheap and the community is tight!

Upon finding a little niche just off James Street North, we found an abundance of inspiration in turning an old storefront into a vibrant and creative new art gallery on King William Street.

King William Street from Jackson Square - August 2012

King William is the next street north of King and it branches off of James at the historic Lister Block.  It is steps away from anything and everything that is in downtown Hamilton and it is full of beautiful architecture with deep layers of history from the city's ups and downs.  

 Only 5 doors east of Hughson Street is number 51.

Already vacant, the storefront boasted nice huge windows that were just asking to expose some new creative endeavor.

The space was a narrow 13 feet at its widest and just a little under 50 feet deep broken into several small rooms.  It needed work and it would be a stretch to finish in time for the Hamilton Super Crawl, but nevertheless a challenge we were willing to accept.

51 King William Street vacant - August 2012

Shortly before September, we decided to take it upon ourselves to lease this sucker and give it life once again.

SEPTEMBER (crunch time)
Time to determine how and what we would need to do in the next week and a half before the doors can open to the 2012 Super Crawl.

Melody contemplates plans for the space.

To be continued...

October 18, 2012

Hello Hamilton!

MANTA Contemporary Art Gallery has a new home in the downtown core.  Just one street north of the busy Gore Park we have nestled away a snug storefront on King William Street.

Let me introduce myself a little better.

My name is Stephen, and I am one half of MANTA. The other half goes by the name of Melody.
You are bound to hear and see a lot more about us and the gallery on our blog.

We have been open for just a little over a month now so I will have to backtrack a ways to fill everyone in on what happened from the beginning.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, come check us out in person at:
51 King William Street
Hamilton, ON
L8R 1A2

or online at: