home home about drawn and quarterly news artists shop shopping cart
Drawn and Quarterly Your Shopping Cart
Home About Artists Shop Events Press New Blog 211 Bernard Store Blog


News Briefs featuring Michael Cho

( back )


Weird Canada wanders through Michael Cho's Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes

Updated September 10, 2013


"Ex Libris :: Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes"

From the alleyways and avenues of James Lindsay
Weird Canada, May 1, 2013

There are always two ways to walk a city. The first is its obvious face, efficient and fair, presented to citizen and tourist alike. The second is for those who don’t want to be seen, forgoing sidewalks in favour of the shadow streets that maze in back, as if an afterthought, but really a functional necessity. For many who have lived most of their lives in Toronto, Michael Cho’s drawings are as iconic as anything you might find on a postcard bought at the base of the CN Tower, yet have a dreamlike quality that’s at once instantly familiar but also unplaceable. You know you’ve been in some of these images, but couldn’t say when. You were only passing through to somewhere more apparent, more populated, and decided to take a shortcut where the planners didn’t intend for us to walk. But we do, and often at night.
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Michael Cho

           Featured product

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes




  Michael Cho's "Back Alleys" reviewed by BookDragon

Updated August 23, 2012


back alleys and urban landscapes by Michael Cho

JULY 30, 2012
You could flip through Michael Cho‘s new graphic title in just a few minutes and pronounce if ‘read.’ But you’d be missing the whole point of the book … because it’s undoubtedly one of the better, gently contemplative ‘stop-and-smell-the-roses’ reminders to take a little break from our overscheduled lives.
Go ahead – take a breather and join longtime Toronto resident Cho as he celebrates his surroundings with five years (2006-2011) of visual musings, presented “in all kinds of media; watercolour, gouache, ink, markers and coloured dyes to name a few.” What began as a means to “fix that apathy” towards drawing landscapes (“the human figure had more interesting lines and rhythms”), comes to fruition in a beautifully simple volume filled with “familiar places, quiet and often hidden in plain sight.”
As the title suggests, back alleys, especially, get loving billing: “… when you know a city, you know its back alleys. It’s like a house: the dining room is in the front to show to guests, while the real living goes on in the kitchen in the back.”
From night shots with morphing light and beckoning shadows, to changing graffiti (expletives to “I’m always thinking of you”), to “the backs of downtown homes [which] are such organic and constantly evolving places,” to once unbroken horizons now filled with condos, Cho’s Toronto is both a celebration of the comforts of the familiar, and testimony to the inevitability of developing urban change.
How many times have you walked the same streets, rushed past the same block, and never really taken the time to soak in the details? Guilty as charged! Take the time now to remedy that – welcome to back alleys and urban landscapes. See what you’ve been missing …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012
click here to read more


Featured artist

Michael Cho

           Featured product

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes




Cho's "Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes," reviewed by the National Post

Updated July 25, 2012


Michael Cho explores back alleys and urban landscapes
Mark Medley
May 17, 2012

Some years ago, Michael Cho received a two-volume book of illustrations as a gift from a family friend. The sketches, which date from the late 19th century until around the end of the First World War, were done by an insurance salesman, who compiled his drawings into a calendar he presented to friends and clients during the holidays each year. They showed Toronto as it once was, from major intersections like Yonge and Dundas to then-rural neighbourhoods like Bloor and Dufferin, which was still a quilt of farmer’s fields.

“I remember seeing those books and thinking I would love to do something like this for the Toronto that I live in now, and document what I see as my Toronto,” Cho says. “For me, it wasn’t documenting store fronts or specific street corners. It was a personal thing of just documenting the little parts of Toronto that I knew, which were the back alleys.”

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, Cho’s newly-published collection of sketches, is exactly what the name implies: drawings of Toronto’s back alleys and urban landscapes, which he completed over a six-year period, mostly around his home in Toronto’s west end, a neighbourhood filled with century-old semi-detached homes and labyrinthine hidden passageways.

“I’m much more interested in the irregular, unique stuff,” Cho says over coffee at Cafe Diplomatico, not far from his house. “A lot of houses, yeah, they’re very pretty — they’re the pretty [the owners] want to project. You want to find that other beauty that’s in the alleyway, somewhere.”

The beauty of Cho’s work lies in the often ignored: an old AC unit hanging out a window, the scrawl of graffiti left on a garage door, a rooftop satellite dish pointing at the stars, a streetlamp illuminating the darkness.

“There’s no identifiable Toronto landmark,” he says. “I didn’t even draw Sneaky Dee’s.” At the same time, Cho’s work will be immediately identifiable to anyone who lives in Toronto, even if they aren’t intimately familiar with the parts of the city he’s captured.

“As much as the book is Toronto-specific, I think there’s certain core, Canadian likenesses here,” he says. His drawings “don’t look like South American cities or European cities. They look like quintessentially Canadian cities.”

Cho, 40, immigrated to Canada from Seoul, South Korea, when he was six years old. He grew up in Hamilton, and came to Toronto when he was 19 to study at (what is now called) the Ontario College of Art and Design. “I am an illustrator and cartoonist — that’s pretty much the way I define myself,” he says. “I’ve always thought that the job of the illustrator was to be an honest, visual documenter of their times. … So this book sort of fits into that mandate, for me. I’ve always just wanted to express, honestly, the times that I live in. And this does that.”

Cho’s book is one of several this spring to celebrate “unknown” Toronto — the parts of the city we routinely ignore, the buildings and back alleys our eyes fail to see: Patrick Cummins’ Full Frontal T.O. chronicles the city’s changing streetscapes over a period of 30 years, while Leah Bobet’s novel Above is partly set in the city’s sewers, rooming houses and mental hospitals. “It’s more intimate, it’s more voyeuristic, in a way, but you also get closer to the city,” Cho says of his decision to concentrate on the hidden parts of the city.

“The front is the public face,” he says, while the back is “like looking at people’s tattoos, or seeing the way their bodies have aged, become different over the years.”

Cho spent countless afternoons, nights and early mornings wandering Toronto’s streets, snapping photos of backyards, garages, garbage bins and the like, before returning to the home studio he shares with his wife, artist Claudia Davila (Luz Sees The Light). Surprisingly, he never got in trouble for traipsing around behind people’s houses.

Cho says he once drove out to Hamilton to research a commercial assignment, and was yelled at numerous times for photographing the house in which he grew up, yet he could walk around Kensington Market with a friend at four in the morning without incident. “He’s got a tripod and a flask, we’re taking photos, I’m jotting down notes, we’re slightly loud at times — not one person comes out to confront us.”

“God bless Toronto for that,” he says, smiling. “That’s why I love this city.”

 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Michael Cho

           Featured product

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes




  "Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes" is a tour of familiar Toronto shortcuts

Updated June 14, 2012


Current Obsession: illustrator Michael Cho celebrates the unsung parts of Toronto, one back lane at time

By Ian Daffern
Toronto Life

Michael Cho’s gloriously retro drawings of superheroes like Iron Man and the X-Men made him a star in Toronto’s fanatical comic book world. But like the crusaders he drew, the 40-year-old Cho had a weakness: he lacked the chops needed to render buildings and backgrounds with as much style as he did people. To remedy this, he started wandering the streets near his Little Portugal studio with his sketch pad, and for the past five years, he has kept it up—sometimes in the dead of night, occasionally with a friend who brings along a flask of something potent to ward off the chill. Cho’s delicately coloured, fastidiously detailed drawings and paintings of downtown alleys and depopulated streets are collected in his new book, Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes. They aren’t scenes you’d find in a tourist brochure, but they’re immediately familiar to the millions of us who take shortcuts through these hidden mazes.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Michael Cho

           Featured product

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes




Michael Cho finds the beauty in Toronto's urban landscape

Updated June 14, 2012


Illustrator finds beauty in Toronto's back alleys
GUY DIXON
The Globe and Mail
May 18 2012


Illustrator Michael Cho shows a hint of shock when told that some people find Toronto a little less than beautiful.


IN PICTURES
Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes
“You don’t think Toronto’s a beautiful city?” he asks, albeit with a smile, looking out the restaurant window at the College Street traffic. Of course it’s not “a really beautiful city like Venice, but I don’t live there, so I don’t have it in my pores. Whereas Toronto…”

Mr. Cho, well-known in comic-book circles for his off-beat illustrations of superheroes, has spent years drawing the lanes and jumbled backyards around Little Italy for his new book of drawings, Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes. Like the artists who painted the city before him, stretching back to the Group of Seven’s Lawren Harris and Albert Franck, Mr. Cho set out to capture the beauty that’s in the ordinary. It was a highly personal project for him.

“That is what I always thought was the goal of an artist, of an urban artist – to find the beauty in urban settings. Ninety per cent of the time that means looking for places where you would not find it and then adjusting your eyes to see it,” he says.

Houses festooned with satellite dishes, hodge-podge restorations and lawn furniture in the snow can all be found in Mr. Cho’s drawings in and around the back alleys of the city’s west side. Like a visual journal, they show scenes he was familiar with and which captured his Toronto.

The 41-year-old illustrator began the collection partly as an exercise to brush up on his landscape drawing skills. He’s instinctively more attuned to people and figures. But he soon found the rundown backside of the downtown speaking to him (sometimes literally, with graffiti and swear words scribbled on back fences) and wanted to turn the works into a larger project.

“I would not have been committed to draw these things unless there was something that pulled at me emotionally. That, to me, is what beauty is,” Mr. Cho says.

His figurative drawing, which he is famous for, harks back to the fun side of comic-book art – a much needed antidote to all the overwrought darkness and adult gravitas in contemporary comic books and their offshoot films.



“I’m not very good at drawing ironically or making fun of superheroes, nor am I good at drawing very, very grim, dark superhero stuff. I draw with the same positive energy a superhero was supposed to have when I was a kid,” he says. And his landscapes have a dollop of that same upbeat innocence. Their comic-book quality gives them a much more contemporary twist compared to the heavier feel of some of Albert Franck’s paintings. Yet really their work is very similar.

“What I was keeping in mind at the forefront, throughout the whole project, was the emotional quality, rather than technical accuracy,” he says.

Mr. Cho also cheated a bit. He often typically photographed the scenes and then drew from the photos. He also avoided drawing any cars in the alleyway scenes. So he’d photograph the backyard fences and other things behind the cars too to help him visualize the scene car-free.

“I didn’t want cars in there because it dates [the drawings]” he adds. The sweeping, curving picture of College Street near to where he used to meet friends at the now closed Dragon Lady Comics is the exception, in stark contrast to the car-less lanes.

Since he moved to Toronto from Hamilton at 19 to study art at OCAD University (then simply the Ontario College of Art), quintessential Toronto for Mr. Cho has remained the downtown. It lends the project even more of a personal flavour.

“I always associate [it with]post-war houses, lots of different apartments crammed into one house. The backs [of the houses]reveal what’s really going on, the hacked-out entrance for the basement apartment, and the second or third patio that doesn’t belong there, with a container garden.”

Or the six different satellite dishes. There will be three dishes, one for each of the three apartments in a house, and then a second set as each of the three upgraded to smaller dishes. “I like trying to figure out the story of the house because of the growth that has happened on its body,” he says.

Just as anyone walking through Little Italy and Little Portugal can’t help noticing all the idiosyncrasies of each house, Mr. Cho can’t help seeing the beauty in that.

And that’s what he finds a little shocking, the inability for everyone to take delight in all the details.

 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Michael Cho

           Featured product

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes




  Michael Cho rebuilds Toronto with ink in "Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes"

Updated June 14, 2012


Michael Cho explores back alleys and urban landscapes
Mark Medley
May 17, 2012
National Post
Some years ago, Michael Cho received a two-volume book of illustrations as a gift from a family friend. The sketches, which date from the late 19th century until around the end of the First World War, were done by an insurance salesman, who compiled his drawings into a calendar he presented to friends and clients during the holidays each year. They showed Toronto as it once was, from major intersections like Yonge and Dundas to then-rural neighbourhoods like Bloor and Dufferin, which was still a quilt of farmer’s fields.

“I remember seeing those books and thinking I would love to do something like this for the Toronto that I live in now, and document what I see as my Toronto,” Cho says. “For me, it wasn’t documenting store fronts or specific street corners. It was a personal thing of just documenting the little parts of Toronto that I knew, which were the back alleys.”

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, Cho’s newly-published collection of sketches, is exactly what the name implies: drawings of Toronto’s back alleys and urban landscapes, which he completed over a six-year period, mostly around his home in Toronto’s west end, a neighbourhood filled with century-old semi-detached homes and labyrinthine hidden passageways.

“I’m much more interested in the irregular, unique stuff,” Cho says over coffee at Cafe Diplomatico, not far from his house. “A lot of houses, yeah, they’re very pretty — they’re the pretty [the owners] want to project. You want to find that other beauty that’s in the alleyway, somewhere.”

The beauty of Cho’s work lies in the often ignored: an old AC unit hanging out a window, the scrawl of graffiti left on a garage door, a rooftop satellite dish pointing at the stars, a streetlamp illuminating the darkness.

“There’s no identifiable Toronto landmark,” he says. “I didn’t even draw Sneaky Dee’s.” At the same time, Cho’s work will be immediately identifiable to anyone who lives in Toronto, even if they aren’t intimately familiar with the parts of the city he’s captured.

“As much as the book is Toronto-specific, I think there’s certain core, Canadian likenesses here,” he says. His drawings “don’t look like South American cities or European cities. They look like quintessentially Canadian cities.”

Cho, 40, immigrated to Canada from Seoul, South Korea, when he was six years old. He grew up in Hamilton, and came to Toronto when he was 19 to study at (what is now called) the Ontario College of Art and Design. “I am an illustrator and cartoonist — that’s pretty much the way I define myself,” he says. “I’ve always thought that the job of the illustrator was to be an honest, visual documenter of their times. … So this book sort of fits into that mandate, for me. I’ve always just wanted to express, honestly, the times that I live in. And this does that.”

Cho’s book is one of several this spring to celebrate “unknown” Toronto — the parts of the city we routinely ignore, the buildings and back alleys our eyes fail to see: Patrick Cummins’ Full Frontal T.O. chronicles the city’s changing streetscapes over a period of 30 years, while Leah Bobet’s novel Above is partly set in the city’s sewers, rooming houses and mental hospitals. “It’s more intimate, it’s more voyeuristic, in a way, but you also get closer to the city,” Cho says of his decision to concentrate on the hidden parts of the city.

“The front is the public face,” he says, while the back is “like looking at people’s tattoos, or seeing the way their bodies have aged, become different over the years.”

Cho spent countless afternoons, nights and early mornings wandering Toronto’s streets, snapping photos of backyards, garages, garbage bins and the like, before returning to the home studio he shares with his wife, artist Claudia Davila (Luz Sees The Light). Surprisingly, he never got in trouble for traipsing around behind people’s houses.

Cho says he once drove out to Hamilton to research a commercial assignment, and was yelled at numerous times for photographing the house in which he grew up, yet he could walk around Kensington Market with a friend at four in the morning without incident. “He’s got a tripod and a flask, we’re taking photos, I’m jotting down notes, we’re slightly loud at times — not one person comes out to confront us.”

“God bless Toronto for that,” he says, smiling. “That’s why I love this city.”

click here to read more


Featured artist

Michael Cho

           Featured product

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes





copyright ©2010 drawn & quarterly