The birthplace of the Lee’s Palace mural: inside Al Runt’s studio
For a certain kind of aging hipster, Toronto isn’t complete without a mural by Al Runt spilling over the wall of some club or restaurant, thick with his cast of fornicating, fighting, day-glo creatures. Runt—known to his friends as Alex Currie—has been filling walls with his cartoonish streetscapes since the mid-‘80s, when his Rabelaisian murals at Lee’s Palace and the long-gone BamBoo set the tone for downtown fun. For a while, he seemed to disappear. “No one really wanted me,” he recalls. “There was a period when I couldn’t get a show. I just fell out of favour.”
Runt and his creatures were revived five years ago when Lee’s Palace commissioned him to repaint its façade for the third time. Since then his work has appeared on storefronts in Kensington and Parkdale. Last summer, he finished his latest mural. It’s on the side of Electric Mud, the city’s most celebrated barbecue joint. And this year, the Runt renaissance will continue. His work graces the cover of the TTC’s 2015 Ride Guide, a freebie transit manual relied upon by tourists and locals alike. Currie is also making his cinematic debut in RUNT, a documentary by Augusto Monk that showcases three decades of the painter’s life and work. Here, a tour of his studio.
1 On Currie’s desk is his current project, a can design for hipster tipple Pabst Blue Ribbon, which he hopes will help raise his profile outside of Toronto. “It’ll be fun. At least I’ll get a few cases of beer and some money.”
2 His to-do blackboard, which lists all of his current commissions, including a painting for a 75-year-old woman and another painting featuring Daleks and a duck press.
3 “My window, where I can look across my street and watch my cat walk back and forth. I can see my neighbours; I can see my garbage.” On the windowsill are a few bits of inspiration: a tiny guitar amp, an art deco sculpture, a statue of Buddha with a cell phone and a postcard from artist David Collier, a friend.
4 “The plumbing’s broken in my house right now. Make sure you take a piss before you come here.”
5 A table filled with brushes, pencils, markers, rulers and masking tape.
6 “This is my collection of one mittens. All the one mittens I have.”
7 Currie didn’t go to art school, but he did stints at film school, and he learned a little carpentry. He finds that it helps to be flexible when it comes to making a living. “These bags are for various jobs,” he says. “One is for when I work for a staging company. And sometimes I work as a set painter on film, so that bag’s for that.”