Current Obsession: painter Peter Harris stalks the city in his eerie portraits of Toronto after dark

Current Obsession: painter Peter Harris stalks the city in his eerie portraits of Toronto after dark

Current Obsession: painter Peter Harris

Peter Harris loves the Gardiner. And the city’s gas stations. And the boxy ’70s rec centres most Torontonians try to ignore. He also has a thing for cargo vans and vacant parking lots and sagging telephone wires. For the past five years, Harris, who studied painting at the University of Waterloo, has been prowling Toronto in the night, snapping pictures of its quieter corners and then transforming them into fantastically spooky streetscapes. His pursuit of the perfect image occasionally gets him chased off by security guards unamused by his artistic voyeurism—he has been known to scale eight-foot factory fences to get a photo. (The first rule of photo prowling: easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.) In his Etobicoke studio, he uses the photographs as references for oil paintings that depict the city as a creepy noir anti-paradise where something sinister always seems about to happen. The 39-year-old Harris is attracted to locations with a morbid history, like the Humber Lakeshore Campus, built on the grounds of a former lunatic asylum. His latest solo show presents 16 of his nocturnal vignettes, each painted with uncanny realism, yet stripped of people and most other signs of life. Edward Hopper is an obvious influence, though Harris insists his work owes just as much to the Group of Seven. (Early in his career, he specialized in painting trees.) Nods to the Group pop up throughout the collection, cheekily drawing a parallel between their great wilds and ­Harris’s own. For him, our crumbling expressway is every bit as majestic as any Rocky Mountain peak.

ART
Peter Harris
Mira Godard Gallery
March 2 to 30