Here’s how an artist built a 2,000-gallon lake inside a Toronto art gallery

Here’s how an artist built a 2,000-gallon lake inside a Toronto art gallery


Toronto-based artist Steve Driscoll has 25 solo exhibitions to his name, but only one that requires a pair of wellies. Recovered Shores, on now until May 28 at the Angell Gallery, is a slice of Algonquin Park—lake, boardwalk, wooden bench and all—in the heart of the city. Guests can pace along the deck or wade in the shallow water, sending ripples toward a shoreline painted in psychedelic greens, pinks and golden-yellows. “I guess in some ways I’m trying to recreate a hike or a wander through the woods—on Dupont Street,” Driscoll says. We asked him how he turned an urban art gallery into a cottage-country retreat.

(Image: Mike Shore) (Image: Mike Shore)
 

First, here’s what the gallery looked like before Driscoll began work on the installation.

(Image: Gabby Frank) (Image: Gabby Frank)
 

After creating a wooden base for the boardwalk, Driscoll laid down the pond liner and placed two patches on the gallery’s skylight to create an immersive environment. The material is an eighth of an inch thick and was originally grey, but he painted roughly 1,000 square feet of it black to get a darker base for the lake.

(Image: Gabby Frank) (Image: Gabby Frank)
 

About 7,500 litres of water were pumped into the gallery over the course of 36 hours to create the lake, which is up to eight inches deep. Driscoll bought 80 ounces of black food colouring to tint the water black; so far, he’s only used six.

(Image: Gabby Frank) (Image: Gabby Frank)
 

Driscoll’s paintings are often inspired by photographs he shoots while hiking through the countryside. To create the image above, he combed through 38,000 shots, assembling a composite shoreline from about 100 of them. The finished product comprises eight panels made from Styrofoam and a styrene surface (the plastic credit cards are made of). Together, they’re 40 feet long and nine feet tall, mounted with aluminum frames.

(Image: Gabby Frank) (Image: Gabby Frank)
 

Before Driscoll started painting the panels, he spent three weeks drawing lines in black acrylic paint and China marker. Then he began layering acrylic pigment and translucent industrial urethane. Throughout the process, he wore an industrial gas mask. “Urethane is the most toxic material possible,” he says, “but it depicts nature so perfectly.” Each batch of four panels took at least 20 hours to complete—not including the month they took to fully dry.

(Image: Gabby Frank) (Image: Gabby Frank)
 

Driscoll used about 100 planks of wood to construct the boardwalk, which is three and a half feet wide—just large enough for two people to pass each other.

(Image: Mike Shore) (Image: Mike Shore)
 

Between the pond and 45-foot boardwalk, construction lasted two full days. Because the liner is taped rather than stapled to the floor, guests create ripples in the water with the weight of their steps when they walk through the installation.

(Image: Mike Shore) (Image: Mike Shore)
 

A pump under the walkway filters and distributes water evenly between either side of the main path. “The bladder,” as Driscoll calls it, operates on 300 watts and emits a quiet hum.