Elicser Elliot’s ‘Hug Me Tree’ mural detail, ROM 2009
Role: Guest Curator
The Hug Me Tree
Before it was painted, the Hug Me Tree was a dead tree — one with stubby branches, no leaves and soon to be pulled down. It was first painted and thus rescued by Elicser in the summer of 1998 (or 1999) and quickly became a symbol of spontaneous creation, benign neglect and an icon of Queen West culture. The work was recognized not only by the art community but most importantly appreciated by and accessible to anyone passing by.
Elicser anonymously maintained the tree for almost ten years, giving it six major incarnations with the occasional collaboration of others he never met. Over the years, the Hug Me Tree has received a considerable amount attention and press, documented by photographers, locals, tourists and art lovers. It has transformed that corner of Queen West into a focal point, a meeting place, a photo-op and part of the social fabric of one of our cities most famous and vibrant streets. When the Hug Me Tree was hit by a car and fell in August 2008, there was unprecedented reaction and outreach from the community: it narrowly avoided the city wood chipper before being rescued by citizen protest and a woman in a truck – who amazingly enough, was proposed to under the painted tree. (She was also accompanied by the child of this marriage who acted as foreman in safely relocating it.)
This exhibition was a distillation of the spontaneity, spirit of collaboration, accessibility and social consciousness from which street art has emerged. Housepaint at the Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the ROM was the first exhibition of street art in a major Canadian museum, an open-ended exhibition and experiment. Through the run of the exhibition, every month-and-a-half another street artist was invited to respond and add to the canvas houses from Tent City and the previous art work in the sequence — layering the exhibition with meaning and building organic connections between the works.
The exhibition also included seven months of community programming, lectures, workshops and outreach to sustainable housing stakeholders. At the end of the exhibition, the canvas houses were auctioned for Habitat for Humanity Toronto.
Starship / Gene Pendon (HVW8) | Specter / Gabriel Reese | Royal / Juan Carlos Noria | Other / Derek Shamus Mehaffey | Lease / Lisa Mansfield | Fauxreel / Dan Bergeron | Evoke / Patrick Thompson | Elicser Elliot | EGR / Erica Gosich Rose | Dstrbo / Dan Buller (HVW8) | Case / Ryan Mackeen | Cant 4 / Amanda Marie
Housepaint Artist Products @ Well and Good | Next | Sketch | Toronto Disaster Relief Coalition | CONTACT 2008 | Dying For A Home: Homeless Activists Speak Out, by Cathy Crowe | Woolfitts Fine Art Supplies | Manifesto Community Projects | Now Magazine | Luminato | Habitat for Humanity Toronto | Royal Ontario Museum | Institute for Contemporary Culture\Subtext: Real Stories