Anser x SoTeeOh: ‘Luminous’

“LUMINOUS” is a collaborative exhibition featuring artists Anser and SoTeeOh, where the dark street scenes of SoTeeOh’s urban landscapes act as a backdrop for the infamous one-liner face portraits of graffiti artist Anser. This exhibition is presented by Project Gallery and runs from November 10th – 20th, 2016 at Project Gallery (1109 Queens Street E).


Yard 2, 2016

Anser is an iconic graffiti artist of Toronto, whose identity remains anonymous.  Anser’s Mysterious Date, created in early 2007, was developed to foster a more publicly inclusive form of graffiti. The one-liner spray painted face has now become something of an icon within the Toronto urban fabric. Through the use of traditional graffiti mark making methods, “the face” was developed to engage a typically ignored public by using an image that everyone could associate with. The moniker “Mysterious Date” was coined by photographer Micheal D’Amico, who dubbed a series of street photographs of the face “Mystery Date” in a CONTACT photography festival. The adoption of this name is a testimony to this idea. 

SoTeeOh is a Toronto born street photographer. Through composition and subject selection, his work presents a subjective and stylized view of daily urban life. He draws mainly off of influences in the realms of design, architecture, and fashion combined with an obsessive appreciation for urban grit. Symmetry, pattern and color are used as primary devices in composing his images. The artist’s work coincides with the growing urban digital photography movement championed by online platforms such as Instagram, Tumblr and VSCO. 


Q: Can you speak a bit about the process behind how you and SoTeeOh created this series?

To create these images we used long exposure photography and a flashlight. We would meet up once it’s dark and head to different locations. Akin to when I go out bombing (painting illegally on walls) you need to decide where your image will go, and it oscillates between spontaneity and pre-planned, which was the same for these photos. The difference here is that it’s not tied to a wall or surface, all space was opened up which was a fun prospect.

Once the camera was set up, Soteeoh would yell go and I would start moving the flashlight like a marker in the air, drawing the signature face blindly. Half of it was muscle memory and the other half active memory trying to use the scene in front of me like a grid and remember where I started, in order to line things up. Usually the best ones happened when I just didn’t think at all.  The exposures lasted 15-30 seconds in which the camera was letting in light the entire time and capturing the movements. We only knew if something worked after the exposure was done and we could view it on the display.


Don River, 2016

Q: This exhibition literally brings light and illumination into the darkness of some of our city’s corners. What do you believe the underlining message is within this series, and why do you think it is important at this time?

I always felt that the face was like a spontaneous surprise for people. I hoped that it would create a connection to the city and something of a light moment. The city and the world can be an isolating and demoralizing place sometimes and doing something to combat this was part of my ethos. This project brings that idea to a more obvious point by literally using light. There is also something magical about it too and I think the world can always use a bit more magic.

Q: SoTeeOh’s photography captures moments in this city that are often transient, and canonizes them within a physical print. Your graffiti work, similarly, has the ability to give value and attention to a street corner, building side, or alley door. Why do you believe this is important? And what does this mean in relation to your current collaborative series, where your work does not create a lasting physical change on the space?

Yes I do believe this is important, it gives life to lifeless things out there and changes the intended meaning of an object. It’s about reclaiming space in the public sphere and allowing the city to be more interactive and spontaneous.  The objects in the public sphere have inherent meaning, they signify; painting on those objects becomes an opposing force to those ideas and being able to flip that, is for me, more democratic. We don’t ask for adverts, we aren’t given a choice, so this is a way of reacting to that. In relation to this show it does shift but in some ways it is similar. A lot of my work gets painted over and disappears, the light paintings rapidly speed up this process, but in both cases they get immortalized in a photograph.

Q: Why do you keep your identity a mystery? And do you think there is a deeper element to anonymity that people can relate to, which is one of the reasons your work enjoys such popularity and respect?

Besides the obvious reason of legal repercussion, I like the mystery of it. In a society so obsessed with fame and self-promotion it’s nice to let that go to a degree. I think people identify with it more because one can imagine anyone as ‘Anser’, and I try to take it a step further and keep my gender a secret. Going back to that idea of magic, I think there is a romance in mystery that people enjoy. In our rational world where everything needs to be categorized, sanctioned and sectioned off, it’s nice to bend that notion.


Divided, 2016

Q: What are your views on artistic collaborations?

Artistic collaborations are amazing. You end up creating something that was impossible to do on your own. You end up in a super interesting middle ground that is totally new and fresh for both people. It changes the way you see your work and fosters new approaches and ideas. If you’re ever stuck in your work, collaboration can really help.

Q: Who are a few artists that have inspired your practice?

An artist called Specter from Montreal who in my youth, used to paint these ghost like images around the city.  That was one of the first times I saw graffiti that was not letter based and it really excited me. Another Toronto artist Mark 1 also painted these snails that would be climbing up poles and such. Seeing graffiti that was playing with the surrounding was very eye opening. Toronto artists of super high quality such as Elicser, Bacon, Kwest and many others really inspired me to paint.


Luminous, 2016


Q: Can you speak a bit about the process behind how you and Anser created this series?

The series consists of light paintings of ANSER’s signature face captured in various spots around Toronto using long exposures. From a technical perspective its pretty straight forward, its just old fashioned camera-on-a-tripod manual exposure photography. The magic comes from ANSER’s ability to create these faces in thin air without actually being able to see what he’s doing. They’re painted with a flashlight so there’s no visible result other than what the camera captures in the end which means ANSER has to rely entirely on muscle memory to complete each face. We were also very particular about out location selection trying to find spots in the city that were distinctly Toronto, but at the same time remaining true to the urban grittiness that is a huge theme in both of our bodies of work.

Q: This exhibition literally brings light and illumination into the darkness of some of our city’s corners. What do you believe the underlining message is within this series, and why do you think it is important at this time?

There are two distinct themes that we talked about while working on this series. One was the idea of bringing light to dark corners of the city. Literally using creative energy to paint light into alleys and side streets. I think that has a pretty strong correlation to the unrest and disharmony a lot of us are feeling right now. While this series isn’t directly political I think it’s important as artists for us to use our platforms to continue to push for hope and positivity because art has that transformative social power and that’s something we’re both aware of. The other theme we discussed a lot was the impermanent nature of the imagery. It’s literally there for an instant and then it’s gone. For me that’s a reminder that change is constant and we have to remember to be present and appreciate beauty as it occurs.


Guardians, 2016

Q: One of the reasons your works are so compelling, is the love and respect for this city that emanates from each photograph. Can you talk a bit about the elements of adventure, exploration and appreciation that help to inform your creative process?

I think graffiti artists and street photographers view the urban landscape in a very similar way (as do skateboarders, but that’s a different conversation). We’re basically location scouting all the time, kind of taking mental notes like “that angle looks cool” or “If I stand on this dumpster I can reach the fire escape ladder and get on that roof”. It’s definitely not the kind of thoughts that just occur to anyone walking around down town, but for both of us, location plays a huge role in what we do. It also made this collaboration feel very seamless. Since we both kind of look at things the same way, a lot of the locations that we chose just seemed really natural, like good fits. And we both knew that we could ask each other to do stuff like climb on shit or stand in mud or whatever, ’cause that’s the kind of stuff we already do on our own. Aside from that, I think the imagery just kind of stays in line with what I look for in my individual work. It’s that kind of iconic Toronto-centric stuff, and to me the ANSER face is a Toronto icon so I think it’s a great match.

Q: You have photographed wall pieces by Anser in the past; how is it different to be collaborating directly with her/him/them, and how do you think your works share similar perspectives?

I always stop and take photos of ANSER’s work whenever I catch it around the city (as I think a lot of people do). So for me this collaboration was great because I actually got to witness the process. It’s like sitting in on a studio session with your favourite musician. I guess the element that was really different was getting to contribute to the location and placement. I think the fact that these faces can exist in free space as opposed to being painted on a wall surface was new to both of us so we kind of had to figure that out a little bit.


Crystalized, 2016

Q: What is your view on artistic collaborations ?

I love collaborating, but only when it’s not forced. My ideal collaboration is literally just being able to bring what I do into a situation, the other artist(s) bring what they do, and we just fuse it together. That’s pretty much how this process went down. The kind of collaborating that I dont like is when its overly thought out or when one person is just super intent on having the last say or having more creative control than the rest of the people in the group. That kind of thing goes on my nerves so much, so when I find myself in those situations I usually just withdraw pretty quickly. But overall I think collaboration is great. It’s a great way to learn and gain new perspective on your process and it can lead to a lot of unexpected but exciting results.

Q: Who are a few artists that have inspired your practice?

Aside from ANSER some of the other Toronto artists that I really like are Jimmy Chiale, Elicser, and a lot of the other Instagram photographers from this city. Outside of that, some other artists that really inspire me are Hush and WK Interact. Overall I would say I definitely have a strong affinity for street art and the whole street aesthetic so it’s been fun to explore that connection in a new way with this project.

‘LUMINOUS’ will be on display at Project Gallery (1109 Queen St E) until November 20th, and can be viewed during regular gallery hours (Wed-Sun, 12-5pm).