When the city goes big, artist Martin Reis goes small with statement-making street art that fills people with joy
“I want to add colour to the city. We have to ask, ‘what do we want our cities to be?’” says multi-media artist Martin Reis. We meet up two Saturdays in a row at Queen and Shaw Streets, first to select a good spot for patching a brick wall with Lego, something he does regularly called Dispatchwork. “It’s done a lot in Europe and I noticed nobody was doing it here in Toronto,” he says. As we talk, he slaps down a sticker onto a pole to say hello to a fellow street artist and affixes a few of his fascinating miniatures dubbed “Tiny Townies” to posts with push pins, or on walls with super glue.
“This one will be good,” he says. “There is a big spot there and one here your son can do,” says the affable artist outside the historic CAMH wall. Reis, who was born in Germany and moved to Scarborough at age 14, thoughtfully mixes activism with his art, citing street photography as his first love. “I am so inspired by the activism of groups like Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion (XR), but especially the Red Rebel Brigade, a group of female performance art activists from Hamilton,” he says. An accomplished documentary photographer, Reis now finds himself on the other side of the lens. “I believe cities must be joyful places bursting with wonder, fun, art and colour. And we have the right to add these things to our cities if they are missing.”
Today’s patch fills in crumbling gaps with select colourful bricks, one with an eye looking over us. Lego is universal in its language — everyone who walks by smiles. [The above picture was done in collaboration with the writer’s 10-year-old son.]
With Toronto forever on the rise, Martin Reis is deeply feeling the ongoing condo boom. “I feel so small next to all these tall buildings, so I am creating a response to this New Toronto that is being forced upon us: A playful world in which we have become so small that maybe no one even notices us anymore. It’s about noticing the small things.” Keep your eyes peeled.