The visual artist’s home is stocked with curiosities, including heirlooms, vintage finds and bought and bartered art
Alex McLeod first showed up on our radar way back in 2010 with an orange-hued landscape that’s cheerful, vaguely sinister and, frankly, leaves us stunned to this day. Its uncanny quality is a result of his medium. McLeod doesn’t work with watercolours or clay, but with computer-generated elements, both sourced and custom, that he digitally assembles. His novel approach has kept him busy, with exhibitions in Paris, Shanghai and Rome, giving lectures at the University of Toronto and OCADU, his alma mater, and working on public murals and installations, including multiple projects for the Drake, a mural on the Bentway, and an upcoming project for CAMH. And all that’s just in the past few years.
Despite riding high, the acclaimed artist made time to shoot his home, which is loaded with plants, vintage finds and artwork both bought and bartered for (and yes, he knows who did each one, so you can find the artist yourself if you find something you like). So consider this a two-fer: the chance to see inside McLeod’s home, and the chance to get the inside track on the artists’ artists out there. Below, we get to see the home that art built.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Designlines: Can you tell our readers what you do and about some of your favourite work?
Alex McLeod: I’m visual artist based in Toronto. My work is primarily digital and focuses on life cycles and transformation. One of my favourite projects is the double-sided mural I installed at The Bentway, It’s still up but won’t be for long. Temporary public art is really exciting.
Designlines: Who lives with you? Who are they and what do they do?
Alex McLeod: My friend Raji Aujla, who works as a cultural strategist, moved in during COVID. We both lived alone and enjoyed cooking and eating so it made a lot of sense. She is also self-employed and is launching Newest, a magazine about Canadian arts and culture, as well as Willendorf, an agency that acts as a go-between for organizations and diverse audiences. It’s been really wonderful; I feel super lucky.
Designlines: In what part of town is your home located and how long have you lived there?
Alex McLeod: My home is in Corso Italia, I’ve lived here for six years. It’s a pretty excellent mix of suburban isolation with city convenience, not so far that guests won’t come for dinner or house parties, but nobody is popping in unexpectedly because they’re in the neighbourhood.
Designlines: How old is the home? Have you done any work on it?
Alex McLeod: The house is just over 100 years old, and it’s had plenty of renovations in that time. The kitchen was an addition in the ‘50s, and they must have lengthened the basement at that time since it extends beyond it. Also, at some point a stone facade was added and enclosed the porch, and now it’s a really great to have an entryway for shoes, plus there’s a carved bench that’s a great conversation piece. I would love to go back in time to understand people’s design decisions. The floors are original, though – they’re what had me sold on the place.
My garage and workshop used to be a concrete box, so it’s changed a bit to make it a habitable digital workshop. There was electricity, but not enough, so I had electricians install a sub panel. Roofers installed skylights; I’ve never lived with them before and they make me feel wealthy. I also had a heat pump installed to cool and heat the space for winter. It’s been insulated and drywalled as well.
Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects or details of the home?
Alex McLeod: The garden is my favourite aspect of the home. It’s so wonderful to think of life on a different time scale. Projects for me can be over in two weeks, but some of these trees take two years before they even feel comfortable to grow.
I just planted a magnolia tree with light yellow blossoms, which I’ve never seen before. I have a pretty hard time feeling happy by the end of the winter season, but magnolias bloom at just the right time – it’s kind of magical – so I wanted to plant one in the front yard as a gift to anyone walking by.
Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic?
Alex McLeod: I’ve always low-key expected something like this to happen, so I’ve always kept a full pantry and stockpile of books and video games ready. Each room serves its own purpose: there is an area in the basement for activities and movies, the studio for art, the bed for falling asleep to YouTube videos and so forth.
Designlines: Moving forward, with home-time now more important than ever, are there further changes you would like to make to your living environment?
Alex McLeod: Honestly as a visual artist who works on a computer, things aren’t really that different for me. So long as things are somewhat in order in the house I’m very happy. The big change came already when I got a stand mixer!
Designlines: Personally and professionally, what strides were you able to make during the enforced time off?
Alex McLeod: Cooking has been a rediscovered love! Also, there have been a lot of cross-discipline collaborations happening: Lido Pimienta, Panqueque, Gurpreet Chana, and Meghan Lindsay have been a few of the beautiful people that I have been able to work with lately because we all have a bit more time, and since no one is making any money, we might as well try and make something beautiful.