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Artist Tonya Hart Harnesses Light in Her Conceptual Works

Canadian artist Tonya Hart

A beautiful collision of light and sculpture, Tonya Hart’s pieces pop up where you’d least expect them.

By Elena Senechal-Becker
Photography by Arash Moallemi

Wander around downtown Toronto long enough and you’re bound to run into one of Tonya Hart’s pieces. Whether it’s at the Winter Light exhibition or DesignTO, the multitalented sculptor and light designer’s work has been around the block. Over the past decade, it has toured public collections across the Great White North, while her international resumé includes 2018’s Venice Biennale and New York’s Governors Island Art Fair, as well as countless group shows. 

Circles of Life - Tonya Hart
Circles of Life. Made of canvas and LED, Birth (left) and Eclipse (2021) showcase the beauty of restraint.

Born and raised in Toronto, Hart received her BFA from York University, where she adamantly refused to be pigeonholed. “Art school wants you to choose one specialty. I resisted that,” she says. Entering the program as a painter, Hart tried her hand at every material, from ceramics to acrylics, learning along the way.

In 2011, her first commission for Nuit Blanche Toronto led to what has now become Hart’s main practice: lighting as sculpture. INFRA, a pack of life-sized fibreglass wolves rendered as thermal sculptures, has since shown in cities across Canada. Sadly, a studio fire in 2018 saw them destroyed – save for three, which were stolen after the blaze. “They’re probably out there, in someone’s house, still smelling like smoke,” she says.

Wave Particles - Tonya Hart
Wave Particles. Quantum Light hangs in Regent’s Park’s new Evolv building. It portrays quantum mechanics’ wave-particle duality and celebrates the uniqueness of the neighbourhood. 2021, LED, brass.

More recently, Tonya Hart is been working on commissions for commercial projects. Her aluminum and acrylic Aurora Skylight adorns one of Gladstone House’s newly renovated suites, and she’s working on a large-scale sculpture for Prince Edward County’s Oeno Gallery. She’s also delving into the private realm, creating Quantum Light – an ornate, loopy luminaire – for a new condo lobby in Regent Park. “That piece has a future. I can see a lot of work coming out of it.”

Night Sky - Tonya Hart
Night Sky. Aurora Skylight hangs in the newly redesigned Gladstone House. 2021, acrylic, aluminum.

Hart sometimes uses CAD to sketch her designs but admits she’s always been analog-first. Posting pictures of her work on Instagram helps her to connect with potential buyers and commissions, but it’s not what she’s best at. “The idea arrives complete and I just pursue how to make it,” she says. Her sketchbooks are full of notes and measurements; she doesn’t always feel the need to draw her designs beforehand. “Because I’m familiar with a lot of materials, I know how they behave. I’m somewhat intuitive.” TONYAHART.COM

Cloud Forms
Cloud Forms. From a series of LED sculptures, Cloud Lightning, (2020) utilizes LED tubes to craft engaging forms.

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