Two artists who created the designs for new Downtown Tillsonburg BIA decals and painted public art benches had an opportunity to see their work firsthand last Thursday.
“In the spirit of exploration, we want people to venture out from the places on Broadway they’re used to frequenting and try something new as they explore downtown Tillsonburg,” said Karlee Slattery, Events & Marketing co-ordinator for the Downtown Tillsonburg BIA, noting three of the eight public art benches are on Broadway, and five are on side streets.
“This is my first public art application that I’ve been accepted to,” said Woodstock area artist Aggie Armstrong. “I’ve done some stuff for a private business in Woodstock (including Early Bird Coffee).
“Mostly I do my original art and I do watercolour courses,” said Armstrong, noting the London and Toronto courses were offered live pre-Covid but are now done online.
STEPS Public Art, which sponsored the BIA bench art and decal project, has an app that shows all of the STEPS art featured across the province and complete artist profiles.
In Tillsonburg, eight benches in total were painted by two visual and media artists (Aggie Armstrong and Ray Vidal) who were selected in a June/July contest. The artists were given specific parameters to follow incorporating the theme ‘eat, shop, live, explore’ downtown Tillsonburg.
“I did include my kind of stamp on it though,” said Armstrong, who enjoyed seeing her art on the streets.
“I like it – public art is the best for people to immerse themselves in art. Not all art is meant to be within the cloisters of four walls. This way it’s immersive, people can engage with it and it just shows people that you can infuse art into anything.
“And for a little Filipino-Canadian girl, seeing that is done by somebody who looks like her… My whole thing with my art and my teaching is that it should all be representational. You can’t do what you can’t see and if there’s somebody that’s doing what you even thought of doing, that looks like you, that’s the best way to kind of validate or qualify your dreams.”
Rhonda Franks, who runs a graphic design business, created the eight decals, one for each art bench, done in four single-colour themes (eat, shop, live, explore) matching the BIA’s colour palette.
“I do a lot of design thinking and I think that translates into my fine art as well. Quite a few of the illustrations I drew myself, I drew new ones for each design. That’s fun too. That was something that happened through the pandemic – the illustration part of my business has actually blossomed a bit more. I enjoy doing digital illustrations as much as I do other things. That’s what I really like about having a design business and doing art as well, my whole life is creative. I’m lucky this way.
“This was actually very challenging because they had requested that I stay within a single corporate colour, but I could use variations in that shade. So I had to come up with something that could convey all the things that Tillsonburg had to offer, but do it in a simple enough way that it would reproduce well in a single colour.”
The decals, placed prominently on cement in front of each bench, had to be easily interpreted.
“I kept that in mind, I needed to be able to read it and engage people. And as you’re sitting on the bench, the longer you look at it, I hope people find more things in it.”
Public art appealed to Franks, who has been doing more signage work and now sees it more often.
“It is nice to be able to see my work out there, but for a long time I didn’t see it. When you start getting into doing this type of work, you do get to see it a little more often and that is pretty cool.”
Franks, who lives in the Burgessville area, remembered driving in Woodstock after doing billboards for Oxford County and exclaiming, ‘That’s my billboard!’
“This was a nice opportunity to have your work in a different market, and it’s always good to have your name out in a different area. I had actually put my name in for either, bench or decal, and I enjoyed doing it.”
Artist Ray Vidal from Mississauga did not attend the bench/decal tour.
The BIA art benches can be found in front of The Town Centre mall, Station Arts Centre, behind the library, in front of Enchanted Eats Café and The Carriage Hall, at the corner of Brock Street East and Harvey, at the Broadway/Oxford parkette, and south Broadway.