By Sue Tiffin
Meggan Winsley has certainly made her mark on Toronto.
The Haliburton-raised artist is drawing attention downtown in the city, her work being featured at the intersection of Queen Street West and Portland Street.
Winsley is one of 16 artists exhibiting in a public art project celebrating printmaking, in which selected artist’s analogue prints are digitally reproduced on vinyl wraps that are installed on traffic signal control cabinets located at intersections throughout Toronto.
“This collaborative project aims to bring printmaking out of the private realm of the studio and into the public context of the streets, pushing analogue print media beyond the usual bounds of works on paper, and into new and unexpected contexts,” reads a press release titled A Celebration of 50 Years of Print and Artist-Run Centres in Toronto from Open Studio Contemporary Printmaking Centre and the City of Toronto’s StreetARToronto program.
“These sixteen adapted printmaking interventions form a route that highlights geographic locations of past and present artist-run centres, mapping the general migration of Toronto’s artist-run scene from the city’s downtown core, north-west to the Junction. Viewers are encouraged to participate in this cultural narrative by actively following the mapped route, in addition to discovering the boxes by chance as they navigate the city.”
Winsley moved to Haliburton as a child in 1989, after cottaging on Canning Lake for many years.
“I always remember wanting to be an artist,” she said, noting that her family home was filled with the paintings of her grandfather, Sydney Winsley, who was a self-taught painter, and her aunt, Margaret Gourley, an accomplished painter and author. “I can still picture the drawing I did of my future self with a black beret, purple shirt, palette and brush in hand, standing in front of an easel and canvas – my image of who I wanted to be when I grew up.”
Winsley attended elementary and high school here, drawing for Marion Hare’s column in this paper, contributing painted murals to the halls of Haliburton Highlands Secondary School and taking courses from John Leonard and Lynn Donoghue through the Sir Sanford Fleming summer art school program.
After high school she studied the Art Fundamentals program at Sheridan College – exhibiting at an art show at that time at the Rails End Gallery.
“I absolutely loved doing art full-time,” she said. “I learned so much – even though it was just the basics/fundamentals. I wanted to carry on with the art making and considered getting into teaching so I enrolled at York University. The first year I only had one studio class per term and hated it so, after that, I made sure I always had two or three studio classes.”
While studying an Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts at York University, her main focus was printmaking and photography, alongside drawing and painting.
“My first year at York, I enrolled in a screen printing and relief class because sculpture and photography were full,” she said. “I absolutely fell in love with it. I then proceeded to take every possible print class available. I also became a studio monitor working in the studio. I learned screen, relief, intaglio and lithography. I had a most amazing professor in Barbara McGill Balfour.”
Since then, Winsley’s work – often with themes of pattern, decay, rot – has been shown or on exhibit throughout Canada, Australia, Taiwan, the UK and Scotland.
“One afternoon, in a library at the Art Gallery of Ontario, a tucked away library, my work was on display for the afternoon,” said Winsley. “Not a huge deal but still – my work was on display at the AGO!”
Her artist statement says that her recent body of work is about “survival, and of wearing masks so that one might endure and overcome adversity.”
“I tend to have a few projects or bodies of work on the go – vintage photography, vintage black and white photography printed as a CMYK, mouldy fruit, animal heads on human bodies in decrepit environments,” she said. “I am truly interested in as something living or inanimate decays, rots, falls apart, when does it stop being what it originally was and when does it become something else…something new. Is it still as worthy?”
Winsley has been a member of Open Studio since 2005, and a part of Open Studio’s education program since 2006, teaching the intro to screen printing class, and developing the CMYK screen printing, as well as the advanced screen printing classes. Her focus is on screen printing, with a specialty in CMYK screen printing and printing large-scale. She’s also taught at Centre3 in Hamilton, Imago in Moncton and the Art Centre at Central Tech, through the Toronto District School Board.
“I find teaching incredibly fulfilling,” she said. “I get such a charge from seeing students grasp the skills of printing and walking away with prints and [joy]. I just love it. I also love seeing the different work folks come up with. It never gets boring – teaching or the artwork.”
Of all the accomplishments and experiences along the way, Winsley said she is most proud simply that she is still printing – getting an idea, working on research and scrolling for something striking through the hundreds of images she has collected, pushing herself in scale or materials or number of layers, and seeing the idea come to fruition.
“It really is my happy place,” she said.
During the pandemic’s lockdown guidelines, Winsley adapted equipment to be able to create work at home when it wasn’t possible to access the studio, making use of a pressure washer at a car wash near her apartment for the stage in the process that calls for removing the photo emulsion.
One day in the middle of pandemic stress, she walked with three screens to the nearby car wash, and found joy. It was cold. She was startled by pigeons joining her in the car wash. She slipped and fell on the way out.
“But I was excited to be stripping the screens so that I could start fresh. I was excited thinking about what I was going to shoot onto the screen and print. With the lockdown, I have had to develop an at home studio – it is beyond Mickey Mouse, but it works. It has been a steep learning curve and I’m limited by size but I am making it work.”
Winsley wanted to be an artist and she’s done that, staying loyal to her dream and accomplishing her goals.
“I get to make art,” she said. “To express myself how I see fit. It has definitely not been easy. There have been many setbacks, many tears, and I do not think I am anywhere close to being where I want to be, but – in some way – I’m en route, at the very least.”
For more information about the A Celebration of 50 Years of Print and Artist-Run Centres in Toronto group exhibition, visit https://openstudio.ca/exhibition/open-studio-x-city-of-toronto-streetartoronto-partnership/. A Google map listing where each of the traffic signal control cabinets can be seen is available at that site.