Ask Nicole Torok why she loves bike riding and she’ll tell you, “It’s because I’m propelling myself. Riding a bike never stops me from where I want to be.” Other than commuting to and from her busy job as a 2nd Camera Assistant in the film and TV industry, and repairing and selling old bikes, you will find her in her studio working on bicycle-inspired art.
Torok’s major works at the La Carrera Cycles exhibit, are glistening oil tableaus that mix the cool blues, greens and dark greys and blacks of an abstracted city skyline, with recognizable bicycle-parts stenciled over top. There is no attempt at a story, other than, perhaps one of a growing bike culture within a towering downtown Toronto. They beg the eye into a streetscape demonstrate the play of geometry, movement, and subtle glowing light. The large 5-foot by 7-foot unstretched, raw canvases called “Buildings and Gears” and “Buildings and Wheels,” reflect her respect for both the built environment’s straight lines and the detailed two-dimensional expression of stencil graffiti artists like Toronto’s Janet “Bike Girl” Attard.
The other pieces are ink-on-paper representations of bike couriers. Without pretension, Torok explains, “I like their style of dress, and I like their bikes.”
Although she never worked for a courier company, Torok did deliveries as part of her behind-the-scenes film and TV career. “They discovered I could ride fast,” she says modestly.
Being immersed in bike culture, Torok finds ways to stay busy when the film season slows. She fixes bikes — as she has since she took the training wheels off her own first bike — and sells them as a side project. When she has time, Torok volunteers at Bike Pirates, a do-it-yourself bike shop on Bathurst south of College, and the venue for an undated Summer exhibit.
She is inspired both by her friends in Toronto’s indie music and drama scene, and her physical environment. “If you are creative, then you are drawn to other people who are creative,” says Torok about the artistic community she belongs to that she calls a family. But being “a very visual person” her art also reflects a street-wise downtown culture.
After returning from a recent trip to Berlin, Torok has another culture to compare with Toronto’s in terms of bike- and art-friendliness. It’s obvious that Berlin’s drivers are more aware of cyclists, she says, “They give you space. There’s more awareness: separated bike lanes, made of different colour cobblestones between the parked cars, a line of trees and pedestrians.” But Torok has as much to say about how Berlin plays host to the artistic expressions of graffiti artists. “They welcome graffiti there. They don’t try and cover it up. It’s a part of the city. They almost encourage it to let out people’s frustrations.”
Don’t expect a political message from her art, though. She admits, we as a society need more awareness of bikes on the road, and of our own consumer culture, but Torok would rather see individuals and communities make the effort for a bike culture to thrive.
“I believe that everyone can make the switch to bikes with a little effort. And if each person who rode a bike paved one cobblestone in the road, we would have bike lanes.”
Upcoming Shows: Summer: Bike Pirates, 457 Bathurst St., open Saturdays and Thursdays 12-5 http://bikepirates.com.
Fall: “Not Just A One Trick Pony” a juried exhibition of artwork made by members of the IATSE 667 camera union, September 11-21 at the Mango Lounge, 1402 Queen Street East