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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Take me back to Happiness: an art show about Hanlan’s Point beach

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What: Take me back to Happiness: paintings of Hanlan’s Point art show by Zach Rosen

When: March 9-14 Opening Reception March 10 6-10PM

Where: Northern Contemporary Gallery, 420 Roncesvalles Avenue

Everybody’s talking about Hanlan’s Point of late as the Toronto Island Master Plan planning process caused concern among the communities that hold Hanlan’s dear. In the Toronto Star last week I argued this was, in part, a result of the culture of distrust that has been cultivated at City Hall recent years. Toronto artist Zack Rosen approached the sacred place by sketching what he saw. In his own words:

The idea for “Take Me Back to Happiness” was born at Hanlan’s Point itself last summer. I was trying to solve the familiar conundrum of “what does one bring for entertainment at a beach?” It seemed criminal to be glued to my phone at a nature preserve and I wasn’t in the mood to read. So I picked up a small pad of paper and a set of watercolour pencils, which I had never used before, and figured they could keep my brain and hands busy. My initial goal was to document a day at the beach in a way that would bring me back to sunshine in the cold days of winter – a little piece of Hanlan’s I could keep in a drawer. I drew little pink men under their beach umbrellas, and bird and skylines, and so much sand. After 24 such pieces – the entire pad of paper – it hit me in August that this could be the beginning of a larger series of paintings, and one that I could show the public. Northern Contemporary Gallery was interested, and I’ve spent the months since last summer creating more than 50 original paintings documenting the reality and the mindset of Hanlan’s point. They come in different sizes, styles and moods – but all are united by a singular strip of land that Toronto queers have long called home.

And more description of the show:

This March, gay Toronto artist Zack Rosen is debuting a series of paintings that celebrate the unparalleled queer freedoms of Hanlan’s Point nude beach. “Take Me Back To Happiness” will be hung at the Northern Contemporary Gallery (420 Roncesvalles Ave.) from March 8th- 14th, with an opening night extravaganza on the 10th .

Hanlan’s Point holds a special place in the Canadian queer heart. Nestled at the back of Toronto Island, it has been a beloved queer meeting spot since the ‘50s and hosted one of Toronto’s first pride celebrations in 1971. The city has officially designated the beach as “clothing optional,” making it the rare government-sanctioned safe space.

The gallery show will capture Hanlans’ anatomical and natural beauty. Inspired by Keith Haring, David Hockney and other gay luminaries, the works span a variety of sizes, painting styles and mediums. A few of the smaller pieces were drawn live at the beach this past summer. Expect a healthy balance between gorgeous beachscapes and male nudes.

Named for a haunting club track by DFA Records’ artist Crooked Man, the show captures all the ways that Hanlan’s Point represents an escape from the oppressive modernity of Anthropocene city life. The freedom of nudity, sexual expression and access to nature make it a fleeting and beloved summer destination for Toronto queers.

“Take Me Back To Happiness”  brings the beach back in the days that summer seems furthest away. The paintings capture sunshine and joy, flirtation and longing, sadness and hope.  As the natural world faces unprecedented threats to its long term integrity, “Take Me Back To Happiness” captures a time and place in Toronto queer life that might not last forever  but can be enjoyed right now.