24 year old Trevor Twells is intimately familiar with the vast cityscape that is Toronto, and the public transit that helps hold it all together. Residing in Scarborough and working in the Downtown core, he works as a Product and UX designer by day who indulges his artistic whims at night – “It’s just me, doing my art for myself.”
Detail-oriented and highly analytical, it’s no surprise he’s a designer (“I like solving problems.”) But a love of anime in his youth led to an interest in digital art, where tools such as PhotoShop and photography (both of which are self-taught skills) allowed him to express the multitude of creative ideas he often had but was unable to put out into the world – he was never one for drawing.
Taking inspiration form the world around him and the ample amount of time he spends commuting, Twells has managed to harness his everyday stream of consciousness and observations on public transit into a second project, “Congestion in 3D”, which will be showing at Blank Canvas Gallery starting May 14th. Bringing a tech-savviness to his work, the exhibit thoroughly embraces technology to bring Twells’ vision to fruition and enhance the installation experience – from viewing photographs in 3D to create a hyper realistic feel, to creating a Snapchat geo-filter that will be active for the duration of the event.
We spoke to Twells about the importance of art and creative freedom, the role public transit plays in our communities and what makes the public transit so interesting (and inspirational) to him.
What are your first memories of you starting to create?
I used to suck at art, actually. Like really, really suck at art up until college. The first time I started to create was when I was little and I had toy – I used to make up pretty complicated storylines with them. I couldn’t draw, but I was really good at storytelling – building worlds and stuff like that. I think I really started creating when I took this course in Grade 11 it was just like Photoshop stuff. I was okay at it, but… You know the 1000 hour rule? It’s just you keep trying at things, and you eventually get really good at it? It really interested me, because for a while it was really hard for me to get things that were in my head out into the real world, and then this [Photoshop] was kind of an outlet for it. Eventually I was living and breathing digital design and digital art. And eventually, I got really good at it.
It seems like you felt really motivated to get better at art, was that a top-down thing or were you more drawn towards it?
It was always just drawn towards it because initially I was super frustrated like being in art class, I would have this crazy idea but I couldn’t get it out there. I was always creative in storytelling and designing things but I guess the output was kind of lacking at first, when I first started out.
You’re putting on this exhibit right now, but you work as a UX/Product Designer officially –where does art fall in your day-to-day?
It basically just keeps my sanity. When you’re working on projects as a designer (or any type of creative), you have a certain set of rigid rules that you have to follow. Nothing’s really Blue Sky. When you break it down to the purest form, I like art; I’m an artist. I’m at a place right now where I feel I need to have total creative freedom, and that drives me nuts. I need some sort of output.
THE ART OF PUBLIC TRANSIT
Why did you decide to do this exhibit in 3D?
I’ve got to bring it back to where this whole idea began. There was a Nuit Blanche open call, and the theme was “Sustainability and Technology”. I said to myself that if I’m going to do this, it has to be something I’m passionate about. I couldn’t really think of anything, but then I was riding the train just like I do everyday and I realized: this is going to be unsustainable in a year or two. You often have to wait for two or three trains at Yonge & Bloor just to get on during rush hour – this was when there was no delay, and things were running smoothly.
As for the 3D aspect, I thought to myself “How do I make this real for people?” I was on the train, and I saw a poster where the dog’s nose was outside the white border, making it look a little 3D. I realized that’s how I can make it real for people, if people saw it in 3D. It feels really claustrophobic when you’re there; it really puts you in the scene.
I experimented with 3D photography using the cha-cha method, liked the effect and ordered a special lens that takes two pictures at a time from China. It was a pretty crappy lens – it was so insensitive to light that I basically had to take a dozen shots before I got a really good one. I almost quit when I went out the first time, but then I saw one picture and said to myself “This is amazing, I can’t stop… Just keep going.” I took 100-somethingphotos in order to get these 12 photos that I’m showing at the exhibit.
I never heard back from Nuit Blanche and found out after getting in contact with them that I didn’t make it. But this is a really good idea, and people need to see this.
Your previous project also involved public transit, blending pop culture icons and TTC stations. How did you come up with the inspiration for that project?
I ride the subway to work – my commute is two hours – and a lot of the time I don’t really shut my brain off when I’m on the commute, unless I’m sleeping. I kind of just look at and observe things. I’m a comic book fan, so every time I pass by Castle Frank station I think of Frank Castle who’s the Punisher in the comics. And when I saw St. George I thought “George Costanza”, and I said to myself “I’m just gonna make this an entire project.”
What kind of value do you believe public transit brings to both a city, and to its individual riders? Are there others ways besides providing accessible transportation that you believe public transit is a public good?
Pragmatically, public transit cuts down costs by a lot. Sometimes it’s people’s only means to actually travel through the city.
From a community view, I really like transit because you meet the most random people on transit. These people will never interact with you in your life if you never went on the train. Even if it’s just for a moment, this is where your lives intersect.
What is the role public transit has played in your life, besides the basic act of transportation? Do you have any other specific attachments to it?
When I’m on the subway, it’s kind of like a wonder. When you see different stations, you see how they each have a unique feel to them. I really like that. Whether a font is off, or the tile looks different; it’s really cool. Rosedale and Old Mill look completely different from each other. And you can kind of tell how each was like built, which were built first… just stuff like that, looking at the architecture of it. Plus, you’re going through a metal tube going through the city, underground.
That in itself is a wonder.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It just sucks that it’s going to reach critical mass soon.
If you had to implement some improvements to the TTC, what would you do?
Extend to Scarborough, extend it to U of T – because then I could walk to U of T! That’s very self centered (laughs).
What are some causes you are passionate about outside of your art?
A small cause would be that in this day and age, people really love to sweat small and minute things. People should really just focus on making things better rather than complaining about things that have no effect on them.
Are there any other artists in Toronto that you really admire?
What’s next for you going forward in terms of your work and your art?
I have one project in mind, it’s an app that I can’t speak too much on yet. I also have a few art goals I want to do – I kind of want to move away from just things I can post on Instagram. I want to do more things that are experiences, like this 3D art – things that will make people come out and do things, rather than just go on Instagram and Facebook and view them. I feel like I’ve kind of exhausted that medium, so I’d rather just do experiences. Whatever that brings me I’m not really sure yet.
“Congestion in 3D” will be showing at Blank Canvas Gallery (1544 Bloor St. W, Toronto) this Saturday, May 14th.