Brought to you by Forge & Foster Investment Management.
Like any other urban centre, much of Hamilton’s geography is a sea of blasé building facades, unremarkable cement exteriors, and bare brick walls.
Some locals may see them as little more than the utilitarian structures they are. But for Hamilton’s multitude of muralists and visual artists, they become colossal canvases with limitless creative possibilities.
Today, Hamilton has become a hotspot for countless public murals – from stunning painted landscapes to eye-popping abstract or conceptual renderings – created by a vast variety of local independent artists and art collectives.
You may have even been lucky enough to stumble upon one of the city’s visual artists at work, balanced on scaffolding and using their tools of the trade to turn drab buildings into one-of-a-kind visual gems with their own unique stories to tell.
One such prolific practitioner is Lester Coloma, a local award-winning mural artist & illustrator and graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) who’s left his mark on multiple parts of the city. Born and raised right here in the Hammer, Coloma has been an active visual artist since he first picked up a brush and created his first murals in 1996; but his first creative impulses came much earlier.
“Communicating visually was always a strong interest since my early childhood,” says Coloma, adding that his father was one of his first influences in teaching him the fundamentals of composition, proportion, and perspective.
Even if you don’t know Coloma’s name, there’s a good chance you know his eye-catching work. Locals who eat at King William Street’s ever-popular taco restaurant The Mule are readily greeted by some of Coloma’s visual flair with a striking, atmospheric mixed media art piece on the wall featuring painted renderings of man and woman with vibrant sugar skull heads surrounded by blazing halos of light.
Coloma is also one of the creators behind Raise, a gorgeous visual representation of Hamilton’s reputation as an ambitious city built on scrappy hard work. Designed by Coloma’s brother Norman and realized by both artists on the three-storey building at 1 West Avenue South, the towering mural depicts workers hoisting rope to the heavens against a stark white backdrop.
But most recently, Coloma was commissioned by Hamilton’s Forge & Foster to create murals at 400 Wellington Street North and 150 Chatham Street. The former, a Nikola Tesla themed work, was inspired by Tesla’s innovations in electricity supply and Hamilton’s reputation as the first Canadian city to be powered by an electrical grid.
With Coloma’s ambitious concept to “represent Tesla in a Prometheus-like manner,” the mural features grey diagonal shapes wrapping around the building to represent the wires that originally carried electricity to Hamilton from the Decew Falls Generation Station in St. Catharines.
In contrast, Coloma’s mural at 150 Chatham pays homage to local innovation and discovery via the beauty of the city’s more natural elements, capturing the aesthetics of the Bruce Trail and the Chedoke area’s famous waterfalls while depicting images of a forest worker, lab technician, and craft brewer.
“The added illusion of depth with painted cast shadows gives the plant imagery a lived-in look, harmoniously unifying nature with technology,” explains Coloma.
Of similarly prolific note in Hamilton’s robust street art scene is Richard Mace, the artist behind Street Art Hamilton whose work features prominently at numerous notable locales including the Mexican-inspired murals adorning the walls inside Mezcal Tacos & Tequila and the gangster-themed graffiti within the soon-to-be-open Dukes Pub Pasta & Pizzeria on Barton Street.
Though much of Mace’s art is unmistakable for its vivid and busy bursts of colour, one of his most striking recent works is the minimalist mural art on the exterior of 140 Caroline Street South, now home to the brand new Chantilly Lace Bridal Boutique; and it also happens to be one of Mace’s personal favourites.
“I wanted to create something for the neighbourhood that would lift spirits and inspire optimism,” he explains. “The return of more birds of prey to the Hamilton area in the last 10 years is a remarkable story, and I view their re-emerging as representative of Hamilton’s rebirth and reinvention.”
A stark white background sits under massive monochromatic birds with wings spread in flight, accompanied by typewriter-style typography capturing messages such as ‘I told you that we could fly. We all have wings.’
This artwork has struck a chord with countless Hamiltonians, including building tenant Chantilly Lace’s owner, Chantel Powley, who commissioned a replica of the outside mural to be painted by Mace on the interior walls of her brand new bridal boutique.
But Coloma and Mace are just two of many examples for Hamilton’s bursting visual art scene. Hamilton public artists, from individuals like Coloma and Mace to collaborative cohorts such as Clear Eyes Collective and Vermillion Sands, aren’t just responsible for brightening up the city’s neighbourhoods; they also help to cultivate local pride and unity.
“Public art and murals can help develop a sense of pride and ownership which, in turn, builds strong communities,” says Coloma. “Many people approach me as I work to convey their feelings of pride and happiness towards the mural. They also relate their personal stories of their first-hand experiences pertaining to their neighbourhood.”
In many ways, the continued rise of street art and mural work in Hamilton feels like a perfect cultural match for the city’s own scrappy, gritty identity.
It brings bursts of colour, local history, and evocative imagery to otherwise blasé and utilitarian storefronts, alleyways, tunnels, residences, restaurants, breweries, and businesses. It chips away at visual art’s most pretentious preconceptions, giving the joy and soulfulness of art to the people of Hamilton in ways that are truly public and fully accessible to anyone.
Hamilton’s public art is loaded with distinct personality. Just like the city itself.
Lead Photo by Robyn Gillam