“Art is not a mirror held to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Those are the words of Bertolt Brecht.
Wayne Roberts called Tooker a “brilliant social change artist”. Indeed, Tooker himself was a work of art – one of a kind – sculpted in no small way by his remarkable partner Angela whom we also celebrate.
Seeking a cathartic way to remember Tooker, I made a series of little watercolor paintings. A few hundred copies are floating around here tonight. You might have one in your hand.
I made Toronto City Hall the backdrop, to honor Tooker’s vital presence there. In some versions, I pried the two buildings apart, to let in more light. This is to symbolize how Tooker pried our minds open, toward a more humane way of conducting ourselves.
As such, you’ll notice a few wind turbines adorning City Hall.
I’m known for my love of bicycles. Tooker was a bicycle liberationist, a patron saint of cycling. Naturally, I depicted him on his bike, amidst a herd of bikes inundating city hall and the council chambers.
And I show Tooker biking uphill, to represent the uphill battle facing him – and us – in this climate of indifference and hostility.
But where Tooker stands above many of us is that he wasn’t content with the foothills. He climbed mountains.
I was going to say Tooker was our Edmund Hillary, who scaled Everest in 1953. But perhaps a more apt likeness is to the equally fearless George Mallory, who vanished near the summit, 29 years earlier.
Asked why he climbed, Mallory said famously, “because it is there.”
Tooker was drawn to to the struggles of social justice because they are there.
Again, Bertolt Brecht: “Art is not a mirror held to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”
Tooker wielded art as an agent of social change, the way he maneuvered his colorfully-decorated bike through the streets.
If Tooker were standing up here now, I imagine him proclaiming: “Do we have to draw a picture?” He’d be urging everyone to send this picture – or one of their own – to the mayor and to their councillors, to show them what the city should look like. We’d show them wind turbines, solar panels and rooftop gardens. We’d show them a clean green waterfront without the proposed Front Street Extension. We’d force them to gaze upon Toronto’s “Bike Plan”, a vision meant to put every Toronto resident within a 5-minute ride from a network of bike paths that will take them anywhere in the city.
Let’s hope Tooker’s there now, because things aren’t that rosy down here on earth.