It has been a Show and Tale to be sure. The idea for mugs with frames came from a comment I overheard while walking south on University Avenue in Toronto. There were two people sitting on a pleasantly located bench, just below the courthouse. They were agreeing that Toronto was not a friendly city and that they much preferred Edmonton. Now, I don’t recall ever having been in Edmonton (so I can’t say how friendly in the extreme Edmonton is), but I do know that Toronto is not a cold, unfriendly city. I set out to prove or perhaps disprove the point.


Enter Hallowe’en: a pair of perfectly round, dark glasses purchased in Kensington Market and the Willy Wonka character from Charley and the Chocolate Factor as my son’s inspiration for Hallowe’en. I borrowed his glasses, and when I saw how the perfectly round glasses made every wearer look approachable, I smiled and promptly was smiled at in return. Ah, yes, a prop that turned strangers into smiling strangers. The project had begun.


Random selection was the idea. Stop people on the street, at my place, at your place, downtown, uptown as long as it was in

Toronto. In 124 mugs I only had three refusals, of which one works for the mayor’s office, but is not the mayor. I’m convinced one fellow was in some capacity illegal, and one girl couldn’t believe I wanted her likeness when I had first stopped her very elegant friend. Lesson learned: photograph the less elegant, albeit more interesting girl, first.


When my friends and associates saw how counter-urban it was to simply stop people on the street and strike up a conversation, they offered to attend the odd evening and weekend session. Yes, I had a reason, of sorts, to ask for a moment of complicity in a personal project with the name Mugs with Frames, Portrait of a City. This project makes me smile – still, and I hope it will attach a kind of grin to you, as well, as 124 mugs with frames mostly grin back at you.

For the record, Toronto is as friendly a place as you are as a person. You more or less get your own expression right back at you.

What the...?

Mugs (mug):


  1. Chumps: people who are gullible and easy to take advantage of
  2. (VT) Robs at gunpoint or with the threat of violence; “I was mugged in Toronto!”
  3. Ceramic containers with handles
  4. Countenances: human faces

Frames (freym):


  1. Structures supporting or containingsomething.
  2. (VT) Encloses in a frame, as of a picture.
  3. Series of still transparent photographs on a strip of film.
  4. (VT) Ensnares: catches as if in trap; “I was framed!’
  5. (VT) Constructs by fitting parts together.
  6. Pair of dark glasses, with oversize round lenses, used in photo project, sum to mer, 2006.

Constructing and Deconstructing

who we are

On the most obvious level, Mugs with Frames is an exercise in parsing urban reality – an artificial but valid method of categorizing the faces that we meet in the course of a walk through downtown, a ride on the subway, a visit to the corner store. It proposes a simple device for making the unfamiliar familiar, and the potentially threatening vaguely comical. At the same time, it accentuates the uniqueness of the human subjects and highlights their very individual responses to participation in the project. Mugs are us, and frames are a way of both constructing and deconstructing who we are.


Frames as uniform
Each stranger’s face is made familiar through the device of framing – in this case, with dark glasses. At the same time, it is made strange and unique by the interplay between its native features and the imposed uniformity of the frame.


Frames as punctuation
Frames punctuates faces with a pair of solid full stops: Boom. Boom. The frames are as far as you’re going to get towards reading whatever tale is told by the eyes. The windows of the soul are gone, man! Leaving the face divided into top and bottom, chin and lips, forehead and eyebrows. Make what you will of it. S*re you ca* rea* it, just l*k* you c*n r**d th*s. It just takes more effort.

Frames as goofy ambiguity
Shades are just plain cool. Except that these shades are actually kind of goofy. So which is it? Are the wearers cool, or are they goofs? Or are they posing that question to themselves as the shutter snaps – hence the bemused expression on some mugs. (Was Mona Lisa smiling because she had just been framed in some unthinkable Renaissance manner?)


Yes, this writer’s mug is included in the collection.


Chris Atack


Sponsorship makes the Art world go round and round.

Thanks to Mayfield Custom Homes and Annan and Sons for their wonderful support of our show Mugs With Frames portrait of a city...

Thanks also to the 125 people who contributed their mug to this project.Toronto IS a friendly city PASS IT ON!

Toronto IS a friendly city PASS IT ON!
We HOPE that this show and this concept find it’s way into the Toronto Mind. Please invite your local MP and anyone who has a love for or a stake in TORONTO our city.


Do you know The Great Toronto Game? Come to the show to know.
Join us at the Opening Friday September 19 6:00pm – 9:00pm.
Add your mug to the fine collection...