The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Bad PortraitsMandy Stobo used social media to advance project

The tagline for Mandy Stobo's Twitter account sums up her work: "I am an art project of Bad Portraits. You send me a pic and I make a very poor watercolor of it that kind of resembles you, but not really."

Stobo, a single mom, began her project when she was living in Canmore with her son.

"I needed something that was smaller and wasn't going to wreck the house, and I couldn't waste too much time driving back and forth to my studio," she said.

"The one thing that came to mind was faces. Everybody has a face, so I thought I should try to utilize that."

Determined to also familiarize herself with social media, Stobo began "badStoboMandy Stobo shows off her favorite Stephen Avenue tree grate, her ‘bad portrait’ of Ernest Manning.

Photo by Nicolle Amyotte
portrait-bombing" friends and celebrities alike with art that she'd created from Twitter or Facebook profile pictures.

"I can't imagine being an artist in a different time, " Stobo said. "It'd be impossible to do what I do without social media."

Fraser Tuff, X92.9 radio personality, has been one of her portrait subjects and is a fan of Stobo's work.

"I think that Mandy is the best, she's so talented, and the 'bad portrait' idea is so friggin' cool," he said.

Stephen Avenue Walk of Fame

Early this year, the Calgary Downtown Association decided that something had to be done about the amount of litter on Stephen Avenue, in particular under tree grates.

So, the association hired Stobo to paint tree grates on Stephen Avenue with famous Calgarians' faces on a "Stephen Avenue Walk of Fame."

Caralyn Macdonald, a manager for the association, said that Stobo's art works well with the difficult task of painting on tree grates.

"We wanted to turn litter into awareness," she said. "The vibrancy of the bad portraits worked for garnering attention."

Over the summer, Stobo became a "permanent fixture on Stephen Avenue," sometimes working until 4:00 a.m. to complete portraits - which took her anywhere from 10-15 hours each with "with varnishing, sanding, and scrapin' off the gum."

"To figure out how to paint on metal and with holes is really cool for me," Stobo said.

The project, launched in September, features 55 present and past Calgary faces. Some of the featured individuals came out to sign their grates, including Naheed Nenshi, Darrel Janz and Brett Hart. Stobo herself shares a grate with Poet Laureate Kris Demeanor.

Stobo said that she was particularly fascinated with lessons learned while painting the block of historical contributors.

"The way Calgary began blows my mind," she said. "It gave me such a love for the city."

StoboStobo began “bad portrait-bombing” friends and celebrities alike with art that she’d created from Twitter or Facebook profile pictures.

Photo by Nicolle Amyotte
While the winter months may take a bit of a toll on the grates, Macdonald said the association will keep the project alive as long as possible. The group is accepting nominations for subjects for the about 35 remaining unpainted grates, which Stobo will be painting next year so long as the grates hold up over the winter.

Spreading the bad

Stobo is planning to expand into Toronto and New York in the spring, launching with a Toronto art agent.

"Right now, we're making inventory, similar to how I did it here," she said of her intention to grow over social media first.

"The people in those cities are sending me popular faces around those cities that I wouldn't know about, and I'm just painting those," added Stobo, "Then we're going to bomb those cities a week apart with bad portraits."

Stobo also has plans to travel to towns in rural Alberta to share her work. She isn't yet sure what the response will be like.

"It could all fail and it could all do really well, I'm just excited to wait and see."

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