“Sorry I’m a bit late,” Dave Murray strolls up to the table. “I’m dog sitting two giant schnauzers and they’re a bit of a handful.”
The ice breaks and the interview with “the Toronto word maps” guy begins. Mayhaps you’ve seen these word collages depicting the sights and sentiments of different TO neighborhoods? Kid Icarus was the first store to pick up his work, but he’s grown in popularity and other stores have started buying prints off his website and then reselling them. “A friend called to ask me if I knew that this was happening,” Murray laughs. “It doesn’t bother me at all. It would be better for them if they asked me, then I could give them a deal. But I’m still selling my work so I don’t really care.”
The maps were originally conceived as a school project when he was a student at Sheridan. To create them Murray blends his love for vintage signs and hand-drawn typography with an eye for detail and a love of words. “I have a lot of fun with word placement. Some people might call it poetry, but I don’t,” he shrugs. “I just try to use words that are funny or descriptive.”
Choosing those words is a long and involved process. He’ll walk the length of a chosen neighbourhood with a notebook or video camera, writing down or commenting on signs, words, images, types of stores – anything that catches his eye. Back at home, he uses a text document and generates a paragraph of words and associations going block by block; the words that pop up most consistently are likely to make the map.
“Down to the letter, I have the choice to put it here or there. I have total control over the final appearance and that’s important to me; I’m trying to create a picture of exactly what that particular place is about. If I get my work in a gallery that’s great, but it’s reassuring to know that I’ve gained a foothold in the industry that I went to school for.” Murray is pragmatic rather than cynical about the commercial aspect of his work. “I try not to exercise personal bias, but if a friend owns a store, I’ll put in a proper noun. You’ll never see me put in a Starbucks, ” he smiles wryly, “unless they pay me.”
A steady rhythm has been building and Murray is now sought after for his illustrative work beyond the word maps. With one eye on dream projects – a book cover, something for Rolling Stone magazine or a New Yorker cover – and a portfolio that boasts of work for Stella Artois Légère, The National Post, and Canadian Family Magazine, Murray is confident that those dream projects are within reach. “What I do really requires a lot of work. I’ve got a big ego, I’ll say that, but I appreciate my success a lot. Deep down, I just really want to make cool pictures. That’s the crux of it.”
Written by: Megan Evans