Will Munro (1975-2010) was a Toronto-based artist and cultural activist, born in Sydney, Australia, and a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design (2000). A posthumous survey was mounted at the Art Gallery of York University, curated by Phillip Monk, and included the catalogue of record, Will Munro: History Glamour Magic.
Amongst Munro’s work his hand-stitched reconstructed underwear works, which date from 1997, stand out as cultural signifiers for their delicacy of technique, as well as the wit in cultural cross-references, that he consistently employs. In the re-working of this body-based architecture, inlaid with panels sourced from vintage t-shirts and textiles, Munro references the personal spaces of intimacy, sexuality, secrecy, shame, pleasure, empowerment and vulnerability. Six of these works can be found in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada.
In collaboration with Jeremy Laing, Munro created the performance and installation project, the Pavilion of Virginia Puff-Paint, featured in the 2004 exhibition Sinbad in the Rented World curated, with catalogue, by Philip Monk at the Art Gallery of York University, Toronto. Munro presented work in quilting, neon, silkscreen, and sculpture in the 2005 exhibition Blank Generation at Paul Petro Contemporary Art, and was featured in the 2009 exhibition Funkaesthetics curated by Luis Jacob and Pan Wendt at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Toronto, and the Confederation Centre for the Arts, Charlottetown. Munro’s final exhibition, Inside the Temple of the Cosmic Leather Daddy was mounted at Paul Petro Contemporary Art in March 2010, and again at La Centrale, Montreal, in 2011.
Munro’s practice extended into his community-based activity. His work with sexuality, shame and empowerment is reflected in his work at the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line (an Ontario-wide peer-support service for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, 2-spirited, queer and questioning young people) where he worked from 1998 to 2008. Considering the relationship between his work with hand-sewn underwear along with his activities as community worker and volunteer, the strong political dimension of Munro’s artistic achievements becomes evident.
Continuing in the footsteps of the artist-collective General Idea -- for whom the creation of works of art was as important as the production of infrastructure for an arts “scene” in Canada -- an exceedingly significant aspect of Munro’s creative work has been Vazaleen, a monthly rock and roll queer event. He started Vazaleen in 2000, and continued this event on a monthly basis for the following seven years.
One of Toronto’s most active promoters of queer culture during the past decade, Munro has brought to Toronto such legendary music performers as The Hidden Cameras, Nina Hagen, Kembra Pfahler, Peaches, The Gossip, Jayne County, Joey Arias, Vaginal Creme Davis and The Toilet Boys amongst many others. In his work with Vazaleen (and his other monthly music events at the time, including Peroxide, NoT.O. and Moustache) he has produced a great number of artist-multiples and ephemera. Especially noteworthy is Munro’s work with silkscreen posters, produced in the collectively run Punchclock Studio. His silkscreen work is technically ambitious, using multiple screens to create fascinating optical effects. Labour-intensive techniques in hand-stitching and print-making are also used by Munro both for their inherent aesthetic value and for their association with folk and working-class cultural forms and hardcore punk rock culture.
Iconographically, his work also acts as a form of history lesson, making reference to the “whispered histories” of Queer art and activism (with figures such as David Wojnarowicz, Klaus Nomi, General Idea, Andy Warhol and Stephen Sprouse) to create work that is simultaneously artistic production, material culture, and history-writing for sub-alternative communities.