Jon Shaw: Local St. Catharines Artist


“St. Catharines has certainly changed a lot” is a common statement around Niagara these days. Born and raised in St. Catharines and back after a fifteen year hiatus, I can certainly attest to the city’s metamorphosis.

Changes to the urban infrastructure are even more apparent. Granted, as a visual artist who documented the scraggle of decaying buildings and dense industrial environments of Vancouver over the past seven years, I pursue these aesthetics more than the average pedestrian. Regardless, most locals would likely agree that our popular icons are clearly changing.

The most exciting example of metamorphosis is the ongoing demolition of the historical General Hospital on Queenston Street. Despite being a hot topic of controversy amongst citizens, removing the icon has provided a treasure trove of curious exploration and creative documentation.

My obsession with the hospital began with the first photographs I captured in January. My relocation from Vancouver was fresh, and I was working away on illustrative paintings based on photographs I’d shot around Chinatown or Main & Hastings. An old high school friend, aware of my interest in urban decay, casually messaged a proposition. “You should check out the old hospital they’re tearing down on Queenston, I think you’d dig it”. This small suggestion became a huge pivot point in my creative pursuits.

I began photographing various piles of rubble. I really love the compositions that are possible with zooming really far into the destruction as the building slowly decayed. These images became the basis for the paintings currently on display at The Niagara Herbalist.

I overemphasize colour schemes to the imagery to inject more life into subject matter that some may consider drab or unappealing. Complex line work, bright colour, and an overarching connection to the local community fuels this series. Furthermore, since the compositions focus so closely on specific piles of “stuff”, these pieces take on a feel of semi-abstraction, transforming our view of what still exists over on Queenston Street.

As I prepare this writing, there isn’t much left of the hospital, maybe a few more weeks before it is leveled completely. I will continue documenting its devolution until only stray bricks remain. The continuing results of this project will be exhibited at the Niagara Artists Centre this November.