Pattison Special Project: Public Spaces/Private Thoughts

Derek Besant


Humans have complex identities, a combination of an outward self and a psyche. This existential reality creates within us a constant ebb and flow: between instinct and reason, action and consequence, aspiration and regret. The hidden realm of our desires and anxieties is a world unto itself inside our heads. But imagine the barrier dissolving between private thought and public context. Derek Besant proposes that our fears of personal exposure can be a moment of transformation, turning public space into a zone of shared intimacy amongst strangers.

Working closely with Pattison Outdoor Advertising, the artist presents eight black-and-white portraits of men and women throughout the subway system. Each figure is blurred for anonymity, with a short statement revealing a personal thought superimposed on top. Drawn from fleeting themes found in the news media, the texts point to the secrets, wishes, resentments, and fears we all experience at different times in our lives. The viewer becomes a witness to private disclosure, an unwitting confessional, or an overheard cell phone conversation. The out-of-focus portraits echo the unending flow of people one encounters in the subway while waiting for a train. What we read on each poster is a thought from a stranger who cannot be fully observed. With Public Spaces/Private Thoughts, the artist’s anonymous subjects reveal the secrets we share in common. A widely-exhibited artist, Besant is well-known in Toronto for his tromp l’oeil mural on the Flatiron building at Front and Wellington.

Supported by Pattison Outdoor Advertising.