Sarah Anne Johnson uses photography to explore communal experiences, taking a playful yet considered approach to the pursuit of the utopian. In this commissioned large-scale, site-specific mural, Johnson’s island scene—part imaginary and part real—transforms a grey city block into an enchanted place. Her evocative image, nestled between towering buildings that hover near Lake Ontario, echoes the natural landscape lying just beyond the edge of the city.
Johnson’s interest in the environment carries forward from her past projects. In Arctic Wonderland (2010–11), for instance, images captured during a trip to the Arctic Circle are embellished with paint, ink, and other markings in ways that draw the photographs closer to her emotional experience of these spaces. For Best Beach(2015), Johnson, who is based in Winnipeg, adopts a similar approach—a photographic composite of Toronto Island’s south shore is imbued with colour, both digitally and by hand, to create an image that only exists in this final, large-scale form. Her mural celebrates the landscape while underscoring a reliance on human intervention and spectacle.
Mounted on a block-long building at the foot of Bay Street, Best Beach is positioned at a busy location that lies at the gateway to the Islands, yet is visibly closed off from it. Johnson’s image connects the urban space to its neighbouring natural environment—trees on either side of the frame serve as a proscenium, while shadowy figures are gathered in the foreground. As constructions of Johnson’s highly theatrical imagination, these shadows allude not only to an audience witnessing the dramatic scene, but also to spectators on the street who are being enticed to join them at the beach. Exploring the space between reality and fiction, experience and desire, Johnson captures the promise of a local landscape and transforms it into an idyllic place that seems very far from the city.