Michael Cho was born in Seoul, South Korea, but moved to Canada at the age of 6. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, Michael divides his time between illustration, comics and painting. His illustration work has been published in the New York Times Book Review, the Boston Globe, Macleans, The Village Voice and Scientific American. He has also painted book covers for Penguin Classics, Random House and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Along the way, Michael has been the recipient of a couple of National Magazine Award nominations, winning a Silver in 2007. He’s also created artwork for film, theatre and even a comic-book themed opera. He currently lives and works in downtown Toronto in a nice house with his wife and daughter.
From the Introduction to “Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes”:
For as long as can I remember, I’ve been drawing. And for most of that time, my interest was in drawing people. I think it was because the human figure had more interesting lines and rhythms and was what I related to, while buildings and houses and streets were just something I broke out my ruler to draw.
When I set out to become an illustrator, I knew I had to fix that apathy. I’d always appreciated good landscape painting and how it could evoke a sense of place and emotion, but I had been a city dweller all my life and had never been able to draw a pastoral scene with any real conviction. What I know are city streets and alleyways. So when I decided to sketch and paint some landscapes to further my artistic knowledge, that’s what I chose as my subject.
Although I wasn’t born here, I’ve lived in Toronto longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life and it’s the city I love and call home. I’ve always felt comfortable living downtown. I’d often cut through the alleyways here on the way home on a summer night or during a walk to clear my head on a spring day. They’re familiar places, quiet and often hidden in plain sight. I think when you know a city, you know its back alleys. It’s like a house: the dining room is in the front to show to guests, while the real living goes on in the kitchen in the back.
This book is a collection of many of the sketches, drawings and paintings I did in the course of my learning. They were done over a 5 year period, from 2006-2011, when I’d find time in-between freelance commitments to relax and work on something personal. They were done in all kinds of media; watercolour, gouache, ink, markers and coloured dyes to name a few.
The sketches evolved and became more complex as I quickly developed a real love for drawing these places. They remain fascinating to me, full of the same rhythms and organic qualities that I missed before, and I enjoyed trying to document their details. But there are also certain emotional qualities to some of the locations depicted in this book, especially during certain seasons, that I find difficult to put into words, but which I find compelling and inspirational. These drawings and paintings are my small attempt to transcribe some of those qualities onto paper.