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Toronto artist attempts to make people see the beauty of Highway 401

Despite his 'deep hatred of the 401,' Daniel Rotsztain has dedicated months to sketching it and digging deeper to find meaning.

Daniel Rotsztain's new project is dedicated to sketching Highway 401. He's also known for sketching the city's libraries and heritage sites.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Daniel Rotsztain's new project is dedicated to sketching Highway 401. He's also known for sketching the city's libraries and heritage sites.

Daniel Rotsztain wants us to look at Highway 401 differently.                  

“I grew up in Toronto. I’ve had to deal with the 401 my entire life,” says the architecture student, amateur cartographer and artist. “I have this deep hatred of the 401. It’s huge, it’s scary, it’s busy and polluting, but it’s also undeniably an integral part of my experience with the city.”

As way to “reconcile” his disdain for the road, Rotsztain has spent the past few months sketching the 40-kilometre stretch of the 401 that winds through Toronto.

The result is a strangely organic take on one of the city’s most iconic stretches of concrete and asphalt.

“I wanted to humanize this inhuman infrastructure,” Rotsztain says. “We should embrace the highway instead of pushing away. We already celebrate the parts of the city that are beautiful, but we should also appreciate the everyday infrastructure that makes the city possible to live in.”

The experience has given Rotsztain a new perspective on the highway, and he now admits parts of it are beautiful in their own way, especially the “basket weave,” the stretch in between Keele and Jane streets, where the collectors and expressways come together.

“People have said it looks the sinews of muscle tissue,” he said.

Having unveiled the massive, to scale sketch at the recent Long Winter event at the Gladstone, Rotsztain says the next step is to annotate the map with stories he’s collected from people about the 401.

“A lot of art focuses on the downtown parts of Toronto, but the 401 is this equitable piece of infrastructure that a lot of people have to drive on. It’s all about accessing those people’s experiences,” he said. 

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