Excerpt from Kian Kashani:
Del Degan’s Lovebot has been a familiar fixture in Toronto since the Artist first introduced his iconic concrete sculptures to the city in 2013. A concrete robot representation with a red heart resonated with fans of all ages and backgrounds as Lovebot conveyed universal values of kindness, optimism and generosity. Lovebot sculptures, with their geometric form and concrete composition, seemed to usher in a era of mass urbanization and technological advance the city was experiencing while Lovebot murals went up on what was left of the cities former brick heritage. A captive audience internalized the Lovebot message and over time, ascribed it values that its creator Matthew Del Degan had likely never conceived. Lovebot began to reflect and perhaps even promote, the welcoming and kind disposition of Torontonians. It is perhaps these qualities; qualities for which Toronto is itself known for globally, that came to attract endorsements from companies such as Virgin Mobile, Air Canada and Minto. Without any conscious effort from Matthew, it became clear that associating a company with Lovebot was akin to associating a company with the city itself. With each new condo came new residents and the potential for new fans was only limited by how fast Del Degan and his now 30 volunteers could churn out new murals and sculptures and place them across the city.
You could say that all seemed well in the land of Lovebot, though few had any notion that Lovebot’s creator, Del Degan was exhausting himself and wandering into the proverbial Land of Nod.
Though specific details have not yet been issued by the artist or his family, it is clear that unlike the infallible solid concrete robot of his creation, Del Degan had privately been battling with mental illness. The once daily posts on the artist’s instagram page stopped entirely on January 2017 and even the Lovebot fan store subsequently ceased to offer any of its items for sale. Nearly five months went by and the quiet itself began to attract some attention of its own. Del Degan’s partner, Emily, has since revealed that by the time he had managed to recover enough mental fortitude to check his email, he had amassed thousands of messages from fans and patrons alike - all of which had gone unanswered during his absence.
Months later, a few sporadic posts of older works eventually materialized on Lovebots instagram and then on October 25th 2017, a photo of a new piece was finally posted. The piece entitled “Not My Friend 1”, featured an old, male figure wearing what appears to be a top hat. The figure’s glazed-over and bloodshot eyes offer up a blank stare as he battles a near-unrecognizable Lovebot in turmoil. The two characters seem to warp and morph into one-another in an inseparable spiral of chaos and confusion. Each caught in the others tentacles in a twist and pull-like tug of war. This villain, who appears in this singular post, is the polar opposite of all that Lovebot represents and the aesthetic antithesis of Lovebot’s precise form and rigid composition. Those familiar with Del Degan’s private battle with mental illness undoubtedly recognized the battle depicted in the post as a private expression of the horrors of mental illness. Del degan may be representing himself as the mutated Lovebot figure fighting to keep his composure against his internal demons. This rare and telling expression of a Toronto artist is both unique and refreshingly original in style and subject matter.
Weeks later Del Degan posted a subsequent piece with the hashtag #sicklove. This piece had a similar psychedelic quality, only in this instance a singular Lovebot character can be seen with noticeably more defined geometric characteristics. Despite its accordion arms and a jester-like appearance, the figure is still easily recognizable as a Lovebot, but with distinct humorous and self-deprecating features. This iteration of Lovebot had fought mental illness, but was changed by it. A jester or clown, the character beckons us to laugh at its appearance and criticize it for its humorous flaws. Here, the minimal grey and red colour scheme of older versions of Lovebot are replaced by an endless spectrum of colour combinations. Of the colours chosen by Del Degan, some are complementary and others are noticeably not. As themes go, harmony and dissonance begin to flow with one another in the colour domain while the form is grounded with mechanical precision and geometry.
With each passing month, the Lovebot character began to slowly return to its original and precise geometric form. Later, as the Lovebot illustrations finally returned to the level of precision they were previously known for, Del Degan released a new version of his Lovebot that he perfected to the nanometer. One would scarcely see a trace of the corrupted Lovebot of Del Degan’s past demons were it not for one surviving and consistent characteristic of his newer works: Colour.
It is clear that to sacrifice the sanctity and precision of Lovebot’s geometric form was far too much for this Toronto artist to bare. Instead, Del Degan expresses the multiplicity of life and of his life-altering struggle with mental illness in vivid colour. Pastels and prime colours of every variety cascade across these new oversized canvases to reveal facets of Lovebot’s identity. A true fusion of the diversity of that which makes us human - love - and the precision that guides and structures the world around us. Love Metrics is the vast spectrum of the heart and nano-precision of the machine.
Emily Minor looking at the first ever, newly completed Love Metrics painting made for Aurora Montessori School - September 2018