You may have noticed stickers of a retro-styled robot with a vibrant red heart popping up across your city. If you have, chances are these are part of the Global Love Invasion. Next in our series of people making a difference – with the skills and talents they have, where they are – is Toronto based artist and designer, Matthew Del Degan, creator of Lovebot.
TTDOG reached out to Matthew Del Degan to discuss the spread of compassion and kindness through the icon of Lovebot. If you haven’t seen the character on the streets of your city, you may be wondering: What is Lovebot?
“It’s a cold concrete object in Toronto with a big heart, or warm center,” says the artist, “It’s a metaphor for the robotic interactions of people in our city…”
Lovebot was Del Degan’s design response to the way urban commuters were failing to engage their emotions, particularly their compassion, when interacting with one another.
“PEOPLE HAVE UNIQUE LIVES and THEY ARE ALL SPECIAL!” He ardently asserts. ” That grocery store clerk is probably going through some things, just like you. You have feelings and the ability to love, and so do they! Maybe I’m an odd ball, but when I get groceries I ask people how they are doing, what they have been up to and if they feel good today, so that it’s not a robot interaction.”
Lovebot, with its faceless solidity and seemingly incongruous vibrant red heart “lovingly disrupts the robotic routines of humans and reminds them that there is love in their cities and kindness around every corner.”
The artist’s design appeared on the streets of Toronto in the form of a Lovebot sticker and paste-up, which won the hearts of street art fans, and quickly made its way around the world through volunteers eager to spread the disruptive visual message of compassion, kindness and love.
“All I ever wanted them to do was to make people smile,” says the artist.
And he did. Not content to rest on his success, the artist expanded beyond the quickly changing art gallery of the street. He took the visual language of the project to a wider audience through a more permanent type of installation that engaged the entire community. The aptly titled “Love Invasion”, saw the artist embark on a series of trials and errors to create a 250 pound, 2 foot tall concrete Lovebot. This unusual sculpture and several models of various sizes were installed in the footfall of commuters to encourage city dwellers to reflect on their surroundings and their participation in the culture of the concrete jungle that typifies a big commercial city centre.
“If I can make a cold hearted person smile then good, and if a child stumbles upon a concrete robot in the city, then I’ve caused magic or wonder in someone else’s life. It’s about creating true value, and for me that’s a positive change in someone else’s life.”
Matthew Del Degan’s “Love Invasion” went beyond the messaging of a single artist to a wider community. By using his Lovebot in the service of illuminating and amplifying kindness and love, the character became the image of a global art-based social movement for love and kindness.
Working with a team of friends and volunteers, Matthew Del Degan created and self-financed an army of 100 Lovebots. He called on the people of the city of Toronto to help recognize individuals and organisations who had engaged in outstanding acts of kindness by nominating them to receive a concrete Lovebot sculpture. This act not only recognized the kindness and love that already existed in the city, but stood as a reminder that small acts of kindness can be monumental because they contain within them the potential to be exponential – inspiring more compassion and kindness from those who witness or remember them.
“Attaching a sculpture or small monument to kind acts caused, well, kindness to seem monumental.”
“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love…the stories behind them may.”
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) prepared this introduction to his work:
Matthew Del Degan belies the well-worn stereotype of Millenials as selfish, disengaged individuals with a sense of entitlement and solely preoccupied with sex, partying, video games and music. Whilst Matthew is a skydiver with over 130 jumps, a motorcyclist, active public artist, and is a notoriously avid gamer – an aspect of his aesthetic that is reflected in the retro feel of the Lovebot – he is a man on a mission and living from a sense of purpose.
His mission to be vulnerable and to share his love feeds his purpose to make the world not only a kinder place, but one where love and kindness is amplified. A muscular man sporting a platinum-blonde mohawk, he not only thwarts stereotypes of his generation, but also of his gender.
“In North America we have an idea of what manly is: big, strong, brutish, often overbearing, tough, and aggressive. To me that sounds like a large baby. I am a very physically strong man. I kickbox, and I lift concrete robots often, however, I recognize that compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero. A hero, is someone who fights for good, who is loving and giving . A true man looks after others and their safety. They are powerful, yes, but also supremely gentle.
I guess I just had the perfect father who was all that and more. And, my mother was also just spectacular. The women in my family are top notch. I owe a lot of my love to my grandmother, who was my best friend and took me everywhere.”
As head of the Love Invasion project, Matthew awarded the first concrete Lovebot sculpture to his grandmother, in recognition of all her kindness and love. To borrow from the American journalist Hodding Carter, the artist’s family has given Matthew Del Degan the roots from which to take wing with his dreams.
“…compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero.”
And in like fashion, the father of Lovebot gave his creation its own wings to soar. Taking a back seat, he provided the platform through which the kind deeds of others could shine, deepening the meaning of Lovebot and the committment of Toronto citizens to its ethos.
“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love,” he says, humbly, “but, the stories behind them may.”
By recognizing acts of kindness, compassion and bravery, the Love Invasion not only raises awareness of all the good that is being done in the community but acts as counternarrative the media’s unrelenting message of bad news and trouble in the world.
“Love became my focus because this world is missing it. It’s a sad world. You know: starvation, animals going extinct, pollution, corruption, beheadings…people wasting their lives on Facebook laughing at cats and fail videos of people falling off things. This world is a sad world, but I’m not going to sit…and watch it be that way. So, because I know how to love, and this world needs it, that’s what I do.”
Subverting the zeitgeist of disaster, disconnection and disempowerment, Matthew Del Degan’s work for love, kindness and compassion becomes an avante garde occupation. As has always been the case for society’s vanguard, the way is not always easy.
“I cry. I bleed for my work. I suffer,” admits the artist. “People don’t see that part. I never asked for this to be easy, and I’m not surprised when it’s hard. I receive hate. It’s unbelievable. But, at the end of the day, I have something to fight for and I’m living my dreams…Sometimes I question everything… But now there are too many people who respect what I do, and who support it or have contributed to it and like I said, this world needs more love. I just choose not to stop or give up.”
The Love Invasion of Toronto is mapped out on the Lovebot website to encourage visits to the monuments and reflection on one’s own memberships in communities of friends, families, coworkers and neighbours. For those who are inspired by what both Matthew Del Degan and those who receive the Lovebot honour have done to bring love, compassion and kindness into their community of the city of Toronto, but who are perhaps at a loss as to how they can make a difference in their own communities, he has this advice:
“If you sit there and do nothing, this world will only get worse. ..Get up and do something. Be a small part of the fight for love. You don’t have to change the world, but if you make one person smile… you change their world…
It’s perspective. Change your attitude and your world changes. My perception or circumstance is seen though my lens. When I change that lens what I feel is very different, but the circumstance may be the same….I’m only heading towards better things and now I’m biting off far more than I can handle… but that’s how I got this far…Work and bite off more than you can chew, then swallow… that’s how you grow…
Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that…Don’t waste your life. Do what you want to do. “
When the artist is not creating concrete sculptures, he is busy creating new projects and art for sale. He recently launched the first Lovebot toy, and is busy molding his special edition Valentine’s Lovebot which allows fans to have a piece of his art in their home. As well, he is currently organizing an art event ‘spectacular’ showcasing some of the finest art talent in Toronto. But Matthew Del Degan remains committed to his vision of making the Love Invasion a global art-based social movement.
“I’m also working on a new sticker package designed to be shared globally. Lovebot fans often want to share the love when they travel or in their respective countries. So I’m designing a larger, cheaper, package for them to do just that. I’m also building my group of volunteers around the world.”
Matthew Del Degan recently shared more about the kind acts which have merited a Lovebot monument with MTV:
TTDOG sends Matthew Del Degan and Lovebot much love and best wishes for continued success. As is our practice, we asked the artist one final question: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?
“I’m thankful for my life, and I’m thankful for everything I had been given and what I’m managing to do with it.
I find joy in living. I’m not waiting for heaven, that would be so stupid when it’s right here, right now in front of me.”
“Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that.”
To learn more about Lovebot, to volunteer for the Global Love Invasion or to support the art and design of Matthew Del Degan:
Websites: Matthew Del Degan, Lovebot
Instagram: Lovebot, Matthew Del Degan
LinkedIn: Matthew Del Degan