He might be the last cowboy in Brooklyn. Like those adventurers of yesteryear, Jamie Toll (that’s MRToll to you) wandered to a new land seeking adventure and opportunity. An immigrant from Australia, Toll moved to New York in 2003 and quickly rose from local bartender to worldly artist to social justice guru. His work has spanned continents and mediums; his cracked-open, silicone eggs scattered about the US border highlighting the fragility of the immigrant experience caught the attention of the United Nations who employed Toll to travel to El Salvador and Turkey to build community through street art. Alongside his wife, Toll is also crafting a documentary called I Am Migration. Based on their cross-country journey handing out free DNA tests, the film aims to unearth the perceptions of whiteness and blood purity, tackling racism and xenophobia along the way. Meanwhile in Greenpoint, he creates jubilant birds and clay eggs and cartoonish skulls that are peppered around the neighborhood as Easter eggs for residents to discover.
Toll is simultaneously planning, tackling, and executing a number of projects. Before this interview, he said he prefers to delve into just one and discuss its impact as opposed to scanning over many and diluting their effects. And so we discussed his one true love: Brooklyn. (“I’ve never put up art in Manhattan,” he says with pride.) He’s forthright, but don’t mistake this for harshness; Toll exudes compassion, is masterfully warm, and radiates an envious amount of charisma. Maybe it’s the Aussie accent, or the casual way he sipped a whiskey during our interview. He was in his own bar after all — the summer hotspot and winter hideaway Northern Territory, located at 12 Franklin Street. Perched on a barstool, he’s excited yet at ease, and it’s contagious. After getting to know Toll for an hour or so, it’s not hard to feel gravitationally bound to him, even as he tells you that in two years’ time his cozy bar will close. Come March 2020, Northern Territory’s lease won’t be renewed and the building will make way for a high-rise office space. This is just another verse in the dirge of local bars being bought out, but as with cowboys, another adventure is always on the horizon.