Intuition: Hairstylists with Creative Souls

Anyone who’s had a great haircut knows that the best hair stylists are, in fact, artists. They’re sculptors whose medium is hair.

The current exhibit Intuition at Art Square Gallery and Café shows that hair — in its own right — can be sculpture. It’s the brainchild of hair stylists Erika Fung and Arisa Yamasaki and wearable art designer Shirley (Xue) Liang.

Every sculpture in this show features human hair, synthetic hair or extensions. Some hair was donated by friends. A lot was collected from the hair salon floors.

For Fung, who studied Fine Art at the University of Waterloo, it’s not that far a stretch to create sculpture from hair. She is a hairdresser specializing in avant-garde hairstyles. But the show was a chance to explore her emotions in more depth – hence the title Intuition.

“I had to get this stuff out, otherwise it would be cluttered in my head,” she says with a smile.

Natasha Gerschon, a professional image maker who produced photos and video for the show, says the goal of the exhibit is to give gut feelings a physical presence.

These sculptures, to me reminiscent of bears, were created out of a bubble wrap centre encased in real human hair, all natural brown colour — some of which friends donated.

“Intuition is not tangible – but we’re giving a visual to go with it,” she says, noting that she chose dreamlike music to heighten viewers’ emotional response.

Shirley Liang added to the show’s spellbinding effect with dramatic masks, headpieces and a surreal chest piece. The piece below, which looks like seashells, is actually made of pistachio shells and sunflower seeds.

Headpiece created by Shirley Liang featuring pistachio shells and seeds

After they brought Gerschon on board, Fung, Yamasaki and Liang recruited other creative talents in the fashion industry to collaborate on the show:

  • Kelvin Roman Lau, a recent Ryerson fashion grad, whose designs are highlighted in the photos and video
  • Tiffany Hung of Plutino Models, a highly expressive model featured in the video and photos
  • Makeup artists Melanie White and Christina Nguyen, who provided the model’s makeup

Fung says they provided each member of the collaborative team with a brief overview of what they were looking for, but encouraged them to use their own intuition in creating their work.

“If you give too much guidance, it’s forced,” she says.

Model Tiffany Hung featured in Natasha Gerschon’s video accompanying the exhibit

Fung was delighted with the turnout to the opening, especially seeing her friends from the salon coming out.

“I was very overwhelmed,” she says. “Everyone was very happy and very supportive.”

Hopefully that support will encourage these hairstylists to make more art in the future.

The show is on daily from 9 to 11 a.m. now through March 5 at the Art Square Café and Gallery, 334 Dundas St. W.


I lost a loved one this week. My mom’s cousin — a vibrant,  funny, strong and beautiful soul. A force of gravity, who drew friends and family into her orbit with fierce affection. It’s hard to come to terms with, but art helps. As I write, I’m listening to one of her favourite artists, Renée Fleming, singing arias, and looking at sketches of my cousin’s one-time country cottage. The sketches capture the charm not only of the place, but the woman herself. Art connects us all, living and dead. For that, I’m very grateful.

Natural High: The Art of Bird-Watching

Creatures that fly on their own power, armed with sharp talons and sharper eyes, with calls that range from musical to threatening … birds would be mythical beasts if they didn’t live among us.

They soar in graceful silhouettes, build homes in trees, and demonstrate levels of intelligence that science is just starting to grasp. ‘Bird brain’ could be a compliment. They’ve moved poets and artists like John James Audubon to great heights – and still do.

Among local admirers: science journalist Genna Buck and nature photographer Lance McMillan. The duo joined hordes of Toronto bird-watchers for this year’s Christmas Bird Count, an event that brings out more than 70,000 people all over North, Central and South America, both professional ornithologists and citizen scientists.

The count is an invaluable contribution to science, indicating population and health of species. It’s also a chance to appreciate birds in their natural habitats. And watch other bird-watchers.

“I’m obsessed with subcultures,” Buck says. Essentially, if there are people with passions, she wants to meet them, even if it means showing up on a Sunday at 8 a.m. in snowpants.

Early dawn and deer at Park Lawn Cemetery. (Copyright Lance McMillan)

McMillan arrived before dawn to get a head start. He’s travelled to Japan to photograph snow monkeys and the Galapagos Islands to shoot wildlife there, so was excited to focus on creatures closer to home. He and Buck reported to ‘Sector 2’ in Etobicoke and the Humber Valley, starting at Park Lawn Cemetery. McMillan was rewarded for his early arrival by spotting three deer.

Turns out Toronto is home to some wild wildlife: Birds of prey nest on condos, the highest spots in what used to be Carolinian Forest.

Peregrine falcons are at home in Toronto, thanks to condos. (Copyright Lance McMillan)

“We don’t have old-growth forests here, but we have new-growth condos,” says Buck, relating a drama she and McMillan witnessed by the Humber River.

A peregrine falcon was circling a condo, then swooped down to kill a gull, dragging it to a rock.

“Then a kestrel came and head-butted him to take the seagull,” Buck says.

During the bird count, a kestrel stole a peregrine falcon’s meal. (Copyright Lance McMillan)

The kestrel took off with the dead gull, but lost it. Kestrel karma.

McMillan saw the whole thing play out in high definition through a scope (a small telescope), down to the blood dripping from the falcon’s mouth. Buck had a pair of opera glasses that served her well. (TIP: If you don’t have a scope, binoculars, or – like Buck – opera glasses, you can use your smartphone camera and zoom in to watch birds.)

The pair learned to identify robins from a distance because they look like flying apples (they’re really plump). They saw woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, and in the public parks, they were swarmed by chickadees expecting to be fed.

Overwintering Canada geese in the Christmas Bird Count. (Copyright Lance McMillan)

Most of all, they saw waterfowl. Some Canada geese overwinter here. The Humber River is alive in winter with rafts (that’s genuinely the term) of ducks: honey mergansers, long-tailed ducks and buffleheads.

For McMillan, while he got a lot of great shots, the bird count was a chance to learn where these birds hang out so he can go back and take more time.

(Copyright Lance McMillan)

Both he and Buck found their best aid was their human guides, professional birders.

“You really appreciate the trained eye,” says Buck.

Bird-watching, for both amateurs and seasoned pros, helps train the eye, a boon to any artist.

“Don’t try too hard to keep up with the birds,” adds Buck, encouraging first-timers. “Do it as a way to see the city from a different angle.”

Special thanks to Lance McMillan for sharing his photos, including the featured image of the woodpecker at the top of this post. You can see more of his work at Lance McMillan Photography,



Gloria Swain: Art as Healing Space

Art galleries are calming, reflective spaces. They’re peaceful and quiet, a sanctuary from all the noise in the outer world. They’re a safe space.

Tangled Art Gallery at Suite S-122, 401 Richmond St.

For Gloria Swain, art itself is refuge, her healing space. As the 2016 artist-in-residence at Tangled Gallery, she shares works she has created in her process of healing, a process she says is ongoing.

Tangled Art Gallery is dedicated to promoting the work of artists with disabilities. In Gloria Swain’s case, her challenge – as with so many of us – is with mental health. Mental illness can be debilitating, but unlike physical disabilities, it’s hard to see, and even when we do see it, we turn our eyes away.

Swain uses visual art to make mental pain visible, and to draw the link between the experience of black women in our society and mental health issues. As she says, her art is political.

In a talk with students at Tangled Art Gallery this week, she shared the thoughts and inspirations behind the exhibit *Mad Room.

“We carry the memories of our ancestors in our bodies,” she narrates in a video.

In one corner of the gallery, paintings and sculptures are awash in blood red. There are references to abuse and secrets. A scroll depicts the names of black women who have been killed by police and anti-black violence, as part of the #SayHerName project.

Nearby is the installation Invisible. A wall of whitewashed art, a white hospital bed, white dressing gown and white mask depict her experience of hospitalization – and a sense of being invisible. Feeling invisible doesn’t stop someone with mental illness see and feel pain.

Pill bottles on a tray are labelled to reveal side effects of medications. Among them, pain, anxiety, hallucinations.

For the viewer, and for Swain herself, it is art that brings relief. The rest of the room is vital, vibrant, shimmering with colour.

Gloria Swain uses art as a form of healing, and encourages others to do the same.

She describes it as her healing space. In her video (which is audio-described as well), she encourages people to identify their own healing space. To get in touch with their feelings, and with her art.img_0788

There is a blue hand painted on the wall encouraging gallery visitors to touch many of the paintings.img_0711

“When you touch my art, you touch me,” says Swain.

For more on Tangled Art Gallery and upcoming exhibits, visit their website.

*Sean Lee, the gallery’s acting gallery manager, explained that Swain chooses to own the word ‘Mad’ as an empowering act. Lee says the word ‘Crip’ is used in the same way by some members of the disabled community.

ArtTO gallery crawl: Trick or treat for art lovers

Walking door to door on dark streets in late October in search of a welcome and treats is not just something kids get to do on Halloween.

Thanks to Art Toronto, an annual showcase of local, national and international art in the city, you can do it at local galleries. I headed out for this year’s ArtTO West End gallery hop to discover art in my home turf – Bloor and Dundas West.

First stop: Mercer Union, where I saw inspired pieces by indigenous artist Duane Linklater. His use of construction materials in installations speaks to larger issues of mining, pulling resources from the North and its impact on native communities.

#artToronto gallery crawl
Duane Linklater’s Construction materials and commentary on the impact of mining resources on northern communities

It was at Mercer Union that I met fellow art lovers Jan and Mark, a B.C. couple who’ve been coming to ArtTo for several years. They were also starting out on the art hop.

I caught up with them again at the Daniel Faria Gallery, exhibiting Canadian artist and novelist Douglas Coupland‘s show Polychrome. Turns out they’re friends of his. That was a neat surprise.

Mark Jan and friends.jpg
Jan, in the middle, and Mark, in the grey scarf, with their friends — and their friend Douglas Coupland’s art as backdrop. The mood at Daniel Faria Gallery was as upbeat as the art.

Gallery TPW, next door, was a quieter space, appropriate for Sharon Lockhart‘s film installation Rudzienko (named for a town near Warsaw, Poland), presented in collaboration with TIFF. A tribute to free expression, it features Lockhart’s Polish friend Milena Slowinska in conversation with other young women from a home for girls there. It is a thoughtful, contemplative piece.

In the same block, I visited the Clint Roenisch Gallery, where I spoke with Roenisch’s partner Leila Courey. The gallery is their live/work space, and the live part is a cabin-like retreat that Roenisch created.


Their rustic accommodation in the middle of the gallery stands in contrast to the stark white walls surrounding it, more urban backdrop. The juxtaposition continued with the show of Kristan Horton‘s pieces, resembling patchwork quilts, and David Armstrong Six’s abstract sculptures.


Hidden down an alley behind the St. Helens Avenue galleries is the Scrap Metal Gallery, and a mysterious installation: The Sophie La Rosière Project. Real-life artist Iris Häussler has created a fictional Parisian artist of the past, Sophie La Rosière, whose art must be hidden during the Second World War. It is revealed by X-rays.


By pure luck, walking along Lansdowne on the way to Dundas West, I discovered an artist in action. Illustrator Emily May Rose was painting over an ugly condo sign. Her friend and fellow artist Oriah Scott had already finished on the other side.

Last stop on my adventure: M6G127 gallery, displaying Monica Tap‘s show Green Thumb.

Monica Tap with a work inspired by the response to the terrorist attacks in France — bouquets of flowers against grey skies.

I left just as the gallery was closing, into the night, illuminated by the people I had met, their ideas and their work. Not so dark after all.

Chihuly: Shivers of Joy

I don’t know about you, but I get excited in stationery stores. There’s a thrill I get seeing shelf after shelf of paper and pens and Post-It notes. It’s not the same ordering HP ink online, although I do that a lot.

It’s that sense of anticipation. Every shiny pen, every ream of paper represents potential – a way to transfer your inner world to the outer world. Gives me the shivers.

It’s not a stationery store, but the Chihuly exhibit at the ROM gave me the same shivers (both times I went) from the first space through to the last. Dale Chihuly’s inner world has been transformed into the outer world through the medium of glass.


I know I’m not alone in the shivers thing. I heard kids and parents trying to pick their “favourite.” It’s a tough choice: dazzling colours compete for eye-time, but for me, the forms are the most enthralling.

Chihuly is acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest glass sculptors, and part of the thrill of seeing his work in person is getting that tactile sense of volume. You don’t just see his work. You feel it, even if it’s cordoned off.


Glass is a remarkable material – somewhere between a liquid and a solid – and this exhibit plays to both states. You’re immersed in a watery world, with direct references to boats, and undersea creatures, and other fluid shapes. You can even lie down on comfy sandbags in one space and look up at a sea of colourful jellyfish-like shapes.

Then there are rock-hard chunky pieces that could be crystals chipped from a subterranean cavern. Pieces inspired by the Northwest Coast Indian baskets.

There’s even a star-like form that looks like the one that rose over the tree in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas when all the Whos came out to sing. Glass: It’s a shapeshifter.

Star in Chihuly exhibit

To create such varied forms takes a master – in fact it takes a whole team of master craftsmen and craftswomen, which is what Chihuly has in Seattle. He’s built that team up over the years, many recruited from the Pilchuck School he founded in 1971 with like-minded friends.

It’s still going strong. (You can learn more in the Emmy-award-winning doc Pilchuck: A Dance with Fire, which I caught on PBS after I saw the exhibit.)

I’m telling everyone I know who hasn’t seen the exhibit yet to go, before it ends in January 2017. I promise volts of colour and light and forms with a presence so palpable it just could give you shivers.

The Land of Os

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Art is at our doorstep all around Toronto – and in my case, just down the street. I live in the Land of Os.

Bloor and Ossington is a microcosm of our city, a spicy mix of cultures: Portuguese, Chinese, Italian, Ethiopian, Spanish, Jamaican, Vietnamese and more. You can smell and taste the flavours at our food joints. You see it on the streets, not just in the faces, but the art on the walls.

Hop off at Ossington, walk up to street level and right next door, at Network Child Care Services, the walls and play enclosures are covered with artist Doris Risso’s tribute to the daycare kids.

Walk the back alley behind the child care and there are equally playful images of birds and dinosaurs on the fences. Judging by scale, King Kong wouldn’t stand a chance against these prehistoric lizards.

A few blocks west on Bloor, at Dovercourt, murals adorn the walls of local businesses like Nova Era bakery (don’t pass up their pasteis de nata, Portuguese egg tarts) and Top Taste (for Jamaican patty fans).

Walk down the alley beside Top Taste to take in the masterful mural of a man chopping coconut as colourful birds take flight. You’ll end up at Westmoreland Avenue Parkette. The little park was recently overhauled to be more kid-friendly, with swings and climbing ropes.

There are xylophones there to encourage music making. I’ve tried them out. They sound like wind chimes, which is just as well for the people that live next door and may not want to hear improvisational tunes at 2 a.m.


It’s drawing in parents and kids. And they’re drawing, like this chalk-art dragon that showed up on the path through the park.

Chalk art dragon.jpg

Some people worry about kids getting overstimulated. But the kind of creative stimulation all around my neighbourhood is clearly a good thing.