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.


Poetry Slam at the Drake

Poetry slams are a full-contact sport.

They’re bloody and raw. Pros play through injuries – wounds that don’t heal. Troubled families, addictions, racism. They rip off bandages, reveal scars. Their courage is beautiful.

Poetry slams can be funny, blooper reels of misplays, quirky observations about the human condition captured in a Jumbotron flash. Their insights are powerful.

No wonder fans cheer when they’re in play. Because this full-contact sport is about making contact … with us.

Poetry slams are competitive. The poets brave enough to go up on stage get rated on a scale of 1 to 10 by a select group of five audience judges. Three rounds, and the poet with the highest score wins.

David Silverberg and his team have been organizing Toronto Poetry Slam events since 2005, and have found a home at The Drake Hotel.


Poems move off the page and onto the stage here, so words are animated by their creators. It’s performance art, as demonstrated by Faith (a.k.a. Faith Pare). See for yourself in this YouTube video. She’s poetry in motion:


The Toronto events have become so popular that they draw international participants. The night I went, there were poets from the U.S., Australia and the U.K. who all made a bid for top poet on the stage.

Meanwhile, local talents like The Ragdolls, a young, queer girl, spoken-word collective, have become celebrities with hundreds of fans that flock to Toronto Poetry Slam to see, and hear them, perform.

The ultimate winner of the slam on the night I went was Justus (@Justus_forall), who blew the crowd away with his wrenching observations on the ongoing deaths of young black men, the challenge of trying to do right when everything around you is wrong, and the power of love even in dysfunctional families.

Poetry slams are blood and guts. It’s guts the audience demands, and what all the performers demonstrate. As Justus took the top prize, he revealed he’d been late for the Poetry Slam sign-up. He begged for a spot, and was allowed in at the last minute.

He used the anecdote as a symbol of what can happen when you’ll do anything to share what matters to you, even against the odds.

“It’s art, it’s poetry, it’s being vulnerable and sharing it with the world,” he said. “We’re all winners tonight.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Go to for more information.

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.