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Art invades downtown spaces in Oshawa

© By John Arkelian

Fifteen days, more than a dozen venues, an urban setting, and one hundred

“Diagnosis” (ink and watercolor on paper) -- Copyright © 2013 by Samantha Ouellette

artists — that’s the concept behind Oshawa Space Invaders,” an art festival that turned empty storefronts into a surprisingly convincing variation on the sort of bohemian arts district you’d find in Toronto, Vancouver, or New York.  Downtown Oshawa, bereft long ago of most of its oldest and best heritage buildings, has long been perceived as a dowdy, lifeless, and dull place — more given over to non-descript structures housing banks and hairdressing schools than to the rich diversity of retail stores (don’t look for a bookstore here) and cafes and theaters that draw people to more lively, cosmopolitan burghs.  But, mayhap, the times, they are a changing.  The presence of a university downtown (since UOIT outgrew its

“Leave the Soul Alone” (Photoshop tablet art) -- Copyright © 2013 by Aspenn Richards

main campus north of the city) has brought with it cohorts of young adults.  A greater diversity of restaurants (including a sidewalk café or two) has followed in their wake, and, so, too, ever so slowly, has a modest increase in live entertainment — at the Regent Theater, the GM Center, and the small Arts Resource Center.  The city’s estimable Robert McLaughlin Gallery has gotten into the act, too, with the happy innovation of monthly live entertainment events.  Those changes, however modest, have been welcome ones.  They may portend a trend-line that will reinvigorate what had hitherto seemed an uninspired downtown sector.

Change certainly seemed tangible on the night given over to the Artcrawl,

Space Invaders 2013: Art in the city -- courtesy of Steven Frank

“Space Invaders’” keynote event.  From 5 pm till 11 pm, on September 20, 2013, the normally moribund environs of Oshawa’s small downtown were transformed:  Two side-streets became concert venues for ten live bands (including Juno Award-winning blues artist Jack de Keyzer), throngs of people ventured into the long neglected downtown byways, empty storefronts overflowed with art, and floodlights were poised to illuminate the night sky.  The result was a pretty convincing imitation of a place filled with vitality and creativity, in place of the old one-horse (and one-industry) town demeanor that has (somewhat unfairly) dogged Oshawa (and to a lesser extent, the whole of Durham Region) over the years.  “Space Invaders” is, in part, the brainchild of Steven Frank, who essayed something very similar in the same city some years ago.  Its return is a felicitous splash of color in a too uniformly grey setting.

The co-curators of one of the “Space Invader” venues, Steve Longauer and Samantha Ouellete, see the event as “a long-awaited and highly positive experience for local artists and the community alike.” Their particular venue hosts art by young artists (many with a past or current connection to Paul Dwyer High School; others who are engaged with art studies at Durham College).  So, for Longauer and Ouellette, the event was a tangible expression of potential – the artistic potential of their young artists and the civic potential of Oshawa itself — to become a more eclectic, exciting, and cosmopolitan sort of place:  “This event lent itself well to the reinvention of Oshawa.” Let it be so.

Copyright © September 2013 by John Arkelian.

Space Invaders runs in downtown Oshawa, Ontario from September 13 through 28, 2013.  For more information, visit http://www.oshawaspaceinvaders.com/media.html


An Interview with Canadian Artist John Di Leonardo

© By Bradley McIlwain

John Di Leonardo received his Bachelor of Honours in Fine Art and Art History from McMaster University, and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Toronto in 1978.  Since that time, he has continued to teach, lecture, as well as exhibit his own art for over twenty years.  He recently retired from teaching at All Saints Catholic Secondary School, where he has continued to inspire young people with his passion for the arts.  John’s artistic creations have been exhibited in venues such as  Toronto’s Gallery 306; Northrop Fry Hall, Victoria College; St. Lawrence Centre, First Canadian Place, Art Dialogue Gallery, AGO Rental, and Station Gallery.

John recently sat down to talk about his creative process and reflect upon his experience as an artist and young man, emerging into the Toronto art scene in the 1980’s. His latest series of paintings, Book of Hours, were recently on display at the Bowmanville Public Library.  John’s paintings are on view at http://gallery.me.com/jmkimage#100169&view=grid&sel=3

© John Di Leonardo

What are some of the steps you follow when creating a work of art?

I do a lot of reading.  Mostly philosophy, a lot of poetry, and some fiction.  I also draw on a regular basis, and from there the ideas and shapes start to form.  The notion of the divinely inspired artist is very unusual – I’ve had that happen maybe twice, in thirty years, like when you’re driving along, and boom you get this flash of a finished painting in you’re head.  Usually it’s through hard work, routine.  You’re in the studio and you experiment, throw some paint around, and draw.  Over time, if you keep feeding your subconscious with reading, visiting galleries, etc., eventually it comes. Then the work happens, and you get up in the morning and keep going at it, you grab your coffee, go in the studio, uninterrupted and painting all day – It’s as close to heaven as I’ll get (laughs).

Do you have any rituals when you paint?

I do have a ritual, not necessarily when I paint, but I do have one rule – that you’re in the studio for a minimum of four hours a day, if at all possible.  Some days, you’ll go in and nothing happens – but the ritual is: you clean your brushes, straighten out the books, or stare, but you’ve got to be there.  Eventually, something will catch your eye, and you start drawing.  Before you know it, the work is on its way – you have your morning coffee, and eight hours will go by – and I’ll realize I haven’t eaten breakfast or lunch (laughs).

What materials do you enjoy working with?

I love oil painting; I think that’s my first love.  But I like all of them.  I find in works I tend to mix acrylics, oils, graphite, watercolors, collage, and photography, whatever attracts my attention or eye.

Are there any artists you feel have influenced your work?

I often get asked that question, “Who’s your favorite artist,” but all artists I love for various reasons.  Picasso, I love his creative spirit; he tried anything with everything;   Matisse for his color; Van Gogh for his spontaneity, and so on.  There really isn’t one artist that stands out to me, but I do have preferences.  Colour is very dominant in my work, and right now I’m reading a lot on conceptual art.

Do you have a preferred style?

I find the experimental approach the fastest way of getting ideas down. I get too many ideas, too fast to stick to one thing.  Early on I did a lot of different styles.  Lots of realistic paintings, surrealism, expressionism, all the ism’s.  Eventually you settle in what’s comfortable for you, what reflects your personality.

What was it like for you breaking out into the art world as a young man in Toronto in the 1980’s?

Very exciting.  In Toronto, out of art school, I had a studio with some friends on Dufferin and King.  There were showings on a regular basis, we were going to galleries and openings three-four nights a week, really being on the hub of what was happening on Queen Street East at that time.  Post-Expressionism was the leading style at the time, and I remember doing a whole series of very heavy ‘impasto’ expressionistic images.  There’s a real energy and excitement when you’re young, a daring of just jumping-in.  As you grow older, you’re more contemplative and careful of your work; it’s more about the quality. It takes a lot of honesty and confidence, and I think it comes with time.

You taught high school art professionally for a number of years.  What was it like teaching in that environment?

I love teaching art. Young people always keep you on your toes, especially with fresh ideas, and new language every four or five years.  The arts is very much one on one, and you tend to develop relationships with kids.  I am always amazed at the creativity of young people; there aren’t any inhibitions.  The truth just pours out, and that’s great.  It’s what we need as adults; we keep forgetting that.

What are you most interested in exploring through art?

© John Di Leonardo

I think exploring how I feel about different aspects of life, and hopefully having other people examine and contemplate different aspects of their own as well. I see art as a spiritual exercise in some ways, where it can give you a heightened sense of yourself and feelings, or heighten what’s already in there. Certainly, I think art should always be positive, show a positive side in life, even in negative images, there should always be a sense of hope.

Your work was on display in Bowmanville, Ontario earlier this year.  What can you tell me about that exhibition?

The works presented in the “Book of Hours” express different aspects of daily life, and often contrast physical and spiritual beauty… as a way of contemplation, enriching, and reawakening the inner self.  The idea of progress really interests me, looking at how we grow as people, through the small day-to-day feelings [and] interactions.  I meditate on those and tend to look at them in a wider scale, the global and the spiritual, hopefully getting a better understanding of others and myself

In your art, you use a lot of photographs and images from your family life.  How has that made an impact on your work?

I think I was a little bit timid at first, but you say:  this is what I do, this is who I am.  It’s honest, you can’t withdraw images because it’s too personal, then you’re not being truthful to yourself or what you’re trying to express.  I think your experience, whether it’s in writing form, or reflection or drawing or painting or photographs; it’s who you are.  Something led you to take that photo or draw that thing:  It’s part of your past and existence, so why deny it?

Do you have any advice for younger artists emerging onto the scene now?

Art is never easy.  I think you have to work hard, be honest about what you’re doing.  If you think you like to do art, just keep doing it.  Being aware of what’s going on is important, like going to galleries and interacting with other artists, sharing ideas, and critiquing each other’s work, but more than anything be yourself.  If you’re honest, your true self will come out.

What do you like most about the exhibition process?

Sometimes a really nice sense of surprise, like these works, where you produce and produce and you stack these works in the studio, and its cluttered and busy, and then you see your work in a new environment with clean walls and lots of breathing space around them.  The painting presents itself in almost a different way, certainly bolder and speaks more directly.  I also like people watching the work:  That’s kind of neat.

Tell me about your current projects.

I’ve been getting flashes and images of very subtle whites on whites, and moving away from these bright bold paintings. I want to do something, and maybe it’s the idea of old age, retirement and quietude… reflection.  I want to do some work that is very peaceful, very emotional, but very subtle, almost spiritual.  I don’t know exactly what it is yet, but I know eventually something is going to happen and will start me off.  I’m also writing poetry – I came back to it after thirty years.  It was always there in the background.

Where will you go from here?

I think I’m in a good place mentally, having the time and health to keep painting and exploring.  That’s all I want to do.  Branching out, meeting people, trying new things.  You need to constantly try new experiences to feed your subconscious, so that you bring new visions to your expression.

Bradley McIlwain is a writer based in Brooklin, Ontario.

Copyright © May 2010 by Bradley McIlwain.