Its been over a year now since we moved from Edmonton, a city of over a million people, to Vermilion, a small town of just over 4000 residents. A lot has changed since we moved here. We finally have a decent coffee shop, for one. Much of the empty storefronts that lined the main street have slowly blossomed into new and flourishing small businesses. An institution on the main street called ‘Craig’s’ shut down last year after over 100 years of business, but the building it occupied has been renovated and divided into smaller spaces and other shops have moved in as a result. We got a new mural on the side of the Benjamin Moore paint store. Slowly I am getting to know some of the residents and business owners as I venture out to run errands, drop paintings off at the post office, pick up groceries, grab coffee and see what new temptations await me in a few of my favorite stores. I confess, I don’t get out much. I spend the majority of my time working in my basement in the studio. A neighbor across the street who works at the post office remarked that she sees me more at the post office than she does on our street. Some of the residents know me because they see me walking the dogs and taking random photos of things with my phone. The pace here is great. You can do a grocery run near the supper hour and there isn’t a huge line-up at the till or trouble finding parking. You don’t have to pay for parking at all here! The biggest traffic problem we have is when all directions of the four-way stop are occupied and folks are trying to graciously wave you through instead of adhering to the right-of-way policy that normally governs a four-way stop. And occasionally two vehicles will stop in the middle of the street while the occupants chat through rolled down windows about how the day is going, and you have to go around or honk gently to remind them to keep moving.
I don’t think I can ever live in a large city again. The noise? The traffic? All those damn lights at night? I can stand on my back deck and see stars and northern lights! This evening on our dog walk a huge flock of snow geese flew over us as we walked through the baseball park. We couldn’t see these things from our noisy backyard in Edmonton. This is not a rant against cities. Living in a small town has made me appreciate cities in a different way. I love to visit them, enjoy their offerings, and then head back to the quiet rolling hills and wide streets of small town life.
One city in particular I love visiting is Toronto. T-dot. The six. I just sent a small batch of Toronto themed paintings to Canvas Gallery in Toronto. These paintings are chalk full of pleasant memories for me. I thought I’d share some of them.
High Park! I love this park and it’s a short walk from my Aunt Margie’s apartment on Bloor. When I go and visit her and my Uncle Patrick we go for at least one amble through this park. Usually we take the path that runs through the off-leash area because Margie knows how much I miss my dogs when I am away. The photo that this painting was inspired from was from I think my second visit to this park. There are a few ponds in there. I can’t remember which pond this one is…. maybe closer to the Japanese garden? Anyhow, I do remember I arrived fresh off the subway from the airport, dropped off my bag in my room in her flat and off we went for a much needed walk. It was a gorgeous autumn day. I sure as hell didn’t need the coat I brought. The lighting was perfect; low and golden and hitting the autumn leaves at just the right angle, making very satisfying patterns on the pathway, and then I saw this! It reminded me of a Monet painting. I had no idea how I would paint it at the time, but I figured if I got the photo my brain would work out the ‘how’ when the time came. And it did.
I try to time my visits to Toronto to include a weekend. Saturday morning we get up at the crack of dawn, dress, stumble down the stairs, pile into Margie’s car and head for the St. Lawrence Market for coffee and croissants in the basement. We meet up with a whole group of people and it differs slightly every time. Uncle Patrick usually buys the first round of coffees while the rest of us doff our coats and bags to claim seats and wander into the pastry area to choose a nice flaky breakfast. We go early so we can get parking and seats at coffee, and leave before the rest of Toronto comes to do their weekend shopping. By the time the crowds are thick upstairs, our group has downed at least two cups of coffee, maybe more pastry than we should, and are making our good-byes. Then up the stairs, back to the car and off to Kensington Market for coffee stop number two. Or at least, we used to have coffee stop number two. Casa Coffee doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a new cafe. The outside has been redone. It’s all shiny and new with a shiny, new proprietor. The historical grime has been renovated away. I painted this to commemorate our forgotten spot. Like a lot of interesting but run-down areas, Kensington is going through its gentrification phase. Out with the old, in with the new and more expensive. Out with the character and community and in with… well, that remains to be seen now doesn’t it?
The Group of Seven are still a major source of inspiration for my subject matter. When I first started looking at their paintings, particularly the early work of Lawren Harris, I was so puzzled why he made the houses look like they were being stretched toward the top of the canvas. I didn’t get it until I went to Toronto for the first time and saw some of the old neighborhoods. That’s why he painted them like that, because that is what they are like! Tall and skinny. The bright colors and graffiti that cover them in Kensington Market are absolute eye candy. This row of houses is not far from where Casa Coffee used to be. I hope to God they don’t get knocked down so that stupidly tall and overpriced condos can be built.
The other stop we always make when I come to visit is to the Art Gallery of Ontario or the AGO. I have probably spent more time than is healthy visiting and revisiting the works of the Group of Seven they have on display in their permanent collection. I love getting up close to their paintings to see the texture of the paint on the canvas. It’s so thick!! The Galleria Italia is a favorite spot to have a quiet coffee. The wall of windows has a stellar view of the row of old houses-turned-tiny-galleries across the street from the main entrance. This painting shows some of the houses from the viewpoint of the street as the low November sun illuminates the rooftops in the late afternoon. I snapped the photo I painted this from coming out of the gallery to catch the street car back to Margie’s apartment. One can’t miss 5pm cocktails at Uncle Patrick’s before dinner when one is in town for a visit!
This view is perhaps my favorite thing about visiting Toronto. It’s the view from my aunt’s apartment, painted using a very blurry reference photo from my Instax Mini camera. I was experimenting with the ‘B’ mode where you can hold a long exposure in minimal light with no flash. It worked pretty well, but what attracted me most about the photo was the color it captured; those pinks and purples. The movement of the taillights on the bottom right was an added bonus to be sure. A piece capturing the evening rush hour and the beautiful rosy light everything is bathed in.
I head back for my second visit of the year in December and am really looking forward to it. I’ll be visiting my usual haunts and hopefully creating some new ones. Toronto is a huge city but feels very homey to me, thanks in part to the friends I’ve made there and the places I keep going back to. These are some of my favorite views of ‘The Six’. I hope you enjoy them as well.