If art is meant to push boundaries, then some of those should be the boundaries of imposing straightness and cis-ness, right? In other words, the art world ought to be a more open and inclusive place for queer people. And while most of us can think of older queer artists from the past (Andy Warhol probably comes to mind), there are lots of wonderful and talented queer artists working now. Here are five:
1. Kent Monkman: Monkman’s work is brilliant and brutal, examining modern Indigenous life and recasting colonial history, sometimes with his alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Monkman is known for using classic colonial images and inserting Indigenous people or characters to recast the narrative. He is also known for his stunning installations and large paintings documenting everyday life for Indigenous folks, the beautiful and the heartbreaking. Blending gender, sexuality, and race together in brilliant ways, Monkman is definitely one of the best queer artists out there. He is currently touring the exhibition “Shame & Prejudice: A Story of Resilience” His work can be found on his website here.
2. Eiki Mori: This Japanese artist is best known for his beautiful photography that explores male sexuality in the most intimate settings. Born in Kanazawa, Japan, in 1976, Mori has been active for almost 20 years in the art and photography world and has produced several photography shows and three books, including, most recently, Intimacy, which was published in 2013. Mori is never flashy and doesn’t demand your attention, instead he invites you to the quiet, more gentle moments. Some of his work can be seen on his website or his Instagram account.
3. Joe Average: After being diagnosed with HIV at the age of 27, Joe Average chose to commit the rest of his life to his art. While his work may seem a bit simplistic, it is undeniably beautiful, colorful, and bright. You can even see his work on banners around the gay village of Vancouver. He is also a prolific photographer, with bright images of flowers, drag queens, birds, and other daily images of life. You can see all of his work here.
4. Sophie Campbell: Campbell is mostly known for comic art work like her graphic novel Wet Moon and her webcomic Shadoweyes. What is most admirable about Campbell’s work is her inclusion of a diverse array of characters of different races, genders, sexualities, and body types, a diversity rarely seen in most comics. She has also drawn for the Jem and the Holograms graphic novel series. You can see all of her work on her art Tumblr.
5. Elisha Lim: Lim first came to prominence for their portrait series “100 Butches”, an ambitious project meant to document many butches Lim came across. They have since worked on numerous different projects, many about documenting other queer, trans, and non-binary people. These include series of portraits about “Sissies“, or works documenting their own life history from Canada and Singapore. Lim’s work can be found in their graphic novels 100 Butches and 100 Crushes.
At the height of summer, during the longest and hottest days, we need some stimuli for the eyes and the mind — something to take you away from the melting streets and into other worlds, those of minimalism and absurdism, of different identities and migration. All of this and more can be found in our art picks for the month of August.
MINIMAL(IST) EFFORTS (JULY 15TH—AUGUST 26TH)
Minimalism is an art form that is something that is both endlessly pleasing and frustrating.
Minimalism endlessly pleases and frustrates. It’s difficult for some to see minimalism as art — to see it as a response to outlandishness and as something complex in its simplicity. There should be no question as to why this is a movement that stuck around from the 1960s. The Angell Gallery aims to put a contemporary Canadian lens on the subject — their summer show features works by Simon Belleau, Neil Harrison, Jean-Francois Lauda and Robert Taite.
TAU LEWIS & CURTIS SANTIAGO (JULY 20TH—AUGUST 26TH)
Toronto-born artists Tau Lewis and Curtis Santiago’s joint show at the Cooper Cole this month is titled Through the People We Are Looking at Ourselves. The phrase is intriguing, and the exhibition it describes is even more so. The combination of Lewis’s incredible sculptures and Santiago’s evocative paintings is staggering, and with themes of identity and diaspora woven into the exhibition, it can be nothing less than a memorable and enriching experience.
The last installation in Roadside Attractions’s front window before the shop relocates to the east coast is a piece by Dan Nuttall that responds to the controversy facing the new proposed sex education curriculum in Ontario. Nuttall’s “Stilled Live With Curriculum” is a little disturbing, a little ridiculous, and very interesting. Since the installation will be in the front window, there’s no excuse not to pop by Roadside Attractions to check out Nuttall’s piece.
SEAN WAINSTEIM & LEJB PILANSKI (AUGUST 2ND—AUGUST 5TH)
Lejb Pilanski, a 97-year-old Jewish refugee, assembled a variety of objects he has repurposed as art pieces. Pilanski’s grandson Sean Wainsteim has curated his grandfather’s pieces to be placed alongside documents recounting Pilanski’s journey from Eastern Europe to Canada. Showing at the Red Head Gallery, ZEI GEZUNT // KEEP WELL is an exhibition filled with unique objects and artwork, but it also speaks to a greater experience of ingenuity and discovery shared by immigrants across time.
James Michael Yeboah’s When Black Boys Cry is an honest and open examination of stereotypes, toxic ideals of hyper masculinity and stoicism imposed on black men. Yeboah’s show at Magic Pony is meant “for black folx to come together and be unapolegetically vulnerable and, of course unapologetically black” in. Though the show has a focused audience in mind, the beauty and overall impact of the painting is something that can be appreciated by all.
The first time I went on Julia Monson’s Instagram to look at her work, I laughed out loud. It was a picture of a drone that did it, one that had “send nudes” written on the side. I just about lost in on a streetcar.
Monson’s work is unexpected. It’s light but can easily be deconstructed as commentary on today’s society. Monson’s colour palette is pretty and feminine but the humour is dry and crude. I was so enamoured with her illustrations that I was excited to pick her brain for an afternoon, a task made easier by Monson’s open and lighthearted disposition.
We sat down in her studio, tucked in the back of her Toronto apartment, to talk creativity, Instagram, and fidget spinners.
Natasha Grodzinski: Thank you so much for inviting me into your space! To start off, tell me about your artistic background — did you study it in school? Was it always a passion you had?
Julia Monson: I went to OCAD for criticism and curatorial, which is far form what I’m doing now. I’m not curating and I’m not in criticism [laughs]. But that’s fine, at the time I wasn’t ready to fully commit myself to making or creating. I was more interested in a critical aspect. I minored in painting and drawing in my last two years. It took me six years to get out of OCAD. I took a break for a little bit, and it wasn’t until maybe last year that I thought, “I’m just going to illustrate, I’m just going to do that,” and now that’s what I’m doing.
NG: How did that transition come about, to get to illustrating as a job?
JM: I think I’m just a creative person — I like to make things. It was just a feeling, like I need to make something, to put something out into the world that’s mine. I think a lot of my artwork comes from my comedic voice, so I feel like there’s an urge to get that out. I though, I’m not going to be a standup comedian. I can draw, so I guess I can just do both simultaneously.
NG: I noticed that, looking at your work. There’s a level of humour to it, very tongue-in-cheek.
JM: It’s very observational and very personal too. I think that’s always been a way of coping with those urges. You know, I really want to get this out, but I’m not sure the level of seriousness I want to go with it or have attached to it. I’m not going to start a YouTube channel and just rant, but I will for sure draw some funny drawings that I think convey the same message with how I’m feeling.
NG:Do you do a lot of reflections on current society in your work?
JM: Most of it is attached to technology. I really like the iPhone in a lot of my stuff. A lot of it I liked to be attached to Toronto. I don’t know why, maybe because everything that’s personal to me is also form here. I just draw from what I know.
NG: Did you grow up here?
JM: No, I grew up in Hamilton, but I’ve been here for 10 years now. I moved when I came to OCAD. I found an independence here and I’m attached to it. It’s very dear to me.
NG: When you really began working on your illustrations, did you still consider it a hobby or did you think, “This is something I can do.”
JM: I think I’m in that transitional period now. I do waitress on weekends because rent is ridiculous. Unfortunately I can’t be freelance illustrating full-time. There are months where I definitely could have, but it’s the fear of, what if I don’t make enough one month? Or what if I can’t live up to that standard and it takes the fun out of it? A lot of it is doubt, but the dream is that one day I could. Anything to do with art, I’d like to be working in that field. Right now, it’s still a bit slower.
NG: What’s your freelancing experience been like?
JM: It’s been a big learning curve in terms of pricing my work and understanding the value of my time. There are some companies I absolutely love working with like Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Recently I just did a bunch of drawings for them and that was so fun because they approached me in a way that was, “We already love your work and we love your voice.” I’ve also done logo work where I thought, “This is a nightmare. This is nowhere close to what I want. I’m not going to use any of this in my portfolio.” I’ve also learned how to deal with people. That is not something you typically think of when you sell your work. Choosing a client has been a huge moment and learning experience for me.
NG: What’s that process like?
JM: It’s a lot of emails. It’s a lot of, “Hey, I’m thinking this, now I’m thinking this, now we want that.” There have been moments where I’ve had to take a step back, whereI’ve thought I shouldn’t have taken that client. It’s another reason why I don’t mind bartending on weekends, because it means I get to make the art that I want to make.
NG: Let’s talk more about your illustrations. Do you primarily work in watercolours?
JM: It’s gouache that I water down and ink. I should probably get into watercolours but I’m so obsessed with my colour palette right now and I’m a slave to it. I don’t really stray away from it, but I would like to work with water colours soon. I also did a screen printing class about a month ago. That blew my mind and I had so much fun doing it. Working in inks and acrylics is really fun.
NG:So you have a piece of the Venus de Milo that I really like.
NG: And I love how you take essentially millennial stereotypes and make fun of them.
JM: Yeah, I enjoy that. I like to make fun of everything. I don’t want to be taken too seriously and I think that’s reflected in the medium. It’s just paper and colour, ink. These are typically cheap materials and I actually like that.
NG: It’s about keeping that lightness, right?
JM: Exactly! Light is a good word. Just easy and casual, but funny.
NG:In your freelancing experiences have you ever come across a client that’s saying, “We want serious art?”
JM: When it gets a bit more stiff, I get these alarms going off in my head. I don’t know if they’ll let me do me. With Her Majesty’s Pleasure it was great because I think they pushed me more than I pushed them in some moments. They understood my aesthetic and the ell of crudeness I was coming from. I would love to keep doing stuff like what I did for them, that’s a bit more edgy and less conservative.
NG: Are you doing a lot of shows lately?
JM: I did a group show at Northern Contemporary which was a lot of fun.They’re an illustrator gallery and that’s awesome. I met the curator at the Artist Project I did back in March. That was interesting. I don’t know if I’d do it again but it was a cool experience, to have so many other people look at your art. I want to do more shows in the future, I think, because it’s so great to be able to talk about your work with other artists and with any type of viewer. That’s why I think I love Instagram so much. Someone in Turkey or someone in Italy can see my stuff. It’s such a great suppository for my work especially given the nature of my work. It’s this daily feed of nonsense and it’s great. As a graduate of curatorial practices, Instagram is the best thing ever. It just makes so much sense. I really try to hone down on that and use it for my artwork.
NG:Looking on your Instagram, it seems like there is a lot of interest and lots of people you can engage with about your work who you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
JM: And it’s going back to the humour thing, too. Is this working or is it not? Is this funny? It’s so instant, you can get that validating right away, like okay, what I was thinking is funny.
NG: Where do you get your inspiration from? Does it happen instantly on the street, where you see something and think it’s funny and know it‘ll work?
JM: Every time it’s happened I’ve been on the street. Laughs. I’ll take these long walks sometimes. It takes me 40 minutes to walk to work and I don’t do it often, but when I do I’m constantly writing notes in my phone and constantly getting ideas. Most of them start off as captions or they start off with, “Okay, today I saw a girl on her phone walking six dogs.” I did this series one about every girl in Toronto, then trends of fashion and what they’re wearing, what they’re doing. A lot of it has to do with technology. Selfies with an iPad. That’s hilarious. I need to draw it. The fidget spinner, I think it hilarious. I have one at my desk now because I’m trying to think of more ways to incorporate it anatomy drawings. I love observing females, not in a judgemental way, but just to observe. I’ve always admired females.
NG: Toronto’s so big and weird that you can see a lot.
JM: Yeah! In a 40-minute walk I have enough material for the week. Some ideas take longer to manifest. It’ll start out as something small and end up getting bigger. I really enjoy drawing and making fun of the LCBO. I thought of doing this merchandise line based on LCBO apparel, but that’s a small idea that can get bigger.
NG: Love that idea!
JM: It’s so intrinsically Ontario, so specific to the area. It’s something we all deal with. Again, it’s super millennial, kind of personal but also more relatable.
NG: But the millennial humour is relatable. It’s dry, it’s sarcastic, it’s pretty dark.
JM: It is dark! It’s getting really dark! I like that. I think we should embrace it. Everything is meme culture or can be explained in emoticons. We’re all mirrors of how we were raised, I guess, and as much as I like to seriously delve into it I also like to make fun of how not serious it is. Anything to do with school debt, or I cant buy a house, you know? These are things we’re all dealing with. It’s the reality of our situation. I think I was also fed this fallacy of, “Do what you want, you can make a career out of it and be happy,” but I don’t think that’s the path everyone was fortunate enough to take. I think I’m feeling that a lot now. I’ve always been creative but I don’t know if it’s something I necessarily need to make money off of — it can be a way of life I stay true to. If money comes along with it, that’s amazing. If I can make a lifestyle of it, that’s another thing. But I don’t think I’m there quite yet.
NG: As you said, you’re transitioning.
JM: I like to think so! I’m still relatively new to it. I’m still learning what works, what doesn’t work. I’m not 100 per-cent on my philosophy for it. It all comes from a personal level right now.
NG: All of your pieces are your babies, but is there one piece you have that really represents your style?
JM: I love the Venus de Milo one with the selfie. I did two still lifes recently and I like the idea that things can describe us. That was really interesting, to juxtapose this still life of my studio. I’m actually more attached to the idea. The way I feel about the drawings is one thing, but the way I think about where they came from and how they transpired is what I’m obsessed with. I wouldn’t say there’s one particular one that makes me say, “That’s me.” They’re all a collection of my thoughts and how I’m feeling.
NG: Like journalling?
JM: For sure. I like to look at it that way and then I’m not too previous with my ideas. This day is happening now, I can work with this idea, then tomorrow there’s another idea.
NG:A real stream of creativity, then.
JM: When you don’t get so previous with them, you just get them out and it keeps you going. It’s kind of lame but there was this quote on Chef’s Table. There was this dude who as amazing. He was killing it in his restaurant and then he went, “I’m leaving to start my own.” The owner said, “If you leave, the dish you made here is going to be ours.” The chef says, “Don’t worry, I’m going to make more.” I thought that was so cool. We can’t be too previous with these ideas or thesespmrts of brilliance. We need to move on. That’s why I love working with paper. They’re just pieces of paper. I get it out of my mind and I’m done. What’s next? It keeps me in a cool frame of mind when I’m walking down the street. I’m not too tied to one focus. I’m constantly moving. I’ve actually never thought of it that way but that is how I work. I’m building my philosophy now.
SummerWorks is known as a great avenue for emerging artists in Toronto to present their work. Hosting over 500 artists and performing in over 50 performance projects across the city in multiple venue formats. This year, SummerWorks is curated by the new Artistic Director, Laura Nanni, whose major theme this year driving her curation of the festival focused around the question: “how do we come together?”
There are beautiful relationships built between artists and audiences, sharing art and creating intimate moments and experiences within a single hour. Laura Nanni set to focus on how we connect “across these cultural, geographical, social and political divides and also how artists are using technology to facilitate that connection and mediate artistic experiences.”
Below, we have listed some must see acts throughout the festival to enjoy with friends, family, or solo.
SUMMERWORKS 2017 HIGHLIGHTS
The Archivist – Created, Performed and Produced by Shaista Latif
Shaista Latif is a lot of different people. She’s created them all to serve you. War, Sex, Money and Art has shaped her places in the world. As a response, Shaista makes an archive of music, text, video and stories to see if she can create one identity that will serve all.
Chemical Valley Project(Double Bill with Perfection) –Created by Julia Howman and Kevin Matthew Wong
Aamjiwnaang, an indigenous community of 800 residents, is smothered by the Canadian petrochemical industry. Two sisters, Vanessa and Lindsay Gray, have dedicated themselves to fighting environmental racism and protecting their community’s land and water. In Chemical Valley Project, theatre-makers Kevin and Julia document and explore Canada’s ongoing relationship with energy infrastructure, its colonial past and present, and indigenous solidarity and reconciliation.
DIVINE – Written by Natalie Frija; Directed by Claire Burns; Performed by Amanda Cordner, Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Christina Bryson, Sarah Naomi Campbell, Haley Garnett and Rehaset Yohanes
Ontario is out of water and a pair of bandits search for their last hope – a water diviner by the name of Penn. Stories say she can crack the world like a coconut and make water bubble to the surface with nothing but her hands. But the bandits aren’t the only ones hunting her down. And what if there’s nothing left for Penn to divine? An all woman cast in Natalie Frijia’s post-apocalyptic wild west asks how we would survive in a world without water. Would we turn to community… or to revenge?
Explosions for the 21st Century – Written, Designed, and Performed by Chris Ross-Ewart; Directed and Dramaturged by Graham Isador
With field recordings, audio effects, and a well-timed air horn, Explosions for the 21st Century uses sound design to explore contemporary culture. The result is part lecture, part stand-up, and part existential crisis. Written and performed by Chris Ross-Ewart, the show is an erratic, real time, exploration of why we make sound and how we listen.
Let’s Try This Standing – Written and Performed by Gillian Clark; Directed by Anthony Black
Six years ago, Gillian was hit by an SUV. She was on the sidewalk. Now, Gillian is a professional theatre artist. Let’s Try This Standing is about shitting on nurses, having sex with atrophied muscles, and being massaged by a therapist as he eats a bagel. It doesn’t offer easy answers, but it does let us be in a room together and be honest about how okay we are.
Mother Sea / Manman la Mer(Double Bill with What Do You See?) –Written and Performed by Djennie Laguerre; Directed and Dramaturgy by Rhoma Spencer
In the tradition of Haitian storytelling, Mother Sea / Manman la Mer) takes us on a journey that joins magic, love, and redemption. It is the story of a woman who can see the future in her dreams but is cut off from her abilities by her mother’s fear. After healing from a mysterious sickness, her dreams disappear along with her sense of self. 25 years later, only her grandmother can restore her faith and her ancestral lineage.
The Only Good Indian – Project Design by Jivesh Parasram; Co-Created by Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard
Part lecture, part meditation, and part threat, The Only Good Indian takes a shockingly raw look at where our similarities begin and where they end. Each night a different performer straps themselves into an extreme situation – forcing the audience to ask – what would you die for?
Serenity Wild – Directed by Audrey Dwyer; Written by Katie Sly
Amy has a hard time feeling present. Liam, her loving boyfriend, will do whatever he can to wake her up – whether Amy’s ready for it or not. Tenderness turns into teasing turns into BDSM, and Amy’s boundaries around safety and danger become blurred. At what point does Liam’s concern become coercion? Can Amy trust Liam’s good intentions, or is presence a place she needs to find on her own? Winner of the 2016 Wildfire National Playwriting Competition.
Bodies of Water – Creative Direction by Arif Mirbaghi; Created and Performed by Viktor Lukawski, Nicole Lowden and Nicola Chaddock; Music Direction by Bruce Mackinnon; Lighting design by Raha Javanfar; Original Music Written and Performed by Zuze: Bruce Mackinnon, Raha Javanfar, Arif Mirbaghi, Andrew Moljgun, Emily Ferrell, Thomas Moffett; Director of Photography Michael Kostuk
Experience the music of folk-jazz ensemble Zuze as it is plunged into a cinematic underwater world. Combining live music with synchronized swimming and live feed projections, this site-specific performance uses a community pool as a place to explore ideas of pursuit, alienation, and the vocabulary of underwater movement.
White Man’s Indian – Written and Performed by Darla Contois; Direction and Dramaturgy by Ed Roy
This is the story of Eva, a Cree teenage girl, and her journey through the maze of a White Man’s high school. In a hilarious new work from emerging First Nations artist Darla Contois, Eva goes on a quest for identity and spirituality through the hallways of teen angst, racism, and an evil prom queen. Both poetic and humorous, White Man’s Indian is a moving story of memory, courage, alienation, and belonging.
The Invisible City – Concept and Direction by Daniele Bartolini; Performed by Rory de Brouwer, Danya Buonastella and Joslyn Rogers
The creators of The Stranger present a new interactive experience, divided into two episodes. Starting from your own home, you will receive a mysterious night time phone call. A voice invites you and a group of strangers to speak about your dreams and share your life story. The following night, you will enter the invisible city and be transported through a collective dream. See website for full performance details.
Landline – Created by Dustin Harvey and Adrienne Wong
A performance that takes place in two places at once, Landline is a curious exposure to the feeling of being alone, together… You will become both the audience and the performer as you converse in real time via text message with a fellow participant in Hamilton and go on an audio-guided, experiential walking tour. As the experience unfolds, you are prompted to share stories, memories, and secrets as the urban landscape transforms into a backdrop for the relationship forming between two strangers.
Ghost Days – Created and Performed by Terrance Houle
Evoking our colonial and non-colonial histories that exist in the light of night as in the darkness of the day, GHOST DAYS awakens a collaboration with artists, audience, and spirit. Internationally celebrated performance artist Terrance Houle will work in residence over night at the Theatre Centre throughout the festival, culminating in a final performance that combines video, performance, photography, and music to conjure spirits and ghosts as audience and collaborators.
Find the full line up and details of SummerWorks here, and continue following our arts and culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Nicole’s surreal and thought provoking collages are created through traditional cut and paste methods using vintage magazines. Within each collage a unique narrative is presented, exploring themes such as relationships, family dynamics, feminism, and Western cultural precepts. The arrangement of images is a romantic process based on what Nicole believes to be objective chance, which produces meaningful and mystical insight.