In Conversation with Peter Kuplowsky on Midnight Madness 2017

Midnight Madness is certainly not for the weak of heart. But those who were feeling a little brave this year decided to take part in the Toronto International Film Festivals lineup of horror films, led by Peter Kuplowsky. No stranger to the festival circuit, Peter trained under Colin Geddes for four years before taking the reins himself.

At just 30 years old, Peter already has quite an impressive resume. He is not afraid to take risks and, because of his meticulous planning, creates a safe space for a memorable movie-watching experience for all to enjoy.

We had the opportunity to chat with Peter about this year’s lineup, and to see where we can find him next.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first become involved in film?

Peter Kuplowsky: I’ve always been interested in movies and I’ve always wanted to make film. When I was eleven years old my mom took me to the TIFF offices back when they were at 2 Carleton and I interviewed Steve Greystock, not realizing that over a decade later that I would be working with him. TIFF seemed in the cards for a long time.

I was an undergrad student at the University of Toronto specializing in Cinema Studies and at the same time I was helping out with an emerging festival called Toronto After Dark. I enthusiastically volunteered after just having come back from Montréal and experiencing the Fantasia Film Festival. It was an eye opening experience to me and was my first introduction to film festivals because back then Toronto was an 18+ festival and I couldn’t get into any screenings, although I definitely tried and was turned away.

U of T had a student union that had a very generous budget to rent movies so I became a programmer there, selecting films to the student union to show other undergrads. I heard that Colin Geddys, who used to run the midnight madness program, had a large kung fu film collection and I was really into Hong Kong cinema, I reached out to him and started renting prints from him and at the same time I was working at the Bloor cinema as a concessions jockey. I really wanted to start putting on movies there, specifically this one film, Troll 2, considered one of the worst films ever made. I found it so entertaining. I ended up booking the Bloor and putting on a screening of the film there, it was a big success and got Colin’s attention, and he referred to me as the “T2 kid.” We organically began to hang out in the same circle and he noticed my enthusiasm for film programming and putting on shows and eventually asked if I wanted to be an assistant and help him on some of his projects. Initially, it wasn’t Midnight Madness, we collaborated on a festival in South Carolina called Action Fest, I think it was sort of a trial run. We worked on the festival for two years and then after that, I had just finished another job and didn’t know what I was going to be doing and that’s when he suggest I start working with him on the Midnight Madness program.

For the last four years I was the the programming associate, working with Colin. In January he retired, and he generously passed the position to me, which I was completely thrilled about. As bittersweet as it was, I’ve been such a huge fan of this program since I first started attending, I’ve always felt that it was kind of a state of the union of genre films for the year because it was so tightly curated and it spans such a diverse array of different type of genre films, not just horror movies, but martial arts films, films from the around the world… it’s surreal to have that responsibility now but it’s something that I feel really privileged and excited about.

K: Your goal for Midnight Madness over the next five years is to create a lineup of not only horror films, but also a broader genre of films and to emphasize movies that discuss important hot topics. What does this mean to you?

PK: My favourite kinds of genre films or “movies to watch at midnight” are movies that really upset expectations because one of the attractions or appeals of great genre cinema are not really their generic properties, or the generic formulas you expect, it’s the stuff that you don’t expect and the fun is watching the movie that starts in a very familiar place, as many horror movies and action movies do, but it’s how those movies subvert the formula and subvert the expectation of what people are really looking for when they watch genres. They’re looking for something that’s recognizable and familiar but they’re looking for something to surprise them and I think the best genre films do that. I’m very interested and passionate about the films that go out on a limb and take those risks and try to challenge expectations and transgress those boundaries. In putting together this year’s lineup, I was really interested in finding a mix of film makers who had a history with the program and filmmakers that were brand new and trying new things. I think I achieved that with films like, Let the Corpses Tan and The Crescent, respectively, one is an action film and one is a horror film but they are told in very esoteric and eccentric ways. The style and form in which they articulate and express their story has it’s own identity and is not something you can compare easily to other films.

K: It’s great that you found films that deliver important messages and aren’t just there for their jump-scares. 

PK: It was important for me to deliver a wealth of different experiences. I have a film such as David Bruckner’s, The Ritual, which is a traditionally scary movie about campers getting lost in the woods, it’s also from an emerging filmmaker who has spent the last ten years has making a number of short films and anthology projects but he has yet to make a feature. He was someone I wanted to support but his film differently assumes a traditional trajectory, where as, a film like The Crescent is a lot more esoteric and psychedelic and unpredictable.

K: When putting together the line-up for this year, or previous years, is there a certain way in which you go about choosing your films?

PK: I think that a good programmer, especially one that is putting a section together that is as tightly packed as something like the Midnight Madness section, it’s something that I learned from Colin, you have to consider how they flow together. You don’t want a program of ten zombie films or ten martial arts films. You want to deliver a different experience each night and in putting this line up together I was thinking about how I wanted to start, what I want to do in the middle and how I wanted it to end. There is an audience that tries to come every single night so I’m very considerate of their experience each night so I want to change things up.

In terms of how I found these films, you watch a bunch of films that have been submitted to the festival and you’re watching films that you have been contacted about, sometimes by the filmmakers themselves, or their sales agents/distributors. We’re also going out in the world and looking for these movies. I have a background in short film programming, I programmed short films for the Toronto After Dark festival for eleven years and I currently do short film programming for Fantastic Fest. One of the other things that I do when I first started working on the Midnight Madness program was that I emailed a lot of short film makers that I had been a fan of to see if they were working on features and a few said they were, such as David Bruckner.

I try to be thoughtful in terms of putting things together. For instance, it was very important for me that the first film be something that would have a lot of impact, and the film that I chose, Joseph Kahn’s Bodied, is a movie that I thought wouldn’t make sense to have anywhere else but at the start of the festival because I think it’s a sort of film that can start a conversation that can carry through the festival.

I wanted to end the festival on a lighter and fun note, and Vampire Clay ended up being my choice because I really like the story behind the making of the film, it’s the first feature of a filmmaker who is in his late forties, and has worked in the industry of special effects and as a makeup artist on much lower budget productions and I have seen some of his short films and I was really impressed with them and excited to see what he would do with a feature. I found the film really resourceful and fun and unpretentious. I think it is a great counter note to some of the other films in the program where this is a fun way to end the festival experience, not a heavier way.

K: Do you have a particular film that you are most excited for audiences to see this year?

PK:  I’m excited to see how the audiences will react to Brawl in Cellblock 99, simply because I’ve broken the tradition. Historically, every Midnight Madness film begins at midnight, or 11:59 PM, but I’m starting this film at 10:45 PM. The reason is that I really feel that the first hour and seven minutes are not really delivering the Midnight Madness experience. It’s more of a gritty crime drama that’s rather sober and measured and deliberately paced, but about halfway into the movie, a big plot detail emerges that begins to escalate and bring a momentum to the story that makes it feel a bit more Midnight Madness oriented. When it finally gets to the climax and delivers a really brutal and bloody sequence, that I think is going to shock and satisfy the Midnight crowd. I’m looking forward to see how that plays in the room, the steady escalation where people aren’t going to be sure of where the movie is going and then what the movie will deliver in its final scene.

K: Are there any current trends in the horror genre that you were hoping to include or avoid within the lineup?

PK: It’s interesting, while watching the submissions this year, I did see a few trends emerge. I think that you can look at a number of films this year and see a lot of parables of broken masculinity taking place. At the same time, what I was hoping to see more of is women working in genre, and I did see a small, but a presence of women that is just great. A lot of this is a systemic problem where a lot of emerging female directors just aren’t getting a chance to make that jump from short films to feature films as quickly as their male peers are. Last year, we had the amazing film, Raw, directed by Julia Ducournau, and this year we have Hélène Cattet returning for Let the Corpses Tan along with Coralie Fargeat’s debut, Revenge.

A really common genre that gets submitted to a genre festival is the rape-revenge film, or a sort of female-vengeance story, but the fact that this was directed by a woman had me really interested and I think Coralie gives you a really new perspective on how this story gets told, specifically in how she puts the scrutiny and the gaze of the film more centred on male bodies than female bodies. In a rape-revenge story, that’s a really substantial detail.

I’m hoping for the industry to allow more voices to tell stories, because I do think we are seeing the same story over and over again. The amount of times I’ve seen a horror movie or action movie hinge on a protagonist that just wanted to ask a girl out and the whole movie is just so that he can win that girl… it’s a trope and it’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years and there’s nothing wrong with that type of story, but there’s more than that.

I’m encouraging filmmakers to think about their films and if it’s a story that’s already been heard before, then why do they feel they should tell it again? What do they want to add to the conversation? That’s something that I’m interested in finding in future editions of the program.

K: Along with your many years of experience as a festival programmer, you also have a lot of producing credits, such as: Manborg (2011), the concluding segment Z is for Zygote in the anthology film The ABCs of Death: Part 2 (2014), The Interior (2015), The Void (2016), and the short film adaptation of Dave Eggers short story Your Mother and I (2016). Do you see yourself more as a producer, or would you rather be programming festivals?

PK: Both roles I’ve stumbled into somewhat organically. I’ve always wanted to make movies but early on I found myself more preoccupied with showing other people’s movies. While doing that I’ve made a connection and friendships with short film makers and then those friendships eventually turned into collaborations where I asked a short film maker what they were working on and they would start talking about their process, and because I was gaining contacts and experience working alongside distributors and exhibitors and sales agents and financiers, I was able to parlay some of that experience and some of those contacts into helping some of these short filmmakers make new projects including features.

I found that in my desire to want to make movies I feel like I realized that maybe I’m better at other people make their movies. I really enjoy that sort of collaborative process. Career wise, I’m trying to see if I can balance programming for festivals six months of the year, and helping people get content and getting their films off the ground the other six months of the year.

The most valuable thing about programming is seeing what other people are making and the quality. A lot of the stuff I’m seeing, by objective or conventional standards, might not be up to snuff, or “great works”, but I feel like they’re always teaching me something or establishing trends, some to potentially follow or some to maybe avoid. They are also revealing filmmakers, actors, or cinematographers that I may want to work with. It’s one of the reasons why I want to continue programming other festivals because I feel by watching short films, it’s allowing me to see a couple years into the future because I’m looking at filmmakers that are starting out. I hope to notice them and put them in touch with people that can help them make their films.

K: You’re part of that process with them.

PK: A lot of programmers see a movie well before it’s finished. A few of the films I saw this year, in their assembly versions, or their first drafts. There was a back and forth between me and the filmmakers and their producers about what I thought was working and what I thought wasn’t. While I never intend to say, “I think you should do this,” I try to be candid in terms of what my reactions are. Sometimes it has an effect on someone and sometimes it doesn’t. There’s a real feedback loop between festival programmers and filmmakers these days.

K: It’s always best to do what you love.

PK: Fortunately enough I still like movies. There’s always that period where I’m in the eye-of-the-storm watching stuff and maybe haven’t seen something in three weeks that I’ve liked, and that’s when you get worried because at that point if something good comes around you’re not sure if you’ll notice it because you feel so beaten down. The thing is, every time I’ve gotten that feeling, every time I do see something that I think is strong and good, you notice it within a few seconds. It can be the subtlest decision on the director’s part but I feel that it’s so apparent. As subjective as it may be, there is a way to direct a movie or a way to tell a story that can immediately convey to the viewer that someone is in control and steering the ship.

When someone asks me what I consider as constituting a good film, or what I look for as a programmer, it sounds like a simple thing, but I look for direction. I look for a film that I feel is articulating it’s ideas of clarity. Whether it’s the movements of the camera or the staging factors, I don’t feel like things are arbitrary or left to chance. Even if it’s a movie where things are improvised, or a documentary, the assembly or decisions that are made in putting the package together just feel like decisions.

I like hearing the voice of the filmmaker or the collective voice of the team that has made a certain movie.

K: It must be like a lightbulb that comes on when you do see something special.

PK: When I do see something I like, I have a tendency to stand up and start pacing a bit. I get rather excited when that lightbulb goes off.

K: It must be really exciting to be in the screening and to see the same reactions that you first had.

PK: I love watching the audience watch something in a program. Going to Fantasia in Montréal and then my first Midnight Madness in 2005… it’s the reason I do this. I love sitting in an audience that for ninety minutes or two hours there is a feeling of complete unity where everyone is in line or joining the wavelength of the story being told.

I think Midnight Madness is one of the programs that really delivers that because it often plays with big emotions and is able to create that feeling to get everyone as energized and charged.

K: What’s next for you?

PK: I go straight into Fantastic Fest where I do a shorts programme that is broken up into three sections. There is a horror section, a general comedy section and a section of more experimental, arthouse genre exercises.

After that, the machine sort of beings to start up again for next year but before it does, in earnest, I will likely be trying to work on my many projects with various filmmakers and it kind of depends on what is ready and what needs the help.

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Robin Fitzsimon at Etsy: Made in Canada 2017

Robin Fitzsimon, the founder of Fitzy, a brand dedicated to modern leather goods, opened her business by simply creating a new item every day for a year. The 365 project first turned into an Etsy shop, then it became Fitzsimon’s full-time job. Sharing a studio in Toronto with paper artist Ali Harrison, Fitzsimon makes modern leather backpacks, bow ties, cord keepers, and more. Her new green and gray leather items will appear in Etsy: Made in Canada show at the MaRS building on September 23.

Robin Fitzsimon

Sveta: Robin, your 365 project sounds really inspiring. Tell me how it helped you to start your business.

Robin:  It was kind of crazy, but also really good. I made something every day for a year, and I posted it online by midnight. I did drawing, painting, sculpture… I started doing jewellery and working with leather. And then I started doing leather jewellery. Because I was posting every day, I had friends and family following. So they knew if I didn’t get it done on time.

I had a lot of people saying, Oh, your stuff is really great! You should start selling it. I never thought that I would own my business. I haven’t been to a business class or something like that. But with Etsy, it’s so easy to start your own shop, and I was like, Why not? I opened my Etsy shop in 2013. And then I sell my pieces online, I sell to stores mostly in North America but some overseas as well. It just kind of snowballed, and then it became a full-time.

S: Were you still at school at that time?

R: No, I had finished school. I went to OCAD, and I have a BFA in Sculpture and Installation. I was looking for a way that’ll bring some spontaneity back to my art work ‘cause when you are making art for school, it always has to be very well thought out. It takes a long time. So I missed doing stuff like quickly and not overthinking things. That is what the 365 project was for me. I only had until midnight and couldn’t overthink – I just had to get it done and not worry about it too much. And sometimes I made the stuff that was not really great, but sometimes it was really great.

S: What is the hardest and what is the best thing in running your own brand?

R:  The hardest part is just making sure you have enough money to pay your bills and buy materials. You make more money in different times of the year. You have to account for that. That’s may be the one thing that you don’t love. The best thing is…I don’t even know. I love being in charge and making my own schedule. It’s just me, so I can decide how I wanna do it. Being able to work with your hands every day and make your own things is really amazing. It’s really cool to be like, I made that from start to finish. It’s a real sense of pride in doing that. It’s also really fun to be surrounded by creative people.

S: What was the first item you sold and how did you feel about it?

R: The first piece I sold was a green leather bracelet. It was in that moment when my business finally felt real.

S: Do you always make your pieces by yourself?

R: I make everything myself in the studio except for the screen printed pieces. I have a printer that does the screen printing for me.

S: Where do you get your materials from?

R: Lots of different places. All our hardware is a manufacture of the States, and all of our leather is from local suppliers.

S: What is the main element of your style?

R: I always try to use really nice hardware, and especially in my purses I like to use copper rivets, so they add an interesting colour to the piece that you don’t see everywhere.

S: And what makes the rest of your pieces unique?

R: I think it’s the aesthetic. I try to go for something very clean and minimal. Everything is there for a reason. I don’t want any extra pips and bows and things like that. A lot of my pieces are stuff that you’ve never seen before.

S: Do you organize your pieces in collections?

R: I’m just trying to design items that people will really love and that will last for a really long time. So I try to do less but better. I don’t want to come up with a new piece all the time – I want to make sure that everything I’m making is done very specifically. Like I’m trying design a bag in a way that makes sense for what the bag needs to be.

Though, I’m starting to do kind of seasonal colours. The dark green leather and the grey leather are both brand new for fall [points at freshly-made backpack and bag hanging on the wall of her studio]. And for the first time you’ll be able to get them at the show. It’s been fun to work with the colour rather than do just black and brown, which are nice classic leather colours, but people seem to really like the colour.

S: How would your describe your customers?

R: Usually, urban women 25 to 35 who really appreciate handmade. Generally, creative types looking for something cool but also want to spend their money on something they really need.

S: I know you’ve participated in One of a Kind and Makeology craft shows. Is it your first time at Etsy: Made in Canada?

R: I always do Etsy: Made in Canada show. It’s so good. I wasn’t actually there last year, but I had my sister running the booth, and it went very well.

S: What do you like most about shows like that?

R: It’s only one day, and all the customers are so good. Everyone is really excited ‘cause everybody likes that scene. It’s like our perfect target market. It’s kind of going to a summer camp. You get to see all of your maker-friends. You only see each other at the shows because everyone is working. Usually craft shows that’s when the community comes together.

S: Are there any designers/makers who inspire you?

R: I wouldn’t say I have one favourite designer. It’s always nice to look to other makers to get an advice and inspiration. Like Arounna Khounnoraj from bookhou. She’s been my mentor. She’s so generous with her help. She came up to me during One of a Kind show. She’s very successful in a Toronto scene, and she gave me all that amazing advices.

S: How did you used those advices?

R: I used to hand sew before I made bags, when I just made little accessories. And she was just like, Why don’t you have a leather sewing machine? You could make stuff so much bigger because hand sewing takes so long. And then I did, and it was a game changer. It was so much better, I started making bags. It’s great to be able to make stuff so much faster than before.

S: What else besides new leather colours should the attendants expect from you?

R: We’ll also have the brand new large backpacks and Toronto T-shirts. It’s like a spin on the ways people say “Toronto”. So you know, if you are from Toronto, you don’t say the second “T”.

S: Any special plans for the near future?

R: I’m trying to do more teaching. I teach leather workshops too. I’ll be doing one at the show. I have an online workshop through Skillshare. I want to do it more often.

S: What is your favourite Fitzy item right now?

R: It’s a mini backpack, the little kind of triangle one. That is new from spring. I try to ride my bike as much as I can in the summer, but regular purses don’t work very well when you riding your bike, so I wanted a cute little backpack that worked well as a purse, but that was hands-free. Right now it’s my favourite, but it will probably change in a few months.

Etsy: Made in Canada is happening on September 23rd at MaRS Discovery District. Continue following our fashion and lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Toronto’s Gourmet Food Stores for Staying In

Granted, a grocery store is a not the sexiest topic. You just might get stood up if you dm ‘meet me in front of the Provigo at seven, we’re about to really eat’. But what you are not taking into consideration is that there are stores that carry produce and meats and cheeses that are unconscionably sexy they will have you planning out home cooked dinner dates for days. Trust me — that sliver of Bleu d’Elizabeth will have you and your boo moaning in no time.

Since we at Novella are, all things considered, only truly concerned with making you the sexiest motherfu**ers Toronto’s ever seen, we couldn’t in all good conscience not give you the below list of stores you should hit for a night in. Go for the salt, goo, and stink of the splendor at these establishements and enjoy it in the comfort of your home and sweatpants. (Pusateri’s at Saks Fifth was not included in the list because it makes me feel uneasy).

Cheese Boutique (and Nancy’s Cheese)

The Cheese Cave at the Cheese Boutique Photo Credit: Ivan Otis Photography

This could be our way of re-purposing our interview with Afrim Pristine, but it’s not. The Cheese Boutique really is the best place to get cheese in Toronto. Get a bit of different cheeses — make sure to taste them —, pick out a chocolate or two, and grab a baguette and a thing of olives. The best part of the Cheese Boutique is that the staff are knowledgable and will help you pick out what you like.

If the Cheese Boutique is a little too far, Nancy’s Cheese on Dupont and Spadina also carry a very good selection of cheeses from around the world and Canada. Nancy’s has an approximate list of what’s in stock on their website, so you can check it out before you go.

Sanagan’s Meat Locker

Sanagan’s Meat Locker at Kensington Market — image courtesy of Sanagan’s

Sanagan’s Meat Locker has two counters — one for the butcher and one for the deli. The butcher section features meats from numerous farms across Canada and offers everything from premium steaks to offals. The deli side is a little retrained in its choices but all the better since everything it offers is excellent. Personal favorite is their blood sausage — ask for an inch-thick and grill it for breakfast. Sanagan’s also carries a variety of meat-based deliciousness like bone marrow broth; it also has lunch options, so if you’re too hungry to wait, you can get some straight away.

Schmaltz Appetizing

Schmaltz Appetizing — image courtesy of Toronto Life

Schmaltz is truly a magical place. From a variety of smoked fishes, pickled herrings, caviars to cream cheeses and deli salads, these ‘purveyors of fine fish’ really know how to eat. If you need more convincing than a brief look at their goods, try one of their bagel sandwiches — chazzer (gravlax, salmon caviar, horseradish cream cheese) is great place to start. Eat it next to a tiny counter with napkins and local event ads and proceed to spend all your hard earned money. It will be worth it.

Galleria Supermarket

Last on our list is Galleria Supermarket. As the name cries out, it is expansive and covers every section of the food pyramid and spills over some. This Korean grocery store’s mandate is “Better than the best products”. As such their products are fresh and reliable, and their stores are clean and well-managed. Galleria offers produce from Asia alongside your regular blueberries and watermelons, and niche products for adventurous home cooks to chefs alike. Going to Galleria is like an adventure (with a cafeteria at the back at the Finch location) — you will always be surprised by what’s available. (They’ve recently opened a smaller ‘Express’ branch on Bloor W.)

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Where Toronto Eats: Electric Mud BBQ

Art work by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

At Electric Mud BBQ on 5 Brock Avenue, there is a poster of ‘California Girls,’ three women (or girls) scantily clad in ’80s high-cut leotards either in the process of getting dressed or undressed — it seems to be a choose-your-own-adventure type of a fantasy — in a steamy locker room. Similar looking women, similarly dressed, in various stages of summer-induced (di)stress, hold beers and stare at you in a procession of equally inane posters throughout the establishment that’s also home to crosses and metal insignias of various sizes. Blues and rock play off a vinyl on a turntable at the back of the bar that merges with a semi-open kitchen. The chairs are metal — humble, if you’re feeling that way, or uncomfortable, if you’re sitting down. The combination of the kitsch and purposefully ‘backcountry’ décor attempts authenticity — not an accumulation of Americana but a slice of America itself. The owner(s) understands that dining out is more than the sum of the foods; that the contemporary dining crowd is looking for an experience, the ethereal, the affirmation.

It is as if the so much time and effort were spent on the mounting of the vintage neon beer signs around the main dining area that they had none left for the barbecue.

The ribs are available by 1/2 racks and are sticky and sweet, on the right side of fall-off-the-bone. But there is no depth of flavor, a quality expected in good barbecue by the mere fact of its process. Instead of the flavorful fattiness, the ribs retain no other flavor than grease after the initial sweetness. Considering how even less time-consuming methods of cooking meat, such as braising or quick searing as in yakitori, retain a touch of the fire and smoke, perhaps barbecue without it is a kind of an achievement in itself. The only thing that distinguishes Electric Mud’s ribs from those of a corporate steakhouse’s is their price, $17.99.

Not much can redeem a barbecue joint from bad ribs, save the redemption by the plentitude and greatness of fixings. No such luck here — the mac and cheese, made with cheddar and served with bacon and breadcrumbs, is runny and bland; the coleslaw and pickles are unmemorable. The spicy pork rinds with pimento cheese, as satisfying as they are, fall short of saving grace. The ribs’ mediocrity haunts the rest of the dinner.

To make sure that this poor state of affairs is not an anomaly, I went back three times at different times and on different days. What surprised me more than Electric Mud’s ability to hide any trace of the ribs having ever been inside a smoker were the lines. All three times people waited on line to get a seat. With its neon cross outside and a graffitied wall, Electric is very much at home in Parkdale, a block away from an angry vegan fast food chain (its sign reads, ‘BE AN ADULT. BE VEGAN’) and next door to a would-be-middling neighborhood microbrewery-pub. Much like its neighbors, all due accolades to the establishment seem due to the fact of its existence: that it remains open is both a curiosity and an indication of how much the fastidiously acquired veneer of a barbecue joint can withstand the reality of objectively bad ribs. From the outside, the place is ostensibly a locus of barbecue and barbecue culture. Yet it’s clear from the food that there’s little love in it.

Manufactured identity requires the presence and affirmation of others. The customers and reviewers of Electric provide those services to the establishment — you can tell by the way the male staff addresses male customers as ‘brother’ and the hostess’s frustration at a visibly frustrated couple waiting on line: They are certain of their status as purveyors of fine barbecue. I wonder if the existence of Electric does the same for the customers and reviewers of the city. As to what affirmation one may find at Electric other than that even good, simple things can so easily be ruined, I’m not sure.

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A Conversation with Izaak Sacrebleu on his Upcoming Exhibition

The Toronto art scene is vibrant and thriving. If you look around, you are sure to find several up-and-coming artists you are going to want to keep an eye on. Izaak Sacrebleu, with his up-coming solo exhibition debuting at the Coldstream Fine Art Gallery, is one of them. His work is dynamic and eclectic, often built from recycled materials.

We had the opportunity to chat with Izaak about his upcoming solo exhibition, running until September 16th, and the ways in which art history is a major inspiration for his work.

The Artists Studio by Izaak Sacrebleu 

Kimberley Drapack: When did you first develop an interest in painting?

Izaak Sacrebleu: Growing up there was always a bit of art around. My great grandmother owned an antique shop in Kingston in the ’50s and ’60s. My family always had old things that were in my periphery, including paintings. I started to become truly invested in painting the moment I realized I was any good at it. 

K: You graduated from OCAD with a BFA in drawing and painting. What was this journey like?

ISI would say I grew immensely as an artist while at OCAD. In the five years I spent there my conception of art was turned on it’s head several times: without that I’d probably be making the same sorts of things I was making in high school. In my time at OCAD I would guess I made about 150 art works. In retrospect I’ll say about 145 of them were unsuccessful. Art school is an incomparable opportunity to learn what works and doesn’t; it teaches you how to make strong work and talk about it.

K: Do you believe artists should attend art school in order to strengthen their work? Why or why not?

IS: I would certainly say that it helps, though for some it might not be necessary. Art school is an introduction to seeing and contextualizing other people’s art and your own. All of the conclusions one comes to in the process can be realized through a thorough art practice; but art education condenses it all together while teaching you what a thorough art practice looks like. 

K: What is your process in beginning a new series?

IS: I usually take a bit of a hiatus between series: theres a lot of thinking, questioning and research that needs to happen. It’s also a good time for me to take a good look around and see what my contemporaries are working on. When I start again I make a few experiments and it usually provokes something new. When I take a long enough break there’s a period at the beginning of the next series when I’ve completely forgotten how to paint: some really interesting works come out of that.

K: There is a strong presence of art history within your work, merging the past with the present. What does this representation of historical paintings mean to you?

IS: My work reflects my own tastes as they align to and exist against contemporary aesthetics. In my painting I work to create a dialogue between the tropes of contemporary art and what I see as a more general dwelling on timeless imageries like historical painting, antique objects and house plants. Materiality and nostalgia are the driving forces of my aesthetic as they are for a lot of people today; in my work I pose that this is a reaction against our world becoming a more sterile and digital place. 

 K: What is your favourite part of an art show, and what is the worst?

IS: The best part of an art show is the art! I make an effort to see as many exhibitions as possible to keep an eye on what my peers are up to. There are certainly trends in the art world which are worth paying attention to, as well seeing what’s selling and what it’s selling for. The Toronto art market and scene is one that’s on the up an up, and it’s good to keep track. My least favourite parts of art shows are the party fouls: “where’s the booze?” is a common one that usually turns up at an opening within earshot of the wrong company.  

K: What can we expect from your upcoming solo exhibition from August 10-September 16 at the Cold Stream Fine Art Gallery?

IS: In my upcoming solo exhibition, Victorian Revival, I’ve continued along the thread I was working in with my last show, Kitsch Assemblage and the Ornate. These new works are significantly bigger and more refined than their predecessors which has been an exciting process in the time since my last solo exhibition in March of this year. There will also be a few new experiments: a snippet of what to perhaps expect from the studio next.  

K: What has it been like navigating the Toronto art scene?

IS: The Toronto art scene is tough but it’s getting better. The art market, much like the city, has always been a bit conservative. It’s a small community, and it’s a game of patience to gain any sort of acknowledgement, but such it is in most places in most fields. There are plenty of new artist-run spaces opening up which is a great opportunity for more artists to be exhibited more frequently. 

K: Within your series, Beige is the new Gucci, you embedded discarded materials within your work. How does this series differ from your earlier work? What did it teach you?

IS: Most of my work is fashioned out of recycled materials; it’s the nature of having a passion for making things when you’re on a budget. As time goes on I find myself in the lumber yard more often than I used to, but there’s still a rough-around-the-edges materiality to my work. I always paint on panel because you can easily crop something, and if need be you can make it bigger with a little wood glue. 

K: What are your plans for the future?

IS: I’m looking forward to getting onto a new series of paintings. I’m not sure what they’re going to look like yet so I’m excited to figure that out. 

I’ve been spending a bit more time in New York lately. I was just part of my first group exhibition in the United States in Syracuse this June. I’m looking forward to spending some more time in the States and having my work seen by a more international audience. 

At the beginning of this year I moved my studio from Kensington Market to Rogers Road and Keele Street. It’s a great neighbourhood and I expect to be seeing some more artists and galleries up here soon. 

Check out the opening to his exhibition at Cold Stream Fine Art Gallery on Thursday August 10th to September 16th from 6-9pm and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.