The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition (TOAE) is just what it says: an outdoor art festival in Toronto that showcases contemporary art and craft of Canadian artists at Nathan Phillips Square each July. Celebrating its 48th year, TOAE showcases more than 500 artists, hosts an estimated 100,000 visitors, and is the largest outdoor art exhibition in Canada. This means that all the cool Canadian kids flock from far and wide to the coolest city in Canada for one glorious weekend of art and to sell their wares. And wares, there are plenty.
Summers in Toronto are spectacular. Add in art by superb Canadian artists, and, well, it doesn’t get any better. I stumbled across TOAE while wandering around the first year I lived here and, in an attempt to fulfill a promise to myself to buy as much Canadian art as I could afford to buy, quicky snapped up a piece from a Peterborough, Ontario-based artist. I still love that piece much today as on the rainy day I bought it. I’ve managed to pick up a few pieces here and there, but my new favourite piece is one I just bought at this year’s TOAE from a way cool printmaker and artist named Agata Ostrowska.
Art is a funny thing. It’s certainly a personal thing. I have been privileged to know some amazing artists, especially my fabulous Houston friend and artist William Miller of whimdesigns.com. One of my favourite things to do when I’m walking through any kind of art festival, crawl, gallery or museum (all of which I do often) is ask myself what I’m feeling when I’m looking at any given piece. I’m often surprised at what a particular piece may invoke — sometimes shock, sometimes anger, sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness — but almost always something. I am also a word harlot. That’s probably not a surprise to you, since you’re reading my little slice of the intertubes where I, oh, write. And if you came to my house, you’d trip over books strewn about. Books I buy with every intention of reading, but never do. Books that I bought when I went to Chapters, or the now-defunct Pages (RIP!), or Book City; books that I couldn’t get enough of; the smell of the paper; or the rows upon rows in which to get lost; or hearing people quietly chat (or sometimes people talking loudly on their phone — so much so that I am required by law to give them the stink-eye). My calendar is one of those tear-off Word-of-the-day ones so I can sound smrt at least one time a day. So when I was walking through TOAE and spotted Agata’s work, I was immediately smitten. It was art all about — wait for it — words. Agata is a printmaker, and incidentally won the award for Honourable Mention, Printmaking at this year’s TOAE — most well-deserved. Her art is made of what were essentially long-form poems, which she then types using antique typewriters (so you can see the mistakes — awesome!), and then mirrors the “poem” on the opposite side of the canvas. Pure word harlot awesomeness.
Not wanting to act hastily, I jetted through the exhibition again to see if I saw anything else I liked as much. I stumbled upon a few other things, like this from an artist named Carmen Schroeder who won the Mayor’s Purchase Award, but I kept going back to Agata’s work. I knew I had to have one. She’d done one piece that was broken into quadrants and that spun around. I was literally turning around to tell her I wanted it when another person came up and said “I’ve been thinking about that piece all day and I want to buy it”. D’oh! Luckily, I’d had my eye on another piece called “That’s The Way”, which was inspired by the Tom Waits song <swoon> of the same name, and that’s the one I bought. It’s hanging lovingly in my den and I still find myself stopping to read it every few days…and I still discover new little idiosyncracies about the piece that I hadn’t previously noticed.
Agata ended up selling every piece she’d brought to the show with the exception of one — a feat not many artists ever realize. Not only is her art brilliant, but she is, too. And That’s The Way it’s supposed to be.