Lisa Johnson, AOCA, Painter and Propeller member since 2007
Most young artists launching their careers immediately face an endurance test of survival. The 1996 cohort of Ontario College of Art graduates were no exception. Facing an uncertain future, and with no galleries willing to exhibit their work, an enterprising group of OCA grads took matters into their own hands.
Pooling their resources, they rented a space on Spadina Avenue and organized a one-off group show. A wildly enthusiastic response from the visiting crowds convinced the artists to make their collective official. They called it the Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts founded on a simple vision; to empower artists to ‘propel’ fellow artists forward.
Today, it is known simply as Propeller Art Gallery and is now located in the West Queen West district in Toronto. After almost 25 years, Propeller continues to thrive and remains one of Toronto’s oldest surviving artist-run galleries. Ross Bonfanti, one of the founders shared, “I feel happy that something that I helped spark is still going and is in the hands of great people”.
Over the years, Propeller Art Gallery, has presented an impressive list of exhibitions: guest-curated shows by the likes of Olga Korper, David Kay, Gary Michael Dault and Moses Znaimer, alternating with countless artist-generated programs and exhibits. Propeller continues to offer a venue for hundreds of emerging, mid-career and established artists alike providing an artistic haven for a wide variety of voices.
Since March however, the bitter realities of the COVID 19 pandemic forced Propeller to close its doors temporarily, threatening the very survival of the gallery itself. No stranger to adversity, Propeller decided to embrace the challenge and dive head-first into the uncharted world of Virtual Art Exhibitions.
For their first venture, the gallery went full circle to its own past, and collaborated with the Ontario College of Art and Design University. With the cancellation of OCAD U’s famous, annual GradEx exhibition, Propeller offered to host a 2020 Drawing & Painting Virtual GradEx105. The small Propeller staff and volunteer members faced the daunting task of learning how to take what used to be hung on walls and bring it all to life online. But it was all worth it.
“After 4 years of study, these OCAD U students count on having GradEx as a way to launch their careers, so this opportunity was a big boost to them” said Tom Taylor, Gallery Director. “It was really rewarding to see all these young up and coming artists joining in the Zoom Opening, excited to be sharing their art.”
Helping these young artists launch their careers speaks to the heart of Propeller and why it is worth fighting for. But it also proved a point; that despite the current challenges, Propeller could continue to survive.
And now Propeller is about to launch another online show featuring its own artists, both past and present: PAG25 — Celebrating 25 years of Propeller Artists. The gallery reached out to the numerous artists who were ever a member of the collective and offered them a virtual showing of their current work. PAG25 will feature over 175 pieces and opens July 25th online at propellerartgallery.ca. PAG25 will also bring to life some fascinating stories from the gallery’s archival history that will evolve over the coming year. And, as many galleries must do these days, the show opening will be held online over Zoom, and should prove to be a fun gathering for the many artists who’ve shared in this important artistic venture. Propeller’s motto is “Artists Empowering Artists” and with the current situation facing the gallery, this is certainly needed more now than ever before. Amidst these uncertain times, Propeller continues to advance the ‘art of survival’.
If you'd like to meet some of the artists who have been a part of Propeller Art Gallery and hear them talk about their work, please register with Eventbrite and you will receive a Zoom link to their Opening Reception and Artist Talks, to be held Saturday, Aug. 1st, starting at 4:00 p.m.
In April of 2017, Propeller member Gwen Tooth decided to organize a companion show to run concurrently with her solo show “Indian Ocean Variations”. She invited five other artists, Jacques Descoteaux, Bianka Guna, Michelle Letarte, Irina Litinsky and Shannon Moynagh to show with her in a curated exhibition “The Evolution of Abstraction”.
The opening, artists in attendance day and the informal artists’ talk about their work events were all well attended.
INDIAN OCEAN VARIATIONS:
Gwen Tooth is an expressionist who has completed several series of paintings revealing the various moods and energies of water – whirlpools, waterfalls, and tsunamis.
Gwen’s current installation project, “Indian Ocean Variations”, is a series of abstract acrylic paintings inspired by the vibrant colours, visual sights, sounds, and scents of India. Gwen experienced these in depth during four visits to the Indian subcontinent. Enhancing this process, she studied basic Hindi, Indian cuisine and immersed herself in the deep history, architecture and culture of India. The colours used in Gwen’s expressionistic paintings are reminiscent of spice markets, silk factories, richly ornamented temples, beautiful saris, exquisite jewellery and the paintings evoke the churning energy of the Indian Ocean. www.zhibit.org/gwentooth
THE EVOLUTION OF ABSTRACTION:
THE EVOLUTION OF ABSTRACTION:
Six journeys of abstraction as curated by Gwen Tooth.
Jacques Descoteaux, Bianka Guna, Michelle Letarte, Irina Litinsky, Shannon Moynagh, Gwen Tooth – each artist presents a unique approach.
JACQUES DESCOTEAUX - abstract essence landscapes “beyond the landscape” in oil. Jacques has been playing with adding streaks – sometimes on the side, sometimes at the bottom; at times very bold, at times more subtle, and at times, they’re not there. By adding this element, the image becomes something else. It is a landscape, and yet it isn’t. He is taking the image from landscape to “beyond landscape”. www.jdcoto.com
BIANKA GUNA – Bianka is an abstract expressionist artist who explores universal themes and symbols of humanity. Her work draws the viewer in through its strong, vivid colours and highly textured surface. The imagery is whimsical, serene, ethereal, and delicate, yet bold and direct. She believes in unity, diversity, proportions, contrast, balance and the unexpected. She has recently been working extensively with incorporating complex acrylic skins into her paintings. www.biankaguna.com
MICHELLE LETARTE – Michelle travels the world extensively and develops a new series of paintings from each unique experience. She often uses various textures to elaborate her artistic statement. In her Anatolia series, she reflects images that witnessed history but are eroded by time and earthquakes and are now integrated into natural fresh landscapes. She uses pumice and sand to create the texture of these large surfaces. Her palette reflects the colours of Anatolia and its ancient sea. www.michelleletarte.ca
IRINA LITINSKY –Irina paints her natural emotional response to the world and people around her. Her reaction to what she sees is a fascination with the inner world of human beings and their aesthetic external beauty. Combining pencil drawing sensitivity with the energy of fluid acrylic paint strokes results in colours, shapes and lines that generate a unified image that is also ambiguous and open-ended. She often engages the use of abstracted figures in her work. www.irinalitinsky.com
SHANNON MOYNAGH - Shannon explores various themes in nature through her work, including biology and evolution. For the acrylic series ‘Organics’ she combines her study of microscopic organisms with experimental use of viscosity differences in acrylic. Shannon states: “My artistic goal is to create living, breathing microcosms of paint, artworks that borrow forms wondrous and varied from the natural world. Executed by a combination of systematic and improvisational methods, and utilizing the behaviour of the paint itself, the finished painting is like a fossilization of the paint in motion, a relic of those precious viscous moments of the paint’s ‘life’ frozen in time.”
Shannon's art: https://www.facebook.com/shannonsproudpapa/
GWEN TOOTH - Gwen is an expressionist painter. Her most recent series “Red Series: Gentle Waterfalls”, was an exhibition of acrylic paintings interpreting gentle waterfalls on red backgrounds. Nature was full of joy once more. Works from this show are a transition to her “Indian Ocean Variations” exhibit. www.zhibit.org/gwentooth
Happy to announce our new series of stories about the artists of Propeller! This blog will be a chance for you to get to know our artists; to have a look into their studios; and hear about how and why they make art. Our first blog will be about Frances Patella, who, in addition to being a fabulous artist also works incredibly hard in her volunteer role as co-chair of Propeller.
One of Toronto's original artist-run galleries. Since 1996.