5 places to get original art from (mostly) Toronto artists in time for the holidays

This year I bought myself an early Christmas present. Fans of Jon Klassen’s subversively delightful children’s book “I Want My Hat Back” will recognize the floppy-eyed bear that now hangs over my desk, his bulging belly in the air, overseeing all my Zoom meetings.

The award-winning Canadian illustrator, now based in Los Angeles, is collaborating on a heartwarming project called Home Home (homehomeca.com), bringing his menagerie of characters to life as hang-up felt pennants sewn in Ontario by his mother, Karen. .

I discovered my new furry friend on Instagram, where I also bought two otherworldly prints from US-based artist Angela Deane, best known for painting ghosts on vintage Polaroids, including on the album cover for Phoebe Bridgers’ stunning debut album,” Stranger in the Alps.” It may be a while before I can travel again to the Guggenheim Museum in New York, or collide with strangers’ bumper cars at a summer fair, but at least I can live vicariously through Deane’s old-fashioned ghosts enjoying the experiences.

As an online marketplace, I love how Instagram connects artists directly with buyers, regardless of their geographic location. My own scrolling walks have led me to Northern Canada’s finest beaded earrings and a collected book of paintings of synchronized swimmers. But as enjoyable as these discoveries are, algorithms cannot take the place of the personal gallery experience and the purchase of local art.

Philip Anderson, director of Gallery 1313 on Queen West, is well aware of how hard COVID-19 has been on local artists, especially those in the early stages of their careers. Representing more than 60 members, the artist-run center just closed its annual sale, “The End,” featuring works by 25 artists, all priced between $75 and $500.

In curating the show, Anderson looked for a wide variety of works that would appeal to a variety of buyers, “hoping to get people to start their own art collections to complement their home decor,” or as investment pieces. A corporate client came by with a clever plan: they bought nine works to raffle off to employees during a holiday event.

Anderson noted that the gallery’s artists have become inventive in the way they market their pieces, making it easier than ever to buy their works. Some have made cheaper reproductions of originals, while others offer payment plans or the option for people to take artwork home to see how they fit, or even rent. Anderson himself didn’t leave empty-handed: The last auction purchase was by his wife, who bought him Lillian Chow’s electric portrait of R&B artist The Weeknd.

If you missed the end of “The End,” Chow will also have work in 1313’s “Winter Emerging Artist Exhibition,” which runs from January 5 to 22. You can still buy direct from other 1313 artists – start by checking out their portfolios at the g1313.org website, then make an appointment for some more holiday gallery hopping.

The Museum of Contemporary Art has a fun sale bridging online transactions with local handmade goods. The self-service “honestshop21” will run until January 30 and will allow visitors to the gallery to purchase works by credit or debit card through a Square system. The “fair” thing about the show is that there is no attendant: it’s up to you to pay and secure your purchase. A bit like a self-service supermarket, but without the guilt.

James Hewitt, director of the Run Gallery on Annette Street, is experimenting this holiday, transforming the fledgling West End Gallery into an art and gift shop with multiples, editions and pottery. As a curator, Hewitt has a keen eye for talent, with “The Maker Market: Go Ahead, Shoot!” with an eclectic selection of over 15 artists, designers and creators, including Raoul Olou, Doug Brown and Elicser Elliott. The pilot will run from December 20 through January, with the hopes of building an audience and a sense of community.

Raoul Olou, Still Life #4, one of the oil still life studies available at Run Gallery "The Maker Market: Go ahead, shoot!"

Many of the makers, Hewitt says, are already making small multiples and runs that they sell online, as well as at various exchanges and markets. It is a necessity for many of these artists to support their practices, especially during COVID times. For example, Olou has created a small series of four beautiful still life oil studies on Masonite that will cost $300, and Brown’s editions on paper and wood panels will be available for between $60 and $200. Fans of Elliott’s painted work will also appreciate his sculptures and want to grab books, which cost between $25 and $150.

“The scale moves from very fair to fair,” Hewitt says. “There is a very captivating and motley crew of talented artists and creators from different creative perspectives. Let’s make deals and make friends.”

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Sue Carter is deputy editor of Inuit Art Quarterly and a freelance contributor in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @flinnflon

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