Don't you wish you could live in these paintings of Toronto?

Waiting for a streetcar never looked this good. Keita Morimoto paints the city like a dreamland — can you recognize these scenes?

Keita Morimoto paints the city like a dreamland. Can you recognize these scenes?

Keita Morimoto. Arrival, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)

Waiting for a streetcar never looked this good.

Really, nothing about living in Toronto ever did — but that's the thing about Light Passage, a new solo exhibition from painter Keita Morimoto.

On to March 3 at the city's Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Morimoto, 28, finds the beauty in busted downtown corners and Etobicoke parking lots, capturing everyday streets in the style of the Old Masters of Western art history.

"I'm trying to create almost a dream version of what I'm experiencing — a more focused version of what I'm seeing," says Morimoto.

And it's the most ordinary details of light and reflection that often catch his eye — the green glow of a gas station sign, a burst of neon in a Koreatown restaurant window — amped up so that everyday scenes become golden fairy tales.

I'm trying to create almost a dream version of what I'm experiencing.- Keita Morimoto , artist

A former finalist in the RBC Painting Competition, the show marks the first time Morimoto's painted scenes from his Toronto stomping grounds.

For his first solo show at the Metivier Gallery in 2016, the backdrops were lifted from Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Gainsborough.

The subjects were contemporary kids (usually the painter and pals), but they'd be hanging in pastoral Suffolk glades instead of Trinity-Bellwoods.

"I was referencing a lot of classical landscapes — things that were done in the 1800s and 1700s," he says.

"And you know, when I was looking at those paintings, I was thinking, 'Why am I referencing these things when I'm really here today?'"

Before the show closed, he was already at work.

Born in Osaka, Morimoto says he initially thought his new series would be about Japan.

The artist paints from photographs, but after a visit home, he realized what he got on camera wouldn't work.

"I've been here for 12 years," says Morimoto. (The artist moved to Toronto in high school.)

"I guess I've been detached from the culture a little bit more than I thought I was, and I just didn't feel the connection that I had with the images as much as the ones I took in Toronto."

Most of the locations, he says, hold a lot of personal memories.

He's an OCAD U grad, and several scenes are just a few blocks from school — in Chinatown and around Kensington Market. Others are less obvious to locate, set in the streets around the Dundas and Islington area, near Morimoto's studio. But they're all real spots on the map.

There's a comment left on one of Morimoto's Instagram posts from the exhibition opening: "I want to live in your paintings." He gets it a fair bit — which is a little funny, considering every scene is somewhere IRL.

Hop a plane or a subway — depending on the circumstances — and you could be there. 

But that reaction is also exactly what he's going for.

"What I really love about painting is that quality of the other world," he says. "That's definitely a quality that I strive for in my painting."

Take a look.

Keita Morimoto. Market, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Meeting Place, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Crossing, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Entrance, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Cross Road, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Lookout, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Night Owls, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Station, 2017 (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Blue Moon, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Convergence, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)
Keita Morimoto. Half Light, 2017. (Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery)

Keita Morimoto. Light Passage. To March 3 at Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto. www.metiviergallery.com

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