How 20 Canadian artists made it through 2020

Tales of Zoom togetherness, extreme scrapbooking, life imitating art and reconnecting with Jessica Fletcher.

Tales of Zoom togetherness, extreme scrapbooking, life imitating art and reconnecting with Jessica Fletcher

"DIY iCal." (Jessica Antony)

Over the past 10 excruciatingly long months that we have all existed in an ongoing pandemic, we've published an extensive array of content that looks at this difficult time from the perspective of artists across Canada. Some light, many dark, they collectively paint a picture (in some cases, literally) of some of us the ways we've managed to push through. And we decided to round up 20 of our favourites as we anxiously bid 2020 adieu.

A mix of essays and short documentaries from series we've run like Pandemic Diaries, COVID Residences and Opening Up, we hope they offer you a little solidarity in some of the stories they document.

How the pandemic forced me to slow down and stop smothering my anxiety with chronic busyness

"Monday, 7:48 a.m." (Jessica Antony)

"The past few months have been a parade of horrors for everyone, to vastly different degrees. Uncertainty, isolation, and fear can make it really hard to see past your own pain, no matter how that pain stacks up against your neighbour's. The world feels like it's never been more unpredictable and volatile. But perhaps it always was. And while the notion of individualism suggests that focusing on ourselves will move us further away from those around us, I've found the opposite is true. Looking inward to find stability and real ways to take care of myself has actually made me better equipped to be helpful to and supportive of the people around me. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we need to lift ourselves and one another up as much as we can." Read the full essay by Jessica Antony here.

'It's just me and my crazy puppets': Enter the surreal isolation of muralist Danaé Brissonnet

(Danaé Brissonnet)

"Currently, Danaé Brissonnet's life is confined to a tiny apartment in Quebec where she has been exploring a different artistic practice: a combination of puppetry and mask-making. She is constantly inspired by her surreal dreams which then become the framework for her artwork. In this video, watch Danaé create a bizarre and mesmerizing mask. When you think it's getting weird ... it will only get weirder. However, beware! You are bound to fall in love with this eccentric and free-spirited artist." Watch the full short doc featuring Danaé Brissonnet here

What it's like to give birth during a worldwide health crisis

Dallas Curow and her daughter Beatrix Hazel Skye. (Dallas Curow)

"For mothers, the postpartum period can be incredibly isolating when you're suddenly at home all the time with a baby and it seems like the world is moving along without you. This time, however, everyone else was doing exactly the same thing as me: sitting at home in far less than their Sunday best, puttering around, keeping weird hours, connecting with their loved ones virtually, and wondering often what day it was. Solidarity! And if I pulled myself away from the news and leaned into the all-consuming demands of newborn life at home, I could almost make myself believe there wasn't an unprecedented worldwide crisis outside our doors ... almost." Read the full essay by Dallas Curow here. 

What's worse than a global pandemic? Going through a breakup during a global pandemic

Brendan D'Souza. (Olivia Stadler) (Olivia Stadler)

"Suddenly I was trapped in a basement, sanitizing my hands into the texture of sandpaper, using Kleenex for toilet paper, and begging my landlord to let me off the hook for April's rent, as daily reports of more and more COVID-related horror stories flooded in. Every day the amount of time before 5:00 pm that I consider socially acceptable to drink increased by 20 minutes (at the time of this writing, I have successfully wrapped my head around the concept of 'breakfast Merlot'). My parents called me daily to insist I come home, which I ardently refused because the only thing worse than being quarantined is being quarantined in Thornhill. No one should have to get legally grounded to survive the apocalypse. The world was ending and I wanted to be in the middle of the action when the zombies arrived." Read the full essay by Brendan D'Souza here.

Artist Laura Dawe is making sense of this moment by scrapbooking — and you can too

Artist Laura Dawe teaches us to paint a still life, in this Culture Days painting class. (CBC Arts)

"In ten years from now when we look back and reflect on this COVID-19 pandemic, how will we remember it? Visual artist Laura Dawe has a pretty simple yet effective place to turn: scrapbooking. In this video, Dawe walks us through the beginning of her COVID scrapbook. It includes deep personal thoughts, a sheet of toilet paper, a pair of latex gloves, humorous perspectives and several more little wonders." Watch the full short doc featuring Laura Dawe here.

Street art legend Elicser's cereal box paintings capture '100 days of the world just off kilter'

Elicser Elliott and his cereal-box artwork. (Elicser Elliott)

"Elicser Elliott is a renowned street artist from Toronto. His work can be seen all over the city, from massive murals to electrical boxes. His exquisite work eventually expanded onto canvases, and recently he made another move ... onto cereal boxes. Elicser's series #waitingabandoned is the perfect summary of 2020 thus far as it comments on both the pandemic and social unrest that has fuelled this year. In this video, watch Elicser's process from start to finish. See his mix of spray paint, acrylic and marker as he masterly transfers it onto a Chocolate Cheerios box." Watch the full short doc featuring Elicser Elliott here. 

Lessons from my 'Apocalypse Garden': How the pandemic has forced me to plant seeds of hope

Apocalypse Garden. (Catherine Hernandez)

"The only thing that kept me present was the thought of reviving my Apocalypse Garden — only this time, I had to take it seriously. This wasn't going to be some cute post on Instagram. A disruption in the supply chain due to the lack of safety given to farm workers, store clerks and delivery staff is a very real possibility, and the slow nature of growing food meant I had to act fast. I researched urban gardening. I invested in two cubic yards of soil and compost. My family moved a total of 6000 lbs of earth into various bins in preparation for over 100 seedlings I pray every day will make it to transplantation after the last frost date. I also have two bins of worm compost in the garage. While I knew my actions would feed my family, I had no idea how it would affect my artistic practice. Here are some lessons I have learned from these plants." Read the full essay by Catherine Hernandez here.

This painter drove his mother back from Florida amidst COVID-19 — and saw life imitate his own art

Lost Highway 46 by Peter Harris. 24x42, 2005. (Peter Harris/Mira Godard Gallery)

"I've been painting empty urban landscapes, parking lots, interiors and buildings for 25 years. The one thing I don't paint in my urban landscapes is people. I take photos of spaces, then in my studio compose my paintings eliminating any humans that crossed my frame as I pressed the shutter button. A series of paintings based on the Pearson Airport was part of my exhibition last year at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto. Devoid of human activity, the paintings presented an atypical version of the airport — quiet, serene and vacant. I wanted to give viewers the opportunity to imagine themselves in this space alone. Now, as I waited to board my flight, I didn't have to imagine this scenario; it was in front of me." Read the full essay by Peter Harris here.

Being Jessica Fletcher: How binging Murder, She Wrote in quarantine is helping me be a better person

Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. (CBS)

"In mid-July, the world remained on fire, my contracts stayed cancelled, and my bike entered a three-week queue for repairs after hitting a Toronto pothole. My brain needed cooling down after delivering the second draft of a manuscript. My heart was heavy with concerns about my finances. My fingers needed to respond to an email from my immigration lawyer that read, 'Are you sure you still want to move to California?' And so, I binged season one of Murder, She Wrote." Read the full essay by Shawn Hitchins here.

Theatre stages may be empty, but virtual rehearsals are keeping our spirits in full zoom

Rob Kempson and the cast of Gypsy rehearsing over Zoom. (Rob Kempson)

"Artists are always complaining about a lack of rehearsal time and an eternal focus on the product; here we are in the midst of a pandemic with no choice but to focus only on the process. We had to (involuntarily) give up a lot, but we're getting to do it — to explore without the pressure of a final product, a review, a sales report. The incredible bleakness of what's to come has been matched by the unbelievable joy of watching some of Canada's best artists do their work in their living rooms and kitchens. The joy of witnessing them sing (a cappella) with all of the heart and life that would fill a 1500-seat theatre. The joy of diving deeply, again and again, into the analysis of the text and finding new things each time. The joy of coming together to connect around art, our process, and our sense of community. I have never met many of my colleagues in real life, and yet I already feel as though our very first in-person interaction might be an embrace." Read the full essay by Rob Kempson here.

I joined Cameo to raise money for coronavirus relief and immediately ruined everything

Ben Lewis as William Clayton in Arrow. (CW)

"At the beginning of quarantine, I received another DM from Cameo, and something caught my eye: 'A lot of talent is joining for charity to help those impacted by the coronavirus.' First, I love being referred to as 'talent,' but second, like a lot of people, I was struggling to think of how to give back at a time when we're all confined to our homes. So I consulted a (less disparaging) NYT article titled 'How You Can Help Victims of the Coronavirus Pandemic' and decided I'd join to raise money for the GlobalGiving Coronavirus Relief Fund. 100% of my proceeds would go to charity, and the rep was right — a lot of 'legitimate' talent was joining (if it's good enough for Mandy Moore...). It seemed positively troll-proof!" Read the full essay by Ben Lewis here. 

No sex and the city: With casual intimacy off limits, we are losing out on momentary connections

(Maighdlin Mahoney)

"Casual sex and dating, at its best, is a place where uncertainty can become thrilling, crackling — sexy. Meeting someone you have never met before, not knowing if you'll walk away after one drink or after dawn. Asking a person, a stranger, about their family, their routine and their aspirations, until suddenly they're not a stranger anymore. Wondering what their bedroom looks like. It is the unpredictability and suspense about the immediate future that can excite us, leave us leaning forward in our seats. Now that physical contact with strangers is off the table, the loss of casual intimacy serves as a reminder of how difficult it is to touch one another and embrace the uncertain. How nerve-wracking, the idea of kissing or even shaking someone's hand." Read the full essay by Maighdlin Mahoney here.

Stuck isolating in an Ivory Coast hotel during the pandemic, Maliciouz created three massive murals


"Let's go back in time a few months. It's early March of 2020 and visual artist Maliciouz is in Abidjan, Ivory Coast to partake in MASA, a performing arts market. She's just created a lovely mural. There are four days left on her scheduled trip. Enter: the COVID-19 global pandemonium. With airlines and borders temporarily closed, Maliciouz is forced into confinement for two weeks at her hotel.... While at the Enka Flat Hotel, Maliciouz noticed a lot of blank walls. 'For me, walls are like canvas,' she explains. She saw an opportunity and showed the hotel director her portfolio — and she was given free reign to make three murals. Maliciouz is currently back in her studio apartment in Montreal, but she was able to capture footage in Abidjan. In this video, watch her in action as she impressively showcases her mural skills." Watch the full short doc featuring Maliciouz here. 

Why an image of a burning police station ignited a fire in artist Khadijah Morley

(Khadijah Morley)

"As a student at OCADU, a lot of Khadijah Morley's artistic practice has centred around drawing and illustration, but recently she has shifted toward printmaking. This move came out of an urgency to insert herself back into her own work, adding a literal human touch for those experiencing her art. In this video, Khadijah does just that: sharing equal parts of her art and her soul as she grapples with anti-Black racism. While the printmaking studio she normally would use at school is currently inaccessible, she brings us into her home studio, making work in a traditional linocut process by hand-carving into linoleum." Watch the full short doc featuring Khadijah Morley here. 

Laurence Philomene's daily photos on life as a transgender artist take on new resonance in quarantine

(Laurence Philomene)

"Montreal-based artist Laurence Philomene can't do in-person shoots anymore — the non-binary transgender artist is cloistered at home with their partner and roommate (we could write a whole piece about the pros and cons of being isolated together vs. being isolated alone). So Philomene has turned their attention on a project they'd begun before Covid: Puberty, their series highlighting the daily ephemera of being a transgender person on HRT (or hormone replacement therapy) who also has a chronic illness. By taking the photographs in 'Puberty,' Philomene also draws a portrait of self-care — something particularly important in the current moment. In this self-shot video, they explain why this project is resonating with them right now, and what it means to bring you the mundane and beautiful moments of the every day." Watch the full short doc featuring Laurence Philomene here. 

In this time of isolation, we must push ourselves to love braver than ever before

Left: "The family kitchen resting between meals." Right: "Itty bitty Heath V. Salazar experiencing the joy of Halloween in their hand-me-down homemade and gloriously beloved bunny costume." (The Salazar family)

"It's my grandpa's birthday as I write this. Growing up in Canada, the only things I knew about my grandparents as a child were that they were elderly, they lived so far that we couldn't visit, and when the new CiCi calling card came in you had to speak up real loud so they could hear you on the other end of the phone. My grandpa is the last grandparent I have left, but no matter how loud I speak or the strength of the phone connection, he can never recognize my voice. As COVID-19 visits us family by family, I ask myself if he ever will." Read the full essay by Heath V. Salazar here.

Humans are complicated! Alex Sheriff's artwork examines our species and evolution in a cheeky way

(Alex Sheriff)

"In artist Alex Sheriff's process, his different disciplines tend to morph in and out of each other in an evolutionary style. With his collage pieces he uses unfinished work, old sacrificed work, sketches, scraps and notes; he explains, 'Every piece will eventually get repurposed in the same way that all matter in the universe can't be created or destroyed.' In this video, watch Sheriff's 'Closing Parties' series come to life." Watch the ful short doc featuring Alex Sheriff here

In isolation, film director Floria Sigismondi turned to the past — and some old photo albums

(Floria Sigismondi)

"In this video, Floria Sigismondi takes you into her dining room/studio, where she has paints set up to be used at any moment. And she shows you a few of the works she's been focused on. The thinking she's done while she paints has led to some optimistic views of the future: 'I really believe that we'll come out of this different. I'm hopeful that we can utilize and use this time to reflect, to make the world a better place, to come up with ideas that we can then use in the world, whether they're artistic or actual ways of implementing things for the better of all.'" Watch the full short doc featuring Floria Sigismondi here. 

Giant pigeons are Emmie Tsumura's gesture of gratitude for frontline workers

(Emmie Tsumura)

"To create her larger-than-life birds, illustrator and visual artist Emmie Tsumura starts with a drawing. Then, she prints them at monstrous scale, laminates them, tapes the pieces together, and heads out with the materials she needs to lash them to a chain link fence. Those materials also include gloves and a mask, since putting her work up involves being outdoors. That's a lot of labour to create a single piece — but it's worth it to Tsumura, who is creating her giant pigeons as a thank you to the grocery store clerks and other frontline workers keeping things running while we all social distance. In this video, you'll follow Tsumura through the process as she heads to Toronto's east end to install her latest pigeon." Watch the full short doc featuring Emmie Tsumura here.

Quarantining at my parents' house, I left my drag gowns in the closet — but I got stuck there too

Selena Vyle. (Selena Vyle)

"Around the time we realized there was no clear end to this bizarre situation was when my mental health began to deteriorate. Maybe it was because I had spent weeks sleeping on a two-inch mattress pad on a futon in the computer room of a tiny apartment where every breath is heard no matter what room you are in. Maybe it was watching all my friends finding ways to perform online, or having to refuse when being asked to guest on shows because I didn't bring my drag with me. Or maybe it's because for my entire adult life, I have had to censor myself and shut down my personality around my not-so-gay-friendly family." Read the full essay by Selena Vyle here. 

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