A Tale of two artists who care

Heidi Conrod’s evocative prints of the Mayfair Theatre are available for sale on the Mayfair’s website at mayfairtheatre.ca/blog/.

By Anna Rumin

I’ve always been a little bit of an other-people’s-art voyeur; on my evening walks, I take full advantage of lit rooms and curtainless windows. “Stop looking,” my children used to say, but I couldn’t – I just can’t help myself. I secretly give thanks to the art collectors who unknowingly (or perhaps knowingly) let me peer at their sculptures and paintings and photographs from the sidewalk. In restaurants, I look at art. I go into studios and galleries and look at art. I look at the art on walls and on sidewalks and in gardens and parks. As a native Montrealer, I love graffiti as long as it isn’t on heritage buildings. These days I’ve been thinking a lot about artists, all artists, but the focus here is on what two visual artists have been up to during this crinkle in time.

Christopher Griffin’s work “Yellow Reflections” sold at auction for more than $9,000, which he donated to the Ottawa Food Bank.

In late March, artist Christopher Griffin was painting in his Glebe studio and listening to the radio when he heard that the Ottawa Food Bank was in dire straits. Initially, he thought about volunteering his time to pack grocery bags. But looking at his canvases, paints and brushes, he wondered if there wasn’t a better way to provide support. The following day, he signed up on an auction website and emailed his client list to share his project – once a week for maybe a month, he would auction a piece of art and give the proceeds to the Food Bank. “I thought I’d get a couple of hundred bucks,” he said. Griffin posted a piece on a Wednesday for auction on Thursday; on Friday, he’d either mail the piece or wait for the winner to pick up his prize. “When else in my life would I be able to donate on this scale?” he wondered. Twenty-six weeks and 26 works of art later, Griffin donated $36,812 to the Ottawa Food Bank.

For abstract artist Heidi Conrod, Friday evenings were generally set in stone – meet up with friends at the Mayfair Theatre, dig into some popcorn, watch a film and debrief at a local bar or restaurant. When that ritual came to a temporary end on March 14, Conrod turned to more home-viewing like the rest of us, but she missed escaping into the atmospheric elegance of the Spanish-inspired theatre complete with faux balconies, stained glass windows and ochre and deep red walls. Given the Mayfair is one of Canada’s few independent movie houses, she worried what closure would mean for its continued role as a repertory cinema and thought about what she could do.

“I talked to the owner about fundraising one day and asked if I could take pictures of the Mayfair and play around with them;” she said. “The imagined landscapes are based on those photos, and the narratives reflect the history of the Spanish colonial architecture, the magic of movies and a touch of dystopia for these surreal times.” To date, 31 prints have been sold and $1,000 has been raised for the Mayfair.

If you happen to be walking down O’Connor, pause when you get to Pretoria and spend some time with the whale that Griffin nurtured from a concrete canvas. On Kent, you’ll find his raccoons etched into walls, and he regularly changes the paintings in the window of his studio at Gladstone and Kent.

When the market restaurants reopen, spend some time looking at the art – more than likely, you’ll find yourself deep in the layers of Conrod’s work. And if you look in someone’s window, remember that people all over the city are doing what they can with their skills and talents and imaginations to make this crinkle in time just a little smoother.

Anna Rumin teaches memoir writing at Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group and is active in promoting community wellbeing.

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