I have always enjoyed looking at art. While in high school in the suburbs of Toronto, our amazing art teacher would encourage us to go to Toronto and see the latest shows in the small artist-run or commercial galleries. This was before Queen West was a thing. We would take school buses downtown to creak up the stairs at 80 Spadina or roam the halls of 401 Richmond in Toronto’s Fashion District. I remember our class piling into Jane Corkin’s tiny gallery space on John Street before she moved her gallery to the Distillery District.
At age 17, I remember taking the subway down to Dundas West Station with my girlfriend (who would eventually become my wife) and walking down Dundas West to Morrow Ave. This seemed like the least likely place to find contemporary art. This strip is starting to gentrify now, but back then it really was a no man’s land. We were encouraged to hunt down Olga Korper Gallery – a place where some of the best art in Toronto was shown — and still is today — in a beautiful gallery space. Little did I know then that I would eventually have my home a short walk away from there.
It was these trips to Toronto art galleries which must have inspired my girlfriend and I to take a trip to Europe in the summer between Grade 12 and O.A.C. (when OAC still existed!) to see art. Our parents gave us the okay without thinking that we might actually save up enough money to make a go of it. We were very young – I remember inadvertently dropping my passport at Pearson Airport while going to check in. Luckily my mom was close behind me and she retrieved it. Our plan was a month long trip: Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. We survived and luckily, because we weren’t officially adults, we we able to get into some of the best galleries in the world for free.
Anyhow, this article is not about galleries a thousand kilometres away by plane but about the contemporary art that can be found steps away on St. Helen’s Ave. between College and Bloor streets. This is a hot new destination for art in Toronto with galleries being outpriced by high end clothing stores on West Queen West; as a result, they are now moving to more unconventional digs, spreading out further north and west in the city.
To me, St. Helen’s was previously just a street on the route to Value Village where we shopped for cheap toys, books and clothing for the kids or bought halloween costumes and browsed around the used furniture. This street was also my first introduction to a “loft” building where my artist cousin lived. It was was so bohemian! Then shortly after, the building was sold off and turned into fancy condos. St. Helen’s has some nice houses on the east side that face what used to be small warehouses or factories. Many of these buildings have now been converted into spaces where you can see some of the most interesting art in the city.
It’s fascinating to see how the art scene moves and changes over time and geography. Take one of the galleries on this St. Helen’s strip for example, TPW (Toronto Photographers Workshop). They were one of the galleries I used to visit 18 years ago at 80 Spadina. Since then they moved to the Ossington strip before it was taken over by restaurants and shops, then to a temporary space on Dundas West. Now they are building a new space here on St. Helen’s Ave. Their movement through the streets of Toronto tells a history of where the artists and galleries can afford to live.
Gallery hopping for me is either an exhilarating or extremely disappointing affair, similar to a trip to Value Village. Sometimes you leave empty-handed and sometimes you hit the jackpot. With the galleries that have moved here you are more likely to find something that will turn on your brain or stimulate the eye. Visual art is interesting, as it is always an ongoing discussion. Most of the time, it feels as if you can only really understand bits and pieces of the conversation. Sometimes, when things come together and you can connect with it, it’s so refreshing, like a swim on a hot summer’s day or the perfect cup of coffee. And often, that connection comes days or weeks afterwards, when you have that AHA! moment, thinking back and smiling as you step out of the shower or while you are brushing your teeth.
Address: 190 Saint Helens Avenue
What’s on: Jennifer Murphy and Eli Langer: Caravansary of Joy, March 20 – April 25, 2015
When did you move here?
July 10, 2014
Why did you move here?
After 11 years on Queen St I wanted a bigger space and also my former gallery was being knocked down for condos anyway. Plus my colleague Daniel Faria and I used to work together so it was nice to be beside his gallery. And when I saw this space with such great proportions, high ceilings and no columns, I knew it would work well.
What type(s) of work do you show and/or what is your philosophy on the work that you show
I show everything from film, sculpture, drawings, photography, installation and painting. My philosophy is simply that I show the artists I believe in, those whose work I feel has merit and authenticity.
Address: 188 St Helens Avenue
What’s On: Douglas Coupland: Our Modern World, January 22 – March 21, 2015
Valerie Blass: My Life, March 26 – April 25, 2015
Address: 172 St Helens Avenue
What’s On: Constans: Descendents13 until 14 March
That Was For This: Sculpture/Installation Thesis Exhibition Series, March 17 to March 28, 2015 (Reception: March 21, 3 – 6 pm)
When did you move here?
We started at this new location; 172 St Helens with the project Void on June 2014, open to the public, since our Third Anniversary of RKG, exhibition July 16, 2014.
Why did you move here?
We moved to this new location for more than one good reason: One, this is much better space than our first space where our gallery was located for three years at Bloor West. Two, it is a new destination to see cluster of exciting galleries providing and supporting unconventional life-giving art projects. The gallery is like any one artist, in quest with the spontaneity and unpredictable directions and methods, sharing with the art-loving public a unique art-experience.
What type(s) of work do you show and/or what is your philosophy on the work that you show?
Our gallery is dedicated to show and promote any artist or fine art that provides a unique art-experience. The gallery and it’s artists celebrate our time as we live it.
Address: 170 St Helens Avenue
What’s On: under renovations, opening in the near future.
Address: 11 Dublin St. Unit E.
What’s On: Group Show: Somebody Everybody Nobody until March 28th