Ottawa’s City Hall is currently hosting a dynamic exhibit of artwork created by iconic Canadian musicians.

A partnership between the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) and The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), the “Art is Art” exhibit features work by Leonard Cohen, Lights, Hugh Dillon, Chantal Kreviazuk, and others.

“These works are by some of Canada’s most important musicians and singer-songwriters who’ve put down the mic, put down the guitar, and picked up the paintbrush or the canvass or the computer to create visual arts,” says OAG Director and CEO Alexandra Badzak. 

The collection was assembled by CARAS President and CEO Allan Reid. Ottawa has the distinction of being the first city to host the exhibit, which will “travel with the Juno Awards” as an annual feature.

The exhibit exposes a different side of artists known primarily for their contributions to the music scene, highlighting the intersection of music, poetry, and visual arts. 

“Art is something that’s so important that it will come out in any form,” says Badzak. “The creative act doesn’t have any disciplinary boundaries.”

The most immediately striking piece is Tom Wilson’s nearly 1.8 square meter “Mystic Highway.” The surrealist work is as much a poem as an oil painting – embedded throughout the design are fragments of verse about Hamilton’s vibrant music scene.

Leonard Cohen’s contribution, unsurprisingly, also combines poetry and art, with his original poem “Come Gather” arranged haphazardly around a self-portrait.

Come Gather
Leonard Cohen – “Come Gather”

Another highlight of the exhibit was Neon Dragons, a piece of eye-catching pop art by Lights.

In the accompanying plaque, she writes:

“Music to me is fighting dragons. It cracks open the old wooden door and you tumble into a beautiful place where you are confronted by your strange darkness. And for a moment you understand it. You unholster your weapon and dance in circles with the beast like you knew it all along. But suddenly, it freezes in time and you’re back in your chair in the subway car. So you straighten your shoulders, glare deeper out the window and press play all over again.”

Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew’s “You Look Like This To Me” combines, in his words, “Words and colours. Two things that can describe the emotional state.”

Summing up the theme of the exhibit, Drew continues, “I have always believed everyone can create art. I have always believed everyone can write a poem. There is no system to creating.”

Another testament to the power of creation came from punk rocker and actor Hugh Dillon. To accompany his abstract painting The Edge, Dillon wrote: “Art – both creating and considering – has saved me from myself and my thoughts more than I care to admit. It simultaneously answers subconscious questions, while muting the noise of the outside world.”

Metric’s Josh Winstead explores the interplay of emotion and logic in the arts in Portrait of the Artist as a Left Hand.

Multi-talented singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk, whose early works were inspired by her rural upbringing, revisits those influences with “Self-Portrait in Nature.”

Another delightful item is Sarah McLachlan’s 1993 “t-shirt design”-turned print.

Marc Jordan’s Amy’s Guitar came to him spontaneously, as his colour palette reminded him of the sound of his wife’s playing: “I was playing with colours and the colours looked like the sound of her guitar to me and so I just painted whatever came into my head as long as I could still hear the strings over the painting.”

Fun fact: Jordan is best known for writing Rod Stewart’s “Rhythm of My Heart.”

Accomplished songwriter Murray McLauchlan, who painted this stunning landscape entitled “Nipigon Bay” described painting as “an existential experience for me.”

The “Art is Art” exhibit will be on display at Ottawa City Hall until Sunday, April 16, 2017.

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