Aquil Virani is on a quest to make art interactive and find a Canadian identity
“Live art” is a term that Montreal artist Aquil Virani not only promises to create, but can be seen as part of his whole philosophy. Saturday night, Virani put on an intimate show at the Montreal Improv space on Boul. St Laurent, combining theatrical improv with live painting and a small showcase of his work.
As an artist, Virani aims to bring what would traditionally be seen as high art, down to the level of the masses, involving other artists as well as civilians in his pieces.
“In an article I was once called ‘The People’s artist,” Virani said, “it’s kind of a grandiose, almost profound, yet kind of cheezy title, but I think it’s also kind of true.”
Virani’s personal mandate is to make art accessible to the everyman, and it has been since high school. “My high school experience involved doing a lot of extra curricular activities, and I didn’t like that some of my non-arts friends, who did rugby or choir or science or whatever – they thought that art was stupid because they only saw the avant-garde stuff,” said Virani. “They felt like art wasn’t for them and that frustrated me. I don’t think art is like taxidermy, it isn’t like a niche thing that a few people like. Part of my personal mission is to spread art to the people.”
In his mission to do so, Virani makes it a point to attach a description to every piece he exhibits, explaining how and why that piece is significant to him. One such example is a set of photographs, one of his mother and one of his girlfriend, hanging side-by-side at Saturday’s exhibit. At the bottom of each is a short poem that fills out the headline on the respective pictures which says, “This is my [mother/gf]. She is my crutch.” The fact that each of the poems were identical made the sentiment seem slightly Freudian, though sweet nonetheless, offering two portraits that describe the kind of love and support that everybody should be lucky enough to have.
Virani’s next initiative for bringing art to the people and the people to the art, involves a lengthy quest across Canada to collect drawing submissions that exemplify Canadian identity. This project, entitled “Canada’s self portrait” is all about encouraging people across Canada to “think about who we are as Canadians, and then celebrate that identity.”
Canadian identity in and of itself has always been a vague concept. Marshall McLuhan famously said that “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” Virani, however, is single-handedly disproving that theory. By amassing these drawings that individually are snapshots of one person’s experience in one province, collectively they will represent what it means to be quintessentially Canadian.
Virani’s first stop on his cross-Canada tour is Halifax, and he will be travelling throughout the country over the course of the next few months to collect the submissions that will become this tapestry of Canadian life. His tour will end up back in Montreal, though a specific timeframe is not yet established.
Saturday’s exhibit offered a snapshot of the kind of interactive and inclusive show that we can expect from Virani.
“I wanted to explore what [art and improv] could learn from each other,” said Virani. “A painting is a very polished work of art, and improv is as unpolished as you can get, but in the end they combine in very cool ways.”
The first, and dominant, half of Saturday’s exhibit was about an hour of your typical college-level improv show, glorified by Virani’s live painting in the corner. Audience members were engaged as they offered up one-word suggestions that the actors and Virani would each interpret through an improv sketch or painting, respectively.
“The idea is for the art and the improv to feed off of each other, to influence each other,” said Virani.
The two tableaus that he painted on stage came out as beautifully textural and colourful abstract landscapes, unfortunately overpowered by what was at best knee-slapping, drama class antics.
Following the show, audience members were invited to check out some of Virani’s artwork, including the two live paintings done onstage, on display in the next room. The works were a medley of portrait photography, abstract painting, and vibrant graphic design art. His use of colours and shadow was particularly captivating, making each piece pop. Virani works as a graphic designer as well as an independent artist. Of course, each piece was accompanied by a plaque that explained the meaning behind it.
You can keep track of Virani’s work through his website, www.aquil.ca.