Concordia grad aims to create a welcoming and inclusive space for Montreal’s emerging artists
Katherine Parthimos, founder and lead curator of Somewhere Gallery, has long, wavy-curly teal hair — as though a mermaid wandered into the city and started working in an art gallery.
In reality, Parthimos graduated in the middle of a pandemic, from Concordia University, with a Studio Arts degree; ready to start a career in a severely impacted industry. She spent the summer finding and figuring out what to do with the space on Park Avenue now known as Somewhere Gallery.
Since September, Parthimos has produced four vernissages highlighting the emerging arts community — alone, during a lockdown. The gallery’s fifth exhibit, Archiving Identity, a collaboration with the VAV Gallery, will feature the work of five Concordia artists. It’s the only in-person show of the VAV Gallery’s programming this academic year, though they have had online-only ones.
“For me it’s more about filling the needs of the emerging artist community,” says Parthimos, which she defines as artists in their last year of a relevant program, up to six years post-grad. The gallery doesn’t have the equipment to display digital works yet, and COVID is responsible for halting performance art, but pretty much every other medium is welcomed.
For the entire time Parthimos has run the gallery she’s always had to comply with the stricter regulations that provincial guidelines have required for public safety.
Suffice to say, Parthimos has been busy.
She began dabbling in curation during her final year of school, mostly collaborating with other students. Parthimos explained that while the Studio Arts program offers classes on topics like grant writing, there isn’t a clear track to pursue to become a curator.
“This is just as much of a learning opportunity for me as it is for the artist exhibiting at the space, so I think it’s an interesting conversation to have, emerging artist and emerging curator together,” she said, noting that the roles can create power imbalances.
“I consider this an art initiative over an art institution,” said Parthimos. Many commercial galleries take a commission of 40 to 50 per cent, which artists accept for the chance to show their work to a larger platform. Parthimos takes 25 per cent, which sustains the gallery but doesn’t make her a profit.
She does everything herself, from mounting the exhibitions, collecting the artist statements, creating the virtual tours, learning graphic design along the way, receiving visitors who have scheduled appointments, and then taking everything down to start again.
“Being an artist myself it was always just a jab in the gut to have to go to a gallery and have an exhibition, where if you sell your work you lose half your profits. That was always something that didn’t sit right with me,” she continued.
“The concepts that I incorporate into my own painting and sculpture are based on community and people’s relationships. That’s a direct parallel to my focus in curation which is a focus on unifying community and bringing people together,” said Parthimos.
Nesreen Galal, a Concordia student double majoring in Computation and Studio Arts heard of Parthimos’s work at Somewhere Gallery through friends in the artistic community. She exhibited a series called Destruction in Digital Daydream, Somewhere Gallery’s fourth exhibit, in February. Galal contributed five Polaroid photos, rendered abstract through physical manipulation, similar to Photoshop editing made analogue.
“It’s the idea that art surprises me or that I have a mutual connection with art,” said Galal, a self-described perfectionist, also used to working with the control digital media provides.
“The [analogue] object itself has as much power as I do, so it surprises me and controls me and I control it too, and I feel like it’s a different relationship with art as well,” said Galal.
Galal used a variety of household products and objects, including bleach, to plan a few month-long experimental projects, which led to the production of colourful, expressive abstract forms bursting out of the classic white square Polaroid picture frames that were displayed at Somewhere Gallery and titled Destruction.
“It was my first ever [physical] exhibition, and it was awesome to showcase with different artists,” said Galal.
The traditions of art gallery openings, free wine and close conversations with the other artists weren’t possible because of government regulations, which Galal understood but was disappointed about. “I feel like considering COVID-19, [Parthimos] did a really good job with the reservations of two people. The process was very smooth,,” she said.
A number of the Polaroids, priced individually at $50, sold quickly.
“I was in awe. It felt surreal. [Parthimos] told me, ‘you sold some of your pieces!’ She knew it was my first physical exhibition. It got a very good reaction despite COVID. A lot of people were really interested to go and see the work,” continued Galal.
Destruction was unframed, like many pieces that have been displayed in Somewhere Gallery. This is worth noting — art gallery conventions prescribe white walls, glass, matting and custom-cut frames to display the works.
But smaller, less established spaces like Somewhere Gallery, have the opportunity to reject or play with tradition. The gallery is small but sun-filled, measuring 15 by 9 feet, with one wall completely occupied by a window, which has an expansive view of Park Avenue’s cheerful chaos.
“My main goal is to have a unified and cohesive show to go through. Aesthetically I do try to find works that flow into each other, especially in such a small space. Putting together the show to make it physically unified, the size of artwork in relation to everything else, colour. In the past a lot of the shows I have put together have a colour palette that is apparent. Sometimes subtle colours, sometimes pops of colour. Formal artistic qualities like [those ones] really offer a cohesiveness,” explained Parthimos.
“I try to incorporate the space as much as possible,” she continued.
An example of this was a 7-foot-tall painting by artist Trevor Bourke that was placed on the floor leaning, instead of hung up traditionally in the November 2020 exhibit, Current Location: Undefined.
“Just little things like that are so interesting, because it kind of turned a wall piece into more of a sculptural thing,” said Parthimos. “Having a work that large in this space [provides] a different interpretation of the work than having it in a larger gallery where it seems like it fits the size of the wall. You wouldn’t feel it’s presence there in my opinion, as much as you would here. So that was something I was interested in playing with.”
The arts world, falling under ‘Culture’ was one of the worst affected industries in a 2020 StatsCan report on the Canadian economy in relation to the pandemic, which further detailed the increased disadvantages faced by women and young workers during this time.
“There is a lot of opportunity for you in school through the Concordia gallery and various festivals but once you leave school, you fall in this grey zone. You’re not really supported by the school anymore but you’re too emerging to be accepted by the artist-run centre community. That develops later on,” said Parthimos. “I think it’s really important to continue having these opportunities and continuing to exhibit your art to grow and to have that dialogue with people.”
Parthimos tries to create a warm, personal, experience for guests, rather than the sometimes sterile, faceless, environments big galleries have fostered in order to advance the idea of art as a commodity.
“I’ve always been really interested in community building initiatives and I was also part of the Fine Arts Student Alliance [at Concordia],” said Parthimos. “That really brought into my mind the significance of integrating communities, and offering back to the community you’re a part of.”
Archiving Identity is on display at Somewhere Gallery at 6830 Park Ave. #358 until March 25. Visitors can reserve an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Kit Mergaert