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Kristy Gordon

Toronto vs. New York: From a Painter’s Perspective


NOV 11, 2022 | ISSUE 8

Kristy Gordon by Jeremy Lewis

Toronto is often thought of as the New York of Canada, the comparison has some merit as Toronto is also a sprawling city known as a hub of arts and culture. Still, is this a matter of wishful thinking on Ontario’s part?

Both Toronto and New York have a diverse and well kept arts-community, thanks in large part to the cafe culture found in these cities. Independent cafes serve as affordable and accessible spaces outside the home for artists to work, often giving newer artists exposure and connections to other artists.

To find out just how much these two cities share in their relationships to arts and culture, artist Kristy Gordon—a graduate from Toronto’s OCAD and a New York City resident—joins us to discuss the roles of cafes in facilitating a city’s arts scene.

sM | How have the cafes and arts spaces in New York and Toronto impacted your creative life?

KG — Setting greatly affects the work that artists do, that’s probably one of the reasons that artist residencies are so important to artists.  When I lived in Toronto my work was influenced by the other artists I knew and the paintings I saw in galleries like the Art Gallery of Ontario as well as the contemporary galleries in Yorkville and the Junction. When I first came to Toronto I took some classes at the Academy of Realist Art, so I created traditional looking portrait paintings.  Later, I started going to the Ontario College of Art and Design, where I was encouraged to experiment with my paintings and my work became much more painterly and expressive.

In New York City I’m influenced by the artistic dialogues and conversations I have with artists, as well as by the work I see in museums and in commercial galleries in the Chelsea and Soho Gallery districts. In NYC my work went through an experimental phase, influenced by contemporary art in the Chelsea galleries and now it's settled into an imaginative but representational approach influenced by the Renaissance artists and Dutch masters I see at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as observation from nature at the American Museum of Natural History.

In both cities, the cafes are a meeting spot for me and other artists. When I meet with artist friends at a cafe or restaurant we’d usually talk about the work we’re creating, the galleries we’re working with or the blocks we’re facing.  It’s similar in NYC, but way more frequent.  I go out for coffee every day. It’s like my big social event and an excuse to leave the house. There are also a lot of drink-and-draw events in art spaces around NYC, and it’s fun to get together with over 100 people all drawing from a live model! This is a place where I can meet new artists too.

sM | How would you compare the two cities pertaining to arts and cafe culture?

KG — For me the main difference is that I utilize the cafes and art events more in NYC.  It’s more common that I would take my laptop to a cafe and do some work there.  That sense of community, just being around people, while also being able to isolate and ignore everyone makes me very comfortable. I feel like in NYC there’s just more happening. In Toronto, I was able to create events among my group of artist friends, like hiring a life model together to paint from—because I know a lot of artists in Toronto—but we were organizing these things ourselves. Toronto does have a rich artistic community with a lot of artists, galleries and collectors supporting artists, so it was a great place to meet other artists and build connections. To this day some of my closest friends live in Toronto and the work they’re doing inspires me.

sM | What are your favourite cafes and restaurants in either city?

In Toronto my favorite meeting spots were Live, the Big Carrot, Fresh and Jet Fuel. I would meet with my artist friends either at Live (which sadly has closed now) or at my favorite coffee shop Jet Fuel Coffee. I’d often start my mornings at Jet Fuel and would sometimes sit there for hours, working on my comic journal. In NYC it’s whatever coffee shop is the best in my neighborhood.  So, I frequented Variety Coffee in Bushwick because that was my neighbourhood.  Also, Sugarburg in Williamsburg and Think Coffee all around the city. Everything was happening in coffee shops!  My favorite Drink-and-Draw was the Starr Street one that was happening on Wednesdays in Bushwick. My favorite restaurant in NYC, where I’ve had countless evenings with artist friends, is Caravan of Dreams in Manhattan.