At Thursday night’s Art Toronto (ArtTO) Opening Night Gala, the guests were just as interested in the work of 15 of the country’s most talented young emerging painters as they were in checking out the seasoned artists.
And that’s a pretty big deal.
The works of the 15 finalists in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition were on display all weekend long at the large-scale contemporary and modern art fair – an annual must-attend for the city’s most influential art lovers and collectors.
Since 1999, the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, with the support of the Canadian Art Foundation, has been a unique initiative that bridges the gap between emerging and established artists. The coveted competition is part of RBC’s Emerging Artists Project, which focuses on supporting up-and-coming Canadian artists in a variety of ways in the early stages of their careers.
The RBC Canadian Painting Competition selects 15 of the most talented and promising young artists from across the country to compete for the first-place prize of $25,000. In addition to the grand prize, two honourable mentions each receive $15,000 and the remaining 12 finalists receive $2,500 each.
The exposure alone offered by the competition – especially with influential platforms like ArtTO – is potentially life changing for the artists. Many have been picked up by gallery owners at ArtTO in the past. Thursday’s RBC display remained well attended by guests, many of whom snapped shots of the impressive pieces of art.
When the finalists weren’t doing interviews or discussing their pieces with inquisitive guests, they were able to talk shop with one another, exchanging social media handles, email addresses, and what we imagine was provocative insight into the Canadian art world.
“I live in the Maritimes, and I am really disconnected from the rest of the contemporary Canadian arts scene. Getting any type of exposure outside of the Maritimes is a challenge, and this is such great exposure. Getting this sort of recognition makes you feel like you’re doing something that makes sense. When you’re making art, often it can be quite isolating and weird,” said Andrew Maize, a young artist from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Maize heard about the contest last year, when a few of his friends were finalists. While others, like Toronto’s Claire Scherzinger, learned about the competition in school:
“I went to OCAD and had known about the RBC Canadian Painting Competition for a while. They always tell you about the competition as something you should aspire toward,” she said.
Clearly, it worked.
Some finalists, like Montreal’s Cindy Phenix are still in school. “Because I’m still in school, I really just try to apply to everything I can,” says Phenix. This is the first year she’s applied. So far, she says the best thing about the competition has been meeting and sharing ideas with other finalists from across the country.
There are a few finalists, like John Player of Montreal, who have applied to the competition multiple times. “The exposure is great. Having this platform and having my work visible in Toronto is great too. It has been shown in Toronto before, but not on this level,” said Player, who admits that life as a young artist isn’t without its challenges.
“We always hear of painting being dead as a medium, and as a young artist it’s kind of daunting to hear that and you sort of have to struggle against it. You need to have perseverance,” he says.
When we asked Patrick Cruz of Guelph, Ontario whether he thought it was a good time to be a young artist, he didn’t have to think twice about his answer. “I think it was way better in the 70s and 80s, when things hadn’t been established,” he says. “Right now, theoretically, everything’s been done, so everything you make is not original, and you always have to be aware of the history of art. I think it’s much tougher to be an artist today because you have to make something unique that hasn’t been done before. The positive side of it is the Internet didn’t exist before, so I think that adds a new dimension to the dialogue of young artists.”
Luckily, programs like RBC Emerging Artists Project make life a little easier for young Canadian artists in their rise to the top.
The winners of the competition will be announced on November 18, 2015 at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver.