The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. This week, we sat down with Toronto- based painter and installation artist Lisa Cristinzo, who shared with artsUNITÉ some of the background and creative process behind her most recent works, and her thoughts on how to dismantle the inherently oppressive corporate structure of arts organizations and institutions.

Q: Can you share a little about yourself and your background in the creative field?

I’m a queer painter and installation artist based in Toronto. I moved to the city when I was 19 from a small town to go to art school at OCADU. It took me around 7 years to complete my BFA; I worked throughout university and took the time to mature as an artist, while navigating being in my 20’s and being openly gay in a big city. Soon after graduating in 2007, I began a career in the Non-profit Arts sector at Artscape. I started as the administrative assistant at Artscape Gibraltar Point and eventually moved into management, curating a series of art events and festivals, and developing thematic artist residency programs. My most recent role was the Director of Hub Services of five locations, from which I’m currently on a leave to focus on my health. Throughout this time, I’ve continued to produce paintings and performance works – arts worker by day, painter by night!

And also I’m a Taurus, Scorpio rising!

Q: I saw your Fire Work installation while visiting Artscape Youngplace, can you share a little about this project?

The Fire Works for Pleasure series came from a project I started when I attended an artist residency in Shankill Castle in Ireland. Each morning I collected kindling for the wood stove to warm up the stone cabin. I came to see the pieces of wood, newspaper, burnable objects and ash as triangular compositions in anticipation of fire. I started making paintings of the arrangements. From there, my interest and research on fire expanded to its use in domestic spaces, current wildfire events, fire prevention and fire fighting strategies, as well as its mythic history. The Magic Gumball Machine of Fate is a curatorial initiative by Catherine Heard and located at Artscape Youngplace. I created a series of portable palettes with miniature paintings that are concealed in matchbooks. The Magic Gumball Machine of Fate makes artists multiples affordable art for everyone, it only takes a toonie to get a matchbook surprise. Unfortunately, this project launched just before the hubs shut down due to the Pandemic. Artscape Youngplace will soon be reopen to the public so with a little hand sanitizer before turning the knob, you can get your own matchbook painting!

Photo by: Lisa East 

 Q: I love the Pride flag you recently did for Pride TO – is that a digital medium or paint?

Painting is my primary medium! For the Pride flag, I was one of six local LGBTQ2+ artists asked by PrideTO this year to create our own symbol of pride specific to our identities. Mine was a magic pride flag anchored in a magic art garden. The Magic Pride flag is based on Daniel Quasar’s redesign of the pride flag, inclusive of black and brown stripes representing queer people of colour and pink, blue and white for the trans community. This flag was inspired by the art and magic of queerness and the use of art and magic as a tool for transformation into your true self and for building a safe space for that identity to exist. Since the Pride Flag couldn’t be displayed live and in person, we decided to make a little video of the process. You can watch it here.

Photo by: Lisa East 

I also made prints of the flag for sale, which was an interesting way to bring the art to people during the pandemic, via mail and distanced drop off. All proceeds from the flag prints go to Black Lives Matter TO. Prints are available on my website.

Q: (How) Has the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected you and your family/your art?

I have yet to reset the white board calendar in my kitchen, it stopped abruptly in March 2020. The calendar is chock full of events, appointments and social gatherings; I haven’t bothered to change it because it’s a snapshot of “the before times”. The pandemic panic of mid-March is a distant memory now, it’s hard to believe we are still very much in this thing six months later.  There has been a lot of tragedy during this time, lives lost and others altered drastically and indefinitely. For artists, I have seen a shift in the space of creating and showing art. There also seems to be a questioning of the importance of creating art during a pandemic. But I think it is both inevitable and important; art and artists have survived many crises over the course of history.

Q: What are you working on/up to right now?

I’m working on more pleather flag paintings for a vendor market at an upcoming (now online) festival called Witchfest North. I identify as a Witch and practice earth-based spirituality with a group of people of various genders, identities, ages and abilities guided by coven mentor Monica Bodirsky. We have been Zoom-ing our way through the pandemic, staying connected and upgrading our witch skills!

Q: How do you envision the future of interactive events like panels, art shows and live music events, given physical distancing measures and reduced capacity of indoor spaces? Is the future all digital?

Arts organizations have had to consider new ways of programming and showcasing events during the pandemic, which is especially difficult when it comes to the visual arts like painting. One of my favorite examples of this is the COVID 19 Residencies video series on CBC Arts’ Instagram, where artists discuss how their work has been affected by the pandemic. I really enjoyed being invited into the studios of artists and learning about their process.

Now that we are in a new phase, the idea of appointment-only viewings in art galleries is nice. Being alone in a room with art, you can’t get the art sick, it can’t make you sick; it’s kind of special viewing art alone. Though I do miss having show openings and the way art brings friends and family together in the same room.

Q: What is the most important tool in your practice?

My body. If I am not in the studio, nothing is getting done. You need to be present to cultivate your vision.  There’s a saying about the most important tool in the garden being the gardener’s footprint.

Q: What do you think companies/collectives/local organizations need to be focusing on to address the ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts and culture sector?

Many arts organizations are modeled on corporate structures which are inherently oppressive. As a queer, white cis gendered female that has worked in the arts and culture sector, I acknowledge the amount of work we must do to challenge norms created by a destructive patriarchal, white, capitalist society. In order to completely dismantle this system, a radical change needs to happen.  Inclusion is one part of that process, but the real work is changing the environment where unconscious and conscious biases create oppression and racial injustices.

“I think changes in leadership is part of that work, although the idea of leadership needs to change as well, there needs to be new way of working, with more common ground, operating from a shared vision and fair distribution of resources, that is equal and not hierarchical.”

  • Terms & Definitions Used:

    • BFABachelor of Fine Arts (Degree)
    • Artist's multiple - A series of identical art objects produced or commissioned by artist according to his or her idea, usually a signed limited edition made specifically for selling.
    • Cis gendered - a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth - assigned sex.