It all started in “this space” — a 250 square foot apartment just on the edge of downtown Kitchener, with bright white walls, a small kitchen and one big window.
“This is my bedroom, and my kitchen,” local artist Trisha Abe explained as she gave me the not-so grand tour. “It’s just kind of everything, you know?”
And it is. Art on the walls. Art supplies stacked, and organized, and piled. A simple wooden easel featuring a beautiful, geometric, colourful background contrasted against the stark, dry, resting face emotion of the two figures in the foreground.
“I can’t afford to be messy here,” she said with a laugh.
Which tends to be the local artist’s style. A self-identified “accidental businesswoman,” Abe isn’t your traditional portrait artist. Where media might portray an up and coming artist as messy, always in progress but never quite complete, Abe’s house was spotless. The art was hung at all the right angles and the shoes were lined up by the door. Her apartment, like her paintings, reflected an excellent use of space.
“I moved to Kitchener to get away from the students,” she said. “I want to be closer to downtown. I feel my work says a lot about the identity of KW and I want to be a part of that. But at the time, this little tiny apartment was all I really needed.”
She goes on to explain that in November of last year, she found herself going through a breakup.
“I spent a lot of time alone in here over the holidays,” Abe said.
“I was living alone for the first time and I’d always had roommates. I’d always been able to distract myself from the feelings that come with a breakup. I’d work out a lot, spend time with my friends. But this time, I decided to sit with those feelings.”
And though she was working part-time as a server, Abe turned back to her art to process those emotions.
“I was in the midst of applying for my masters. I’d just graduated [from University of Waterloo] with a health sciences degree, but had always been artsy and creative,” she said.
“So when I dove into painting again, it was very, very intense. I wasn’t planning anything … I think I sold my first piece for 20 bucks. I’d paint over my canvases a lot and much of what I created wasn’t something I liked.”
When asked about her distinctive style, Abe explained that the separation in the human forehead is always present in her portraits.
“But they look nothing like the reference photos I start with. And I like that. I feel like everyone sees them differently,” she said.
While she wasn’t making a lot of money off her art in the beginning stages, Abe made an effort to do something creative every day, recognizing the odds.
“Eventually you’ll make something you like,” she said.
And from this almost scientific process of try, try again, Abe has grown a burgeoning career.
“I tell people I’ve become an accidental muralist now,” she admits.
Abe recently completed her first huge mural — a 23 x 12 foot wall featuring 14 portraits inside the Him & Her Inc. office, and is already receiving requests to do more.
“I want to do more murals,” Abe said when asked about her future plans.
“Right now, I feel my work really ties into the identity of the city and appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds. I want to do more of that.”
Racheal Walser is a local literary short fiction author and poet working in feminist non-profit. She lives on a ranch for retired house hippos along with her great white carpet, er, dog, Anthem and her not so squish, Squish cat who meows maliciously at feeding time. Her work has appeared in publications by Mensa, Fast Forward Press, After the Pause, Canadian Stories and many more.