How I exhibited my paintings whilst travelling

In May 2013, I did something I never thought I’d do as part of my round-the-world travels. I hosted my own art exhibition. Montreal seemed a perfect place; cool, young and unpretentious, with an exciting public art culture and lively street art scene. And I didn’t have a clue how to do it…

Arriving in Montreal

I looked at my watch. 10pm. My first night in Montreal in early January, and I still didn’t have a hotel. Snowflakes were falling slowly through the black sky. I trudged around in circles through the Latin Quarter, a bar street that was mostly asleep tonight. I was rugged up with warm clothes, and weighed down by my grossly over-filled backpack.

Transporting paintings when travelling

Over my right shoulder was a long, thick plastic tube. “Crap!”, I blurted out with a puff of frosty breath, as the screw-top lid popped open and the tube fell, dumping half a dozen of my paintings in the snow. 

There were 6 acrylic pieces I had painted in Paris. I had removed them from the stretcher bars in Paris, and planned to buy new wooden bars in Montreal to display them again.

I slid them back into their tube with a gloved hand.

snow builds up on the streets of montreal
A large snowball on a wintery Montreal street

A prolific time for painting

a pile of brightly coloured paintings on display
A group of my paintings to be exhibited

I did find a hotel that night. Eventually, Cindy and I found an apartment in the suburb of Verdun. As winter faded and the snow melted, we finally learned that the neighbours had a pool; that our backyard was paved and had no grass, that the neighbourhood was alive with birds, trees and flowers.

Meanwhile, in between job-searching and coffee drinking, I had been painting like crazy. I was extremely prolific. The original six paintings I had brought across the Atlantic were joined by fourteen more in less than 6 months.

Speaking with cafes to exhibit my art

I had been talking with some local cafes about exhibiting my art, which had long been a dream of mine. I chose cafes that I had visited, had local art on the walls, and simply asked the owners if I could get involved.

TorréFiction café in Laurier, and Café Plume on Avenue du Mont-Royal Ouest seemed most interested to exhibit. Café Plume had a waiting list of many months.

TorréFiction cafe

But TorréFiction, and it’s owner Pierre-Olivier were enthusiastic to exhibit my work in his café sooner. I visited the café with my canvases. We locked in the exhibition dates, 17th May to 17th June.

The name was clever. Torréfaction translates to ‘roasting’, and the cafe was full of books and movie posters for patrons to enjoy. As of 2019, I don’t believe the cafe is still open.

I re-stretched my Parisian canvases, fitted hooks, wrote namecards, and designed promotional posters (Vernissage). A few days before the launch was the hanging.

Hanging the pictures

With 13 paintings wrapped up and fitted into an assortment of carry bags, I took the metro to Laurier. I arrived at TorréFiction, and hung my paintings as curious cappuccino-sipping customers looked on. The brick walls were full of nails, and the process took less than half an hour. Cindy joined me an hour later with a smile. I thought the café looked pretty cool with my touch of the surreal.

Launch party (Vernissage)

The vernissage (exhibition launch party) was that Friday night at the café. Cindy and I were the first there. As I sipped a Coke, I grew a little worried if anybody was going to show up; I had been in Canada for a few months and only knew a handful of people.

But soon I saw just how much interest Cindy had inspired amongst her friends and colleagues, and pretty soon the café was bustling with Canadian and French friends, even people we met travelling in Thailand and Costa Rica. Food was served, and people ate, drank and talked about which paintings were their favourite and which weren’t.

After one month, I took the paintings down, and prepared them to be transported back home to Australia. I sold just the one, a colourful piece of a music-listening robot, to Damon, a Canadian friend.

Nevertheless, I considered the whole thing to be a great success; it was lots of fun to set up and host, it was exciting to have a public audience, and I ticked off a unique ‘bucket list’ item!

Merci beaucoup a tout le monde d’etre venus!

Thanks to everyone who came to support my art!

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