Viva Vida Art Gallery the art and culture anchor in the heart of the Lakeshore village of Pointe Claire.
By Lee-Ann Mudaly
At the heart of Pointe Claire Village, Viva Vida Art Gallery has been the new cultural arrival on scene-docking in port two years ago, setting itself a part with a unique business approach, vision and visible passion, which has led to its firmly set anchor, in the welcoming Lakeshore community.
It’s a crisp cold evening in October, the somewhat narrow streets of this historical village of Pointe Claire, now runs silent as the day draws to a close. The darkened, black- blue skies are a backdrop to these quaint village storefronts and boutiques, now all snuggly tucked away for the night. A bar, a restaurant, are almost all that remain open… except for the blue light that glows warm and inviting down the way- a gem, the Viva Vida Art Gallery.
The window display grasps your attention, boasting such decadence and uniqueness. Each contemporary art piece, pop-art and abstract paintings such as Susan Jillette’s, transport you, dropping you down the rabbit hole, introducing other objects on the end. Clay or wire sculptures, glass or fibre-arts textile in earthy tones, and even handcrafted jewellery- each their own artist, each their own story whispered into the silence of the night.
Beyond the glass, through the door, a welcoming ambiance resides. The gallery’s storefront holds all items for sale, with prices ranging from $20 to other works (also found on the main floor) up to $5500. Climbing the stairs, leading to the next level, is the gallery itself and the working studio.
Coldplay’s song ‘Clocks’ travels through the floorboards, a distant sound in the room, quietly adding to the artistic vibe.
Nedia El Khouri, is the innovative mind behind this ‘working art gallery’; a concept unlike those implemented by other galleries on the island. El Khouri’s mandate is to always maintain an interactive communication with the community, rather than telling people what ‘art’ is or what to experience from the art.
“I call it a working gallery (…) I don’t want the art-space to intimidate or make people feel like they’re intruding,” says El Khouri, while she laughs after pointing out the painter’s cloth on the floor.
Students from an earlier class had left their monochrome-styled acrylic paintings, to lie loosely drying out on the cloth. The hint of paint still hovering in the air.
Anika is one of El Khouri’s younger students. She says she first attended a half-day camp where they made a clay animation movie of dancing bananas, and ever since then she has kept coming back.
Anika stands and looks at her painting from a distance after El Khouri reminds her of one of their lessons, “Remember that sometimes you need to step away and look at your painting from another angle,” said El Khouri, “Then you may see things you didn’t notice before.”Anika points out the darkened spot and heads over to her palette, mixing and adding colour and light to the canvas. Nedia El Khouri, mentions that her student is planning to apply to a high school with a good arts program… this being a good foundation.Robert Cloney, a professor at St. Thomas High, is also one of the many talented instructors at Viva Vida. He teaches the clay animation youth (three-year-olds to teens) courses and workshops. Walking me through the intricate process of how the students first create their storyboards, create the clay characters and finally breathing life into the characters, by recording their own voices and acting out the scenes with their characters in their story- all on film.
“It’s kind of fun and amazing watching these kids come up with their own story lines and solutions,” said Cloney when talking about the younger children working on their clay animation project.
Heather Boyd is another talented instructor and fellow artist, that was with Viva Vida from the beginning. She leads an adult workshop in creating jewellery and using water colours, as well as, working as one of the instructors in the summer camp programs (wire, sculptures, cartooning and hippie camp). Her art line consists of paintings, objects, jewellery and sculpture of sterling silver, wire, sea-glass and semi-precious stones.
“Often people that Nedia has in the gallery or the studio, have no experience, but they feel the energy here (…) on the one side she has this beautiful contemporary artwork, but you don’t feel uncomfortable or as if you’re intruding like in those galleries downtown,” said Boyd.
The ‘Sampler Course´ is a big hit with the students, allowing for any age group to try a new medium each week; helping them find their ‘own’ space in the working gallery.
Born in a small town in Brazil, her father Lebanese, El Khouri, has been raised in a vibrant and multi-cultural upbringing; something that transcends to her gallery.
“In all that black and white in life, there is that little red one- me!” said El Khouri, also how she sees her business.
In 1988, she graduated from Nova Scotia College and Design (NSCAD). Twelve years ago, she arrived in Montreal with this idea of incorporating different forms of art, music and expression into a gallery. With the experience of teaching under her belt, she set out to create courses and workshops to educate and interact with all ages of the community. The courses taught in group, semi-private and private, also vary in age group and themes: from acrylic painting, water colours, drawing, mixed media, and photography, to sculpture, clay animation, wire art and jewellery. The cost of her courses range from $120 to $295, while the summer camp is $225 (full-week); $50 (full-day; and $30 (half-day). Viva Vida Art Gallery also caters creative art birthday parties.
“This is my baby, and it is still dependent on me, but it has grown, practically doubling in size in both the number of students I have, to the number of artists that entrust me with their work, which I exhibit,” said El Khouri beaming. Viva Vida does not face any direct competition, as it is unique in what they offer in this area.
She says that though she is not artistic in the same manner as she was before, her artistic side is channelled and fed into narrating the story of the art pieces in a scene, the exhibition- which is like one major art installation for her.
The business wasn’t always as easily accepted. Khouri met with a certain few who questioned whether the contemporary art gallery was for the village, she simply responded, “I’m not opening for the village, but for the world.”
El Khouri believes that art and culture is important in life and in creating an open mind. One can’t exist without the other she says.
“Is it life that imitates art or art that imitates life?” Khouri quotes, saying she finds art to be cyclical.
“Artists can express the world in a certain way, the world responds in a certain way and it moves things,” she says as she describes how she imagines the people coming through the gallery, standing, observing a painting, each with their own baggage; suitcases of varying size and colour, bringing with them their own sets of experiences and living the new experience, the artist has expressed in colours on canvas.
Nedia El Khouri is the president of the Village Association, and a member of the West Island Chamber of Commerce. Viva Vida Art Gallery was nominated by fellow local businesses, for the Accolade award.El Khouri’s future goal is to have a virtual gallery, making all the art items available for purchase and global view online. Her new website will be up as of mid-November. Also in the works, on November 23, 2012, a ‘Small Works Exhibition’; for more information concerning submitting work or art pieces or course information, contact Nedia El Khouri at Viva Vida Art Gallery:
514-694-1110 or visit the current website at http://www.vivavidaartgallery.com.
Viva Vida Art Gallery is located at 278 Lakeshore, Pointe Claire Village, Qc.
Lee-Ann Mudaly | November 5, 2012