How to be an expat in Panama: Pop art based on poetry in Parkdale

Jeff Campagna is an expat. Originally from Mississauga/Toronto, he recently moved to Panama to become a full-time writer. Panama, with its low cost of living, seems to be one of the many ideal locations to perfect one’s craft with such a vibrant culture and serene environment. Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson were onto something here.

In Panama, there is no art scene, rescuing Jeff from competition. Panama is instead heavy with crafts made by individuals who are passionate and want to stay occupied.

“I despise ‘scenes’ of which I am part of,” Jeff says. “That’s why I could never cut it in Hollywood with my screenwriting. There are too many other people trying to do the exact same thing and that weighs me down. I need to feel different.”

Once a filmmaker, Jeff veered into graphic design after realizing he needed to make money to support his films. He was approached by several studios to write low budget scripts, accepting any type of work available – as long as he wasn’t serving in a restaurant. To feel fulfilled and challenged, he started writing poetry, essays and short stories, turning his work into self-published paperback anthologies. After that, he founded Zouch Magazine and began writing for digital publications, eventually working on his first full-length novel.

On Thursday, Jeff popped back into Toronto for six frigid weeks to launch his first gallery showing, “A Writer Under the Influence” at gallerywest in Parkdale. His work represents the gap between romanticism and the digital age. Jeff installed colourful graphic art inspired by his words into antique frames. It used to be that the art took longer to create than the frame; with Jeff’s work, it’s the opposite.

“My hands are quite useless for anything outside typing and cooking. I was not aware that I was creating art when I started these five piece,” he says. Like a true expat, bored and inspired, he began pasting his poetry into Photoshop. The five images he created are now on display at gallerywest until November 30th (1332 Queen Street West). For more info, visit

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Jeff’s favourite book is “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain.

~ Erin Pehlivan

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