Multi-talented Toronto-based artist EGR radiates beauty at Manifesto 2012

Engaging, empowering, and enriching all describe Toronto’s Manifesto Festival of Community & Culture. This past weekend, the volunteer-run event marked its sixth year as the annual Toronto hip hop festival inspiring people within the community and beyond.

Manifesto kicked off on Friday, Sept. 21 with “Doin’ It At The Park” Launch Party and Art Show featuring live painting, a vibrant art exhibit, spoken word performances, and the Second Annual Floor Awards celebrating Toronto’s best breakers and all-style dancers. The vibe was positive, the art was brilliant, and the energy was electrifying!

Toronto-based artist Erica “EGR” Balon both showcased her artwork in the studio space and participated in the live art exhibition at the newly-constructed Regent Park Arts & Culture Centre. EGR’s art represents women in various roles of society, portraying characters with nostalgia and stunning beauty. For over a decade, EGR’s artwork has appeared on various surfaces from canvas to concrete, inspired by fairy tales, fashion, music, city life, travel, and graffiti.

She Does The City caught up with EGR, who shared her perspective on the meaning of art & culture.

SDTC: Your art portrays women with striking beauty fulfilling various roles in society and culture. How do you strive to empower women through your paintings?

EGR: The role of the artist should be to express a message and bring awareness to a topic or cause that might hopefully change the world in a positive way. Although at times my work can be quite solitary or reflective, my aim through art is to empower not only myself but other women, as well as to bring awareness to relevant topics that I feel strongly about. What we need in our lives to feel fulfilled, as humans, is knowledge we are learning less about in this digital age of technology. By portraying woman as beautiful, natural and strong, I hope that my work can inspire women to strive to feel this way about themselves.

 SDTC: How have women around the world responded to your art?

EGR: My work has evolved over the years to be stronger as I have grown as a woman. The response has always been quite positive though there has been that question as to why the women I portray are so curvy or pretty – I believe you can be both powerful and sexy, gorgeous and smart – not just one or the other. You can be anything you want to be as a woman. There are still many inequalities but it is my attempt to really portray women in a light that claims equality and doesn’t complain about it or ask for permission to be equal. We must rise to the occasion.

Generally speaking, international women have less rights than Canadian women and I feel that because of this my work may be received well on a global platform. Rede Nami is a Brazilian based group of women leaders, specifically president Panmela Castro, who promotes equality and women’s rights through her humanitarian work and graffiti under the moniker Anarkia. Her graffiti has won international acclaim for bringing awareness to topics such as violence against women, which is still a major issue in many countries. My work has brought me closer to women artists who are definitely changing the world through their art.

SDTC: Tell us about the meaning behind “Leader Of The Opposition.”

EGR: Blackboltt first approached me to create the artwork for his album, “Leader Of The Opposition” and we since have collaborated on projects that include film, music and performance, since he asked me to be the lead actress in the film of the same name.

The film is about a man’s struggle to remain true to himself as an artist, in the midst of joining forces with a corporate board. Jawn Taboika aka Blackboltt’s perspective ebbs and flows between his artistic lifestyle, his philanthropic nature, and his desire to get ahead on a professional level. My role as artist and lead actress in the film is to remind Blackboltt of his artistic roots and dedication to his community.

Not only do I appear on the album cover that I created, and in the accompanying film, I also sing alongside Tina Hung on “We Don’t Serve Saints.

SDTC: How have live audiences affected and energized your live artwork? How is the experience of live art different than studio art for you?

EGR: Since I moved to Toronto in 2000, I have benefited positively from live painting, whether it’s graffiti or a canvas painted live at an event. The adrenaline kicks in, and so does the need to express ideas and to influence people positively and make an impression. This cycle of energy from observer to artist and back again creates spectacular work; sometimes surprising.

Often an image can be taken further with the help of friends; sometimes shadowing my studio experience in comparison. However, my ability to channel energy and my non-belief in time and space (at times) allows me to tap into this universal positive energy. When I first started out, it was more difficult, but now live painting is something I am addicted to. Even in the studio I feel the effects of on-lookers and want the messages I am channelling to transcend. My involvement in music and film as of late and my newfound voice has also left me stimulated in the studio.

SDTC: Tell us about your upcoming exhibit on Oct. 26 at Mark Christopher Gallery. What is the theme of the artwork that you will be presenting?

EGR: The main theme of the work is reflective of current events, and the thought that our natural resources have been permanently tainted by our reckless lifestyles and toxic environment. For the most part, we are born pure, and it’s our environment that diminishes our purity. I feel that way about our landscape as well. I am inspired by David Suzuki’s “The Sacred Balance” and the notion of how we are depleting Mother Earth’s natural resources at such an alarming rate, the world cannot begin to heal itself in our lifetimes. We need to, as individuals, realize that we can make a change, however small. One quote from the book was “In the cycle of life, nothing goes to waste” and this rings true for me. Products were introduced to us to build industry and in turn has created so much waste which is detrimental to our planet. We should leave nothing behind. It was recently reported that approximately 40 000 kg of waste was removed from our lake shores in Ontario alone which is extremely alarming. We need to wake up, find ways to lower our product usage and find happiness in a simpler life. My characters express this irreparable damage in their glowing toxic skin of rainbow colors as mutations are increasing. I call my characters Flylets, and they are the first to show the signs of our toxic takeover and pollution of our natural sphere, like the mutant butterflies emerging from Japan.

The show at Mark Christopher Gallery opens Friday, October 26 with a reception from 7-11pm. The exhibition runs through to November 17th. Open Wed – Sun, 10-5pm. For appointment call 416-705-3052

EGR also has artworks showing at Regent Parks Arts & Cultural Centre on the 3rd floor Centre for Social Innovation for the next 3 months, curated by Elle Alconcel of Toronto Artscape.

 For more EGR, visit EGRart.com

~Krys Stefanski, paintings by EGR

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