Ghazaleh Rastgar is a Toronto-based artist and illustrator. With a Bachelor of Design from OCADU, Rastgar worked in the web/design realm before quitting her corporate gig to become a full-time artist. Her new solo show, Venus Rising, opens at #Hashtag Gallery (830 Dundas St. W) this week.

We caught up with her and asked her about painting, her process, and why female sexuality is front and centre in her new body of work. 

SDTC: What do you love about painting as a medium?

GR: I love using a wide variety of mediums, but I particularly enjoy painting with acrylic. I find the fluidity of paint very relaxing [and] challenging. I also love the texture of paint, which gives an organic feel, especially when used on a surface like wood panel.

Walk us through your process developing a painting. Is it automatic, or do you plan out precisely what you’re going to do?

In some cases I have a precise picture that I want to portray based on a concept or because I think it would be intriguing, and other times a concept appears through different doodles or combining two concepts. Overall, the finished pieces for this exhibition are mastered and well-thought-out concepts with specific intentions.

How did Venus Rising come together?

I have always loved painting women and what life is like as a woman, but in the last year or two, with the rise of movements such as #MeToo, I began expressing my own thoughts, feelings, insecurities and challenges through even larger and more expressive paintings. One of my paintings, The Umbrella, made its way to Resist, which was a feminist, anti-Trump zine that was distributed all over the U.S. for the Women’s March. This resonated with many and further motivated me to stick to the theme of feminism. I was fortunate to receive a grant from the Toronto Arts Council, which enabled me to put more time and effort into putting this exhibition together.

Why did you want to do a series highlighting female sexuality?

I find that female sexuality has been suppressed and stigmatized. There are many narratives we’ve been taught as women about our bodies, our sexuality, and how we should operate in a male-oriented world. It’s as though we are not given permission to our own bodies.

In many countries, women are forced to cover any part of their body that might be considered provocative, including—but not limited to—hair and face. This is a way to take away one’s identity and, in turn, humanity. Women’s sexuality has been commodified and even exchanged as a product because women have not been able to own their sexuality.

Who/what has made a big impact in your life recently, and how?

Within the last few years, there has been a chain of events happening in my personal life, as well as in the world, that impacted my life and my art greatly. About three years ago, I went through a break up and quit my corporate job in order to become a full-time artist.

For some time, I had been feeling the pressures of being a woman, which became more apparent and impossible to ignore after Trump was elected president. It was a wake-up call that things need to change, and a large step is to close the gap in gender inequality.

I’m also motivated and inspired by all the amazing female friends and family that I have surrounding me.

What artwork would you love to have in your space/on your walls, and why?

I like to have colourful, conceptual paintings by local living artists because I want to support my fellow artists, and I love paintings filled with meaning and colour.

What advice would you give to your fourteen-year-old self?

I would tell my fourteen-year-old self to trust and believe in herself, to never think she’s not good enough or that she needs to give in to pressure to please another. And finally, I’d tell her that everything will be okay.

What does your ideal Saturday look like?

I usually wake up around noon. I do an hour of yoga, make myself some breakfast, check emails, plan my day and head out for a walk or a bike ride. I usually sit at a café with a sketch pad and doodle or write some concepts. In the evenings, I get together with a friend for a meal or a drink. At night, I like to go out dancing with friends.

What should we be paying more attention to, in your opinion?

We should pay close attention to how we judge one another and what predisposed ideas we carry–whether or not these ideas are ours and if they serve us or hurt us and others. I feel that we learn more about ourselves by the ideas we form about others.

What do you hope people take away from your show at #Hashtag?

I want them to enjoy the art for its pure form but also to observe the feelings that arise. I would like women to be more open with their bodies and sexuality if they’re not already, and to not be afraid of being their true selves and getting what they desire. I would like the men to see the divinity of the feminine in all its glory and remember that, after all, we all came from a woman!