Lorette C. Luzajic pivots to gin at an event with artist Kim Dorland.

Kim Dorland and Lorette Luzajic
Do not let my fidelity and my passion towards wine fool you – I have been a woman of many vices. And one that I cherish with delight and tenderness is Bombay Sapphire gin.

Oh, those starlit summers when I had a backyard resplendent with tulips. The twilight could grow so silent that the only sound in the night was the tinkling of ice cubes melting in fizzy baby bubbles. Gin and tonic and half a lime.

Gin can be a name of ill repute – it’s a word that conjures the swamp water variety of mixed drinks, a crude ingredient in cocktails served in grubby hands in plastic cups, best swigged swiftly. Such an association really isn’t fair, but at the time of the imprinting of this memory, we were too young to know any better.

The Sapphire came later and it was different. The cool, Art-Deco jewel of the blue bottle aside, the substance itself was classy and perfumed and formidably elegant. Less like gasoline and more like poetry. Pure artistry.

Bombay Sapphire is an international lover – Spanish lemon peel, coriander from Morocco. Saxony offers Angelica. Orris, cubeb, liquorice, cassia bark. And juniper berries, and almonds.

When I heard that my old paramour was in town for an art event, I was overcome with memories of that backyard embrace. I just had to go.

Bombay Sapphire Gin Art Project
The occasion was important- a celebration of the launch of the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series in Canada.

For seven years, the sparkling baby blue conglomerate has sponsored an extraordinary annual contest for emerging artists.

How Warhol wishes he weren’t dead! He would meld perfectly into the sea of celebrities the project attracts, like Brett Easton Ellis, and Oprah, Jay Z, Lil Wayne, all the glitter, the gowns, the balls, the Clintons.

Spearheaded by the tireless Russell Simmons and his Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, thousands of American artists have put their heart on their sleeve and braved the limelight. Now the series has come to Canada for the first time, and emerging artists can enter the contest and reap exposure, sales, and respect.

Simmons was here in Toronto on June 28th, at the Only One Gallery, to announce the inaugural Canadian chapter of the series. I’ve come to enjoy the festivities, but I’m especially excited about meeting Kim Dorland, the already-iconic Canadian artist who is representing our country at the inauguration. I wrote about Dorland (here) in one of my early Wine and Art columns and I jumped at the opportunity to meet him in person.

kim dorland bridge
I barely stepped inside the gallery when a young man who may or may not be Kurt Hummel from Glee hands me a glass of the blue stuff, tossed airily with sugar and lemon. There are beats hipper than I’ve ever been coming from a corner and an attractive young artist in paint-splattered jeans is busy reinventing Jackson Pollock from behind a bullfighting pen.

DSC_9301I mingle and hobnob a bit and watch the live painting show. Just as I am a few sips from zero, my pending predicament is discreetly attended to. A new concoction is in my hand, something pulpy with pineapple. In that moment, Jamie Angell of Angell Gallery, one of Toronto’s most respected and intriguing galleries, glides past me. Jamie is Dorland’s gallerist. I see a few other folks I recognize from the art world, including Devan Patel, of the east end’s tremendous Project Gallery. I had some of my works in group exhibitions with his gallery, and when we chat, I find out he helped coordinate the spin painter working live, whose name is Callen Schaub.

I’m always pleased to see so much community support and participation for the arts in my great city.

After the requisite speeches, the DJ and paint show get back at it, and I set to trying all the hors d’oeuvres before my interview with Kim. By the time the event’s publicity reps summon me, my nerves have long floated out to sea on a Sapphire wave. I am a little star-struck but I got the feeling from our correspondence that Kim’s a pretty down to earth guy. This is confirmed upon meeting. He is gracious and even remembers my column. I tell him he might be the only artist to be featured in it twice.

If you’re still a stranger to his work, it’s difficult to describe. Kim takes cues from the great Canadian landscape painters of the past, and he has exhibited with the late Tom Thomson, but his work eavesdrops on the present. His forests and lakes and streets are inhabited by humans, their traces evident in graffiti on birch bark or an abandoned picnic table or tree-house.  There are trucks and trailers, and plaid shirts. There is something of Edward Hopper in the quietude and blue-collar atmosphere of Dorland’s scenes, only quintessentially Canadian and contemporary. Many of his works look sort of like a Neil Young song sounds.

And yet there is also something downright radioactive in Dorland’s art. His paintings are sculptural and neon, sliced open with light. You can hear the high pitch keening of the mosquitoes, and the lulling slap of dark waves at the side of the boat.

A few weeks ago, I was at a talk where comedian and curator du jour Steve Martin called Lawren Harris the greatest Canadian artist. I ask Kim what he thinks about that, as compared with his idol Thomson. I mention that personally, I think Kim is in the running for that title. But he deflects all of it. He graciously nods to Harris’s talents: “what he does with light and space is unparalleled.” But, he won’t let me get sidetracked from the purpose of the day, which is to promote a great opportunity for Canadian artists to get some exposure.

“This series is all about getting original artists an audience. It benefits the artists and it also benefits the rest of us, because we get to find out about them.”

If you know someone who should enter the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series contest, please tell them about it.

It’s easy to enter and the only limits are your imagination.

“The Artisan Series celebrates artists whose imagination and creativity transform how we see the world. A panel of judges will review entries with the following criteria in mind: Line, Composition, Creativity & Uniqueness, Execution of Medium & Difficulty of Process and Original Work.”

The Grand Prize winner will receive enough cash to create a solo exhibit for SCOPE Miami Beach 2017. There are also the First Place Winner and People’s Choice Winner, both of whom will receive a cash stipend for a solo exhibit at a gallery in their region.

Sounds like it’s time to pour a gin and tonic and pick up that paintbrush.


See all of Lorette C. Luzajic Wine & Art columns here.