Making Space For


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Introducing the Make Space for Artist Spotlight

York Region Arts Council and Newmarket Group of Artists shout-out new or rising artists, creatives, and/or collectives from across the Region. We’re spotlighting four of those who are making waves in their practice, building community, creating boldly and sharing visions of reshaping the future of arts and culture in York Region. 

For information to purchase or inquires about the artists’ works please visit their websites. 

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Nicholai.jpegNicholai A. Melamed - Illustrator, Writer and Comic Creator

Nicholai’s work is an ongoing exploration of resilience at the crossroads of queer, trans identity and the ethnoreligious diaspora experience. It is informed by the liminality of existence on the margins of gender, sexuality, countries and cultures. A place defined by lack of belonging, that nonetheless preserves a gravitation all its own. Many of his projects centre transgender protagonists on a path of trauma recovery and reconciliation with the spaces they once called home. He also creates illustrated stories and poetry, often dealing with the interwoven topics of mental illness, sex-positive approaches to queer intimacy, and issues of class-based poverty viewed through an intersectional lens. Nicholai is a member of York Region Arts Council. 

Website | Instagram | York Region Arts Council

Q & A with Artist Nicholai A. Melemed

Q: Describe your artistic style in 3 words.
A: Meticulous. Intricate. Introspective.

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about how and why you create?
A: All my stories are like possessive spirits and their telling is a form of ritual exorcism.

Q: The arts and culture sector has been particularly devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. How have you cultivated your creativity during these uncertain times?
A: My work can be made in solitude and shared digitally. This means that I'm fortunate enough to have the process left relatively unhindered. Over the past year I've worked on everything from illustrated novels (The Salacious Saga of Alex Mazor) to comics (The Fable of Farlaf the Boastful) and video games (The Inverted Spire). The greater challenge has been in how personal health and financial stability impact the time and energy I have to devote to that work. As a result, I've found myself reaching out more to fellow artists across oceans and borders, and ironically, collaborating and seeking mutual feedback with greater frequency than ever before.

Q: With the rise of the pandemic and the ongoing fight for racial and social justice, there has been a notable surge in activism and advocacy among young people. What is the role of emerging youth artists like yourself at this moment in time?
A: I find the phrasing of this question a little odd—is racial justice not an integral part of social justice as a whole?
I've been heavily involved in a number of advocacy movements for over a decade, so from my perspective, there has not been a surge, so much as a proportional escalation due to the way the pandemic has amplified pre-existing structural issues. The kind of heightened visibility we've seen in the news is just the tip of a very old iceberg. In terms of my role as a human being, there is a teaching from Pirkei Avot (for those who are unfamiliar, a tractate of Jewish ethical teachings) which goes something like "It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either." I take this to heart. However, I also believe my role as an artist is different. It is my deeply personal opinion that art exists to ask questions on complex topics for the viewer to contemplate and interpret. Art that provides answers is a form of propaganda, and I have an aversion to propaganda, even when it is, as they say, "on the right side of history."

Q: How does your identity as a queer , trans identity artist and a member of the LGBTQ+ community inform or define your work?
A: I believe it informs my work the same way any significant facet of an artist's personal experience inevitably finds its way into their creations. We write what we know, even (and perhaps especially) when we aren't trying. 

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Wayne.jpegWayne Smile - Artist, sculptor, storyteller and philosopher.

Wayne is a Jamaican born Canadian-based metal sculptor artist. Since 1990 Wayne has evolved from being a fabricator of high end residential gates and furniture comprising of steel, copper and hardwood to developing skills in 3D design. The process used to create his art involves the creation of a sketch that guides the final form, selection of the materials, cutting and hand forging the pieces into ribbon like form and welding together to completion.

Wayne is passionate about connecting the physical and spiritual human experiences, and this is reflected in the art he creates. The pieces are reminders to us that we should be free to laugh, smile, think and enjoy the shared emotions as an observer. His latest achievements include: Encounter the Sculptor meets the Painter, February 2020. Georgina Arts Centre and Gallery. Art Award: Juried Art Show, 2nd place, Sculpture. Georgina Arts Centre and Gallery.

Click here to see more of Wayne’s work.

Q & A with Artist Wayne Smile
Q: Describe your artistic style in 3 words.
A: Fluid, Modern, Realism

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about how and why you create?
A: I create because I like to teach and I do this through my Art Work. Using Steel as a medium, the messaging is relayed in the various sculptures.

Q: You have a unique way of presenting yourself as an artist through your words and wisdoms. Can you share more about that with us? 
A: I think we all have unique ways of presenting ourselves, the difference is only seen when an artist is able to convey his/ her deepest feelings with the most potency and the least amount of the material of choice. We are the offspring of the life that is eternal and as such we create and satisfy the need to receive and share with others. Whether it is a painting, a song, a meal, a poem or sculpture, something in us compels us to make for others and others make for us…to know this makes any artist aware of their social responsibility and give to the world.       

Q: The Arts and Culture sector has been particularly devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. How have you cultivated your creativity during these uncertain times?
A: I have been financially impacted negatively by the pandemic from last year. I know my creativity is still intact because it springs from a spiritual place within me. I have been writing and drawing more in preparation for the time when things are better. 

Q: With the rise of the pandemic and the ongoing fight for racial and social justice, there has been a notable surge in activism and advocacy among Black people. Does your role as an emerging artist like yourself play a role at this moment in time?
A: My role as an artist has always been to convey truth in the works I create and to forge the bridge between the spiritual and physical experiences of all people.

Q: How does your identity as a Jamaican born Black artist, and sculptor define your work?  
A: As a Jamaican born artist the cultural influences are the freedom to express oneself, the beauty of the land, the people and the music help create the key ingredient…to be different. To create a new style is the signature of the Jamaican culture. So yes the style will be different but the message is universal.   

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Mahtab.pngMahtab Abdollahi -  Mixed Media Iranian Canadian Artist.

As an artist, Mahtab strives to fully explore her creativity, to experience the outer limits and push the boundaries of her artistic journey. She is an artist who desires to excel in her craft and uses a variety of mediums to express herself and achieve the right texture and feel in her work. The canvas is her playground where she embraces the joy of the creative process, and delights in happy accidents and other unplanned surprises. Her art reflects a passion and excitement she has cherished and nourished, that arises from the many memories of the experience of life itself. Locally, she is also a board member of the Newmarket Group of Artists. She teaches watercolour, drawing and painting to adults and children.

Website | Instagram | Newmarket Group of Artists

Q & A with Artist Mahtab Abdollahi
Q: Describe your artistic style in 3 words.
A: Mixed media, expressive, subjective

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about how and why you create?
A: I feel there is something inside me that I need to find about it and get it out. My inspiration is nature, love and other artists’ amazing artwork

Q: The arts and culture sector has been particularly devastated by the COVID-19  pandemic. How have you cultivated your creativity during these uncertain times?
A: I have been painting almost everyday, but I couldn’t show them in public. There wasn’t any exhibition so that effected me financially but didn’t stop me to create. 

Q: How does the role of community (as you define community) impacted your arts practice? 
A: Every artist needs audience and community provides this opportunity for me that I show my artwork and be heard. Newmarket Old Town Hall and the Newmarket Group of Artists helped me in this path. I had few group shows in OTH which was a success.

Q: How does your identity as a Canadian Iranian woman and artist inform or define your work?
A: I do not have interest in politics and I always tried to avoid it. I think that life is tough enough to focus on, without looking the ugly side of it and make that side the subject of my paintings. So I’ve been painting the world the way that I like to see or I dream to be. 
In the meantime, as a woman I couldn’t keep the dark side as a secret anymore. I have felt that I need to clean up my mind and throw out the negativity that I stored. This series is my experience from the tough time I had when I was back home. The time that being a woman was a pain and still is. I hope freedom blooms in Iran. I am looking for gender equality and I hope the Rape Culture ends.

Q: What’s next for you creatively?
A: I would like to find my creative way through nature; landscape, floral and botanical. I can’t plan my next step, that’s my nature! I will welcome all new things that will appear in my way and I will add a spice of my experience and culture to it. 

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Jeffery.jpegJeffrey Nye - Artist, Writer, Teacher and Curator

Jeff has a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with Distinction from Concordia University in Montreal (1998) and a Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Regina (2007).

His paintings and multimedia installations have been exhibited in public galleries across the country. He has curated exhibitions for the Mackenzie Art Gallery, Dunlop Art Gallery, and Last Mountain Lake Cultural Centre. He has also instructed studio and art history classes at First Nations University of Canada, University of Regina and Georgian College.

Jeff has received several distinctions and awards for his work, including grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Website | Instagram | Newmarket Group of Artists 

Q & A with Artist Jeffrey Nye

Q: Describe your artistic style in 3 words.
A: Experimental, dialogical, emotive

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about how and why you create?
A: Each painting represents multiple scenes, moments, and ideas. The entanglement of imagery, colour and textures is partially an exploration of the medium and partially an illustration of how scattered our sense of the present moment is. 
It might be impossible for our minds to attend to more than one thing at a time. And so, it is as if with each painting I am trying to tell the viewer a story while showing them how impossible it is to say everything that would need to be said for anyone to fully understand what the story is meant to mean.

Q: The arts and culture sector has been particularly devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. How have you cultivated your creativity during these uncertain times?
A: Honestly, I have been in a state of creative hibernation for the most part. I have avoided putting additional pressure on my creative output and focussed on keeping anxiety at bay and preserving my family’s health and happiness. 

Q: Describe your studio or creative workspace. Is it messy? Cozy? Littered with creative materials?
A: To an outside person coming in, my studio is unkempt and reeks of oil paint and turpentine. To me it is the outlet where I can plug in to the ideas and feelings that charge my battery and keep me alive.

Q: What do you feel is your role in the community as an established artist?
A: I believe my primary job is to demonstrate integrity through my work and my interactions. After that, I love to share what I have learned with other artists in my role as a teacher and mentor and to help others to find their voice.

Q: Art has a serious role to play in the current world, but it can’t do everything. What is the role of the audience/viewer and why is it so important?
Answer: An artist can’t predict what his or her audience is going to receive from their work or bring to it. Art – especially visual art – is an imperfect form of communication. I think the key to approaching any kind of art is the same as approaching another person – be open and vulnerable to something new. I think at its best, art provides us with an opportunity to exercise those empathy muscles.

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