Kristin Morthens: Busting out of tradition

Third-year OCAD U student, Kristin Morthens describes her work as “busting out of the conventional picture frame.” And literally she does just that, in many of her works. Perhaps it’s her life and love of travel that draws her to the unconventional. Born in Iceland, Morthens has travelled the world. From growing up in Iceland, to living as a teen in Kenya, where she was home-schooled, to painting walls in Brazil for five months, to studying at OCAD U in Toronto, Morthens believes that all of the places and cultures she has experienced have given her a broader perspective of the world. And now, as an exchange student at The Art Institute of Chicago, she further explores new territory.

“When I first started painting, I was doing graffiti as a teenager, and later  ̶  street art  ̶  so I didn’t start painting on canvasses until a couple of years ago,” says Morthens.  “I think in a sense, I was always very connected to site-specific pictures and painting on walls that were not a square or a rectangle.”



Morthens’ work is digitally inspired, contrasting between materials such as traditional paint and spray paint, exploring textures, mark making and colours. Lately, she has been fascinated by fabrication and the materiality of the canvas. “I’ve been dying canvasses and using bleach, painting a lot on raw canvas, and using unstretched canvas,” says Morthens.  “I feel like I want to go in an installation direction with creating a space that you enter… busting out of the rectangle. It’s not new, it has been done for many decades, but the idealization of the rectangle is something that an art student in 2016 should question.”



As an exchange student living in the United States during the recent election, Morthens encountered a different sort of cultural experience. “The country was paralyzed… people were crying and the energy here is very heavy,” says Morthens.  And how did this affect her work? “I couldn’t paint for a bit, after the election and I decided to do a portrait of a friend of mine from Chicago. I haven’t done a portrait on a canvas in two years, but it was an urge that I felt that I had to document something.”



Grateful for her time at OCAD U, Morthens, who was awarded the Curry's Art Store Prize this year, and the Helen Eisen Scholarship last year, asserts that she has been shaped and very influenced by her professors, fellow students and the aesthetics that are happening in Toronto. “The scene has pushed me into new directions. I feel like since I started OCAD, I haven’t stopped evolving.”

Check out more of Morthens’ work online.

Natalie Pavlenko
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Gary Taxali: Toy Signing & Print Launch

Gary Taxali at DvA Gallery in Chicago
Sunday, November 11, 2007 - 7:00pm

DvA Gallery in Chicago toy signing and print launch by Illustration Instructor Gary Taxali.

Venue & Address: 
DvA Gallery 2568 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

Proud objects: Cheryl Pope’s first Canadian exhibition + tips for collaborative art


Cheryl Pope, I WANT TO BE PROUD, 2016. Text by Debora Puricelli. Nylon and tackle twill, 3 x 5 ft. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

In early 2016, renowned Chicago-based visual artist and designer Cheryl Pope collaborated with OCAD University students and local community members in her first Canadian exhibition, which formed a major part of Onsite Gallery and the university’s Pride 2016 programming (June 8 to July 4). This site-specific exhibition, Objects for Listening, included 10 colourful, varsity-style champion banners and multiple audio installations she calls “listening stations.”

All the pieces were developed in workshops, in which Pope led us through a variety of exercises, each one bringing us deeper into our private personal thoughts and perceptions. We answered questions. We sewed and chatted. We wrote while looking at ourselves in mirrors. And then we chatted some more.



Cheryl Pope, I AM MYSELF, 2016. Text by OCAD U workshop participant. Nylon and tackle twill, 3 x 5 ft. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.


Cheryl Pope, I AM NOT AFRAID, 2016. Nylon and tackle twill, 3 x 5 ft. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Queer diversity and community

Pope designed the artworks in Objects for Listening to carry individuals’ thoughts from the OCAD U community. Those individuals may or may not have very different viewpoints, but they all reveal deep reflection on diverse identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations. Today, at the 35th anniversary of the bathhouse raids and Toronto’s Pride Parade, it is impossible to find any overarching language that could define the OCAD U or queer communities.

As discussions at the intersections of gender, race, cultural background, ability, age, class, education, politics and values are expanded, the significance of community remains important. As a community, over the past 35 years many in Toronto have fought hard for diverse sexual and gender expressions and identities.

Now, as we investigate systemic oppression, community strength, support and brainstorming remain vital. Working collaboratively, in the manner Pope does, successfully navigates and supports individuals and their communities.


Cheryl Pope, I DON”T SEE ME AS YOU SEE ME, 2016. Nylon and tackle twill, 3 x 5 ft. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.


Cheryl Pope, I AM UNSURE OF MY PLACE, 2016. Text by Lizz Khan. Nylon and tackle twill, 3 x 5 ft. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Cheryl Pope. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photo credit: LaMont Hamilton.

Cheryl Pope. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Photo credit: LaMont Hamilton.

Pope’s 7 most important elements for designing collaborative art projects

  1. “Generating content with people through conversations, workshops, text submissions and free writes is rooted in the value of discovering together, of asking, looking, listening and finding.”
  2. Creating collaboratively “respects and celebrates the individual and highlights that individuals together make a community.”
  3. Pope’s works “offer the possibility to hear both the individual and the community.”
  4. “Working in this way, I find that it is possible to avoid assumptions and, instead, hear and better represent the voice of the people I am collaborating with.”
  5. “Research through conversations and workshops draws a foundation to the work that it is for the people, by the people and with the people. I see myself as a journalist; this is extremely important, as the work is understood as a voice of many.”
  6. “Being physically present with people and listening offers me the opportunity to hear the call and reactions, the community speak, the value and weight of the voice, of the body, the temperature in the room, the cadence and the progression, the silence, the comfort and discomfort. These aspects are most important in the research, the physicality of language.”
  7. “The workshops are focused opportunities for reflecting, sharing, questioning and listening. They offer the opportunity for members of the same community to hear one another, in a safe, respected and valued space. The awareness that their voices are being listened to as part of the research seems to call forward a heightened intention to the contribution and exchange.”


Lisa Deanne Smith is the curator of Onsite Gallery, OCAD University’s experimental curatorial platform and professional gallery of art, design and digital media.

Lisa Deanne Smith
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Protection Necklace Workshop with Cheryl Pope

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - 6:00pm to 10:30pm

Wednesday, June 15
2 to 6:30 p.m.

OCAD University’s Great Hall
100 McCaul St., Second Floor

Meet and join Chicago-based designer and artist Cheryl Pope and create a protection necklace, unique to you and for you to keep.

Pope designs objects and situations for listening. Through sculpture, installation and performance, she creates works that explore often uncomfortable issues concerning power, inequality, race, gender, identity and violence. Pope frequently makes her art in collaboration with others. When working in this manner, the pieces she designs set up a framework addressing a specified topic. Such frameworks bring forward the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the people she collaborates with.

Event is FREE, all are welcome
Complimentary workshop supplies are provided
The space is wheelchair accessible through use of elevators from the ground floor
Fully accessible with gender-neutral washrooms

This workshop is an extension of Pope’s exhibition, Objects for Listening. Runs from June 8 to July 4 in OCAD U’s Great Hall.

Stick around and join us for You Can Show With Us Digital Image Slam! Event begins immediately following the workshop.

Image credit:
Cheryl Pope, I WANT TO BE PROUD, 2016
Text by: Debora Puricelli 
Nylon and tackle twill
3 x 5 ft
Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Venue & Address: 
OCAD U's Great Hall: 100 McCaul St., 2nd Floor
416-977-6000, Ext. 456
I Wanter To Be Proud banner

Shannon Stratton speaks on the DIY MFA and conceptions of craft at OCAD University

Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm


Stratton is a founder and Executive Director of Threewalls, a Chicago based not-for-profit for the presentation of contemporary art and ideas. Established in 2003, Threewalls has grown from a start-up exhibition space to a vital visual arts organization supporting contemporary art through solo exhibitions, residencies, grants, publications, conferences and commissioning programs. 

Stratton writes, curates exhibitions and other experimental projects, and relishes opportunity for administrative and pedagogical experiments. In 2010 Stratton was named one of the top 5 most vital people in the visual arts in Chicago by NewCity. In 2011 she was a fellow of the NAMAC Visual Arts Leadership Institute and a finalist for the Chicago Community Trust Emerging Leader Award. Stratton was 1 of 9 leaders in the arts featured in the Chicago Tribune 2011 Chicagoans of the Year. In 2013 Newcity named her one 50 "Visual Vanguards."

Stratton teaches in Art History, Theory & Criticism and Fiber & Material Studies departments at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was appointed Critical Studies Fellow at The Cranbrook Academy of Art for fall 2012. In 2013 she was a recipient of the Alberta College of Art Board of Governors' Alumni Award of Excellence.

Shannon Stratton’s visiting lecture has been co-sponsored by the Faculty of Art and the Faculty of Design.

Venue & Address: 
OCAD University Room 1516, Level 5, 113 McCaul St.