Shirley Wiitasalo

“Paint itself is so simple. It’s a substance with colour, and you apply it in different ways. It’s very elemental in that sense.” (2011)

Shirley Wiitasalo is a figurative and abstract painter. She works in oil and acrylic, enamel and gouache. Stenciled shapes, taped boundaries, spray techniques, photo-silkscreen, graphic elements, and lettering have all figured in her work. In her simple style, she investigates complex topics such as the media, urban environments, and contemporary culture. 

Largely self-taught, Wiitasalo studied briefly at the Ontario College of Art in 1967, taking classes from François Thépot. She cites Milton Avery as a major influence in her work. Her first solo exhibition came in 1974, at The Carmen Lamanna Gallery. Toronto has always been her home, and has often been her inspiration. She watched the 1970s building boom closely, exploring it as a theme in her work. Travels to Arizona and New Mexico in 1984 influenced her desert landscape paintings of the time. 

Much of Wiitasalo’s early work focused on either the media in urban life Interior, 1981, or her personal experiences and surroundings Park, 1992. Since the 1990s, her art has dramatically changed, becoming more abstract. “The viewer may be attracted to the imagery,” she says, “but they also unconsciously recognize the physicality of the paint.” She has exhibited nationally and internationally, participating in solo exhibitions at The Power Plant, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Kunsthalle Bern (Switzerland). She is a winner of the 2011 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.

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