Georges-Adrien De Homa is nervous.
He has just arrived at AIDS Community Care Montreal’s (ACCM) sixth Artsida vernissage, an art exhibit hosted Saturday, Sept 19, 2015, at Galerie D in the gay village.
De Homa is one of more than 60 artists who contributed work to raise funds for ACCM’s support programs and outreach services. He also has AIDS.
“I am used to working alone in my studio, so when it is time to meet people and talk to them about my art I get anxious,” he says. “I’m here today because this is a good way to spread my message.”
The gallery is bustling: artists, activists, philanthropists and ACCM members have gathered to mingle, to preview works that will be auctioned off at the Artsida auction on Wednesday, Sept 30, 2015, and to purchase select paintings available for direct sale.
De Homa’s Le baiser de la mort rouge, an intricate acrylic and pen piece which depicts a skull hovering above a mound of winding staircases, towers and soldiers, is up for sale.
“The soldiers represent the antibodies we have in our body fighting disease,” he explains. “And the skull and the colour red show that playing with AIDS is like playing Russian Roulette. I think it is important to use my art to communicate to younger people that AIDS is not a game, that there is no miracle cure; the drugs only treat the side effects.”
De Homa, who has been seropositive since 1987, sees his work as a way to teach the younger generation.
“There is not enough information about the impact of AIDS,” he says. “Eleven of my friends died of AIDS from 1990 to 1994. In 1995 I almost died myself. I promised myself at the time, that if I survived I would become a better person, and that is what I am trying to do through my art.”
Although De Homa has been through many tough times, he leads a full and happy life. He lives with his two partners: his boyfriend of 26 years, and his girlfriend and fellow artist, Patricia Klimov, who he met five years ago.
Klimov’s piece, L’homme, is a nude of De Homa created especially for Artsida. “It was very important for me to make this painting so that people can see how he suffers,” she explains.
Despite the sombre themes in their paintings, both Klimov and De Homa accept AIDS as part of daily life. “Just because you have AIDS does not mean you cannot fall in love and enjoy life,” De Homa adds.
This life-affirming message reflects the warm atmosphere at the event, and ACCM’s underlying philosophy. Inspired by Casey House’s Art with Heart, a similar event in Toronto, and armed with insight into the art world from his experiences as a curator in Hamilton, ACCM member Chris Elliott single-handedly organized the first Artsida in 2006.
“When I first presented the idea to the board they were a bit reluctant, because they had never done a big fundraising event like that,” Elliott recalls. “I worked on it by myself and it took me two years to put together.”
Although, according to Elliott, the first auction was not a financial success, his ability to get art contributions from internationally renowned artists like Tom Bianchi and Joe Average put the event on the map.
In 2012, Artsida made headlines when it was held at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Though administrative and leadership changes and time constraints have, in some years, hampered ACCM’s ability to host Artsida annually, ACCM president Terry Kyle says the event’s popularity continues to grow.
“Artsida is our most popular event of the year,” agrees ACCM executive director Matthew Halse. “It allows us to purchase supplies for our drop-in centre, and to do outreach services for communities for which we do not receive funding.”
“This year it is bigger than ever,” Kyle says. “The place we are having the auction at is bigger, the collection is gorgeous and more valuable.”
The sixth edition of Artsida has received contributions from a wide range of local artists, including big names like Sandra Chevrier. It has also drawn private collectors who are not directly affiliated with the AIDS organization.
“For me, it’s a good opportunity to get some good pieces at a reasonable price,” says Edward Ginain, who purchased two paintings at the vernissage. “It is not necessarily the traditional market, so it’s a great place to discover new, emerging artists.”