Bhat Boy is a whirl of energy, enthusiasm and stories.
For many, being photographed by a journalist is something to submit to politely but without enthusiasm. Bhat Boy, a queer Ottawa artist who in an earlier life was known as Ian Van Lock, responds with unprecedented exuberance. He runs excitedly to his car to change his shirt and, despite the rain, is happy not only to stand outside but impulsively jumps in the air for his photo op.
“I like things to be fun,” he says. “I like things to be pretty. I’m a little bit serious because I’m not a total wingnut, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to be fun and being happy.”
Heroes and Heroines, Bhat Boy’s most recent show at Orange Art Gallery, is an exhibition of 40 paintings that pay tribute to historical and present-day heroes and heroines, from Anne Boleyn to Margaret Atwood to Mayor Jim Watson.
The idea evolved from his earlier work, which depicted nuns and Mounties. He was fascinated by iconic costumes like nuns’ habits and RCMP uniforms, and as he grew more immersed in faceless figures identified only by their costumes, he was inevitably drawn to its opposite — people who are instantly recognizable as individuals.
“I didn’t want to do movie stars and celebrities,” he says. “I wanted to do people that I thought were heroes and heroines.”
Inspired by St George and The Dragon, the medieval legend that’s been the subject of art for centuries, he created Atwood vs Harper, which depicts the award-winning author as St George while the felled dragon is none other than Prime Minister Stephen Harper. With the Parliament buildings in the background and a Canada goose flying down to place a crown on Atwood’s head, it’s clear who the painter considers the heroine, but the overall feeling of the painting is whimsical. In fact, that’s true of the whole collection, from Sir John A Macdonald and Pierre Trudeau floating through the air holding umbrellas like Mary Poppins, to our current mayor brandishing his water gun atop his Capital Pride float.
While taking in Bhat Boy’s exhibition, you’ll certainly notice the gallery itself, especially if it’s your first visit. Located in Wellington Village, the Hintonburg area, like nearby Westboro, is flourishing with foot traffic, local businesses and an artsy vibe.
When Ingrid Hollander and her husband, Matt Jeffrey, opened Orange Art Gallery in 2010, the neighbourhood was less established, she says.
“When we came here it was not really like the way it is now,” she says. “A lot of improvements have happened, and I think we kind of got the ball rolling.”
With its high ceilings and 2,000 square feet, there’s something distinctive about the space, Hollander says, that resonates with artists, art lovers and community members alike.
“I think we’ve gotten very, very popular in the arts community,” she says. “Most of the artists, with the exception of one or so, are local, from Ottawa, and about half of them even live in this area.”
Carving out their niche in the Ottawa arts community is no small accomplishment, especially since Hollander and Jeffrey weren’t previously known in the arts scene.
“We just dove in,” Hollander says. “We weren’t really part of the arts community. Over the years now, I kind of know everyone, but when we first opened, I have to say, everybody kind of wondered who we were. I had never shown in a gallery myself, nor my husband.”
In addition to showing art, the gallery hosts events, from fundraisers to weddings and receptions. Hollander and Jeffrey can also help interested clients decide where to hang their artwork in their homes and businesses.
There’s probably not a bad place to hang a Bhat Boy painting, but you can come and see for yourself.