New Kids on the Block
Seven Below, Ottawa’s newest gallery location, is tucked in the lower half of A Modern Space, the fine furniture store recently relocated to old Ottawa South. The gallery space feels a bit like you’ve stumbled on a speakeasy and it’s a lovely thing indeed to feel invited into what’s feels like a secret club. That club is comprised of a carefully curated group of artists by director and local artist Stephen Frew. On the space and the roster, Frew shared “every gallery has a vision of what they want to show and we had ours. Luckily I was able to convince some of my favourite local artists to join the gallery. I also brought in artists from Victoria, Toronto and Montreal to help add some flavour from outside of Ottawa.”
The vibe has the slick modernism shared by the partner furniture store. There’s an inviting casual air that comes with pairing pieces alongside actual furniture. Frew embraces the uniqueness of this pairing and stated “A Modern Space is a high end modern furniture company and they occupy the main floor. It’s great to have interesting furniture to pair with and it’s a great way to get people in to see the artwork [when] maybe [they] weren’t even looking for art. Sometimes galleries can be intimidating for people and our model is great for keeping it casual and fun.”
The simple space is understandably well designed and director Stephen Frew is quick to credit this partnership, as well as his industry colleagues. “It’s true that we are in the basement but we’ve worked really hard to create an interesting space unlike any other in the city. Most people love the space and say it feels like New York City. We have exposed brick and stone foundation instead of drywall and a stained concrete floor so it’s rough but clean and beautiful.”
I asked Frew his thoughts on being Ottawa’s newest physical gallery space. Keen to distribute the credit, Frew is quick to nod to the community he’s resided in as an artist for years:
“It’s always tough to be the new kid in town in any industry but with the help of my business partner Patrick Hajas at A Modern Space it’s been a great start. I’ve been a somewhat successful artist in Ottawa for the last 10 years and I’ve been involved in a few galleries so I have a sense of the art side of things but what I didn’t have was the business model and strategy and Patrick has helped me tremendously with that.
Other local galleries like La Petite Mort, Wall Space, Studio 66 and PDA Projects have all been very helpful and given some guidance and pointers. The arts community in Ottawa isn’t huge but it is strong and we try and stay connected and supportive of each other. We all have one very important thing in common and that’s our love of art and our drive to bring more to Ottawa.”
That collaborative vibe has served Seven Below, as has the current pairing between local mainstays Andrea Stokes and JJ Rhoades. The show “PART FOR WHOLE” pairs these two abstract artists for the duration of April. I asked them each to answer a few questions about the show, their work, and what it’s like to be partnered together.
Apt613: Why abstract?
Andrea Stokes: “When I began my artistic practice after attending NSCAD [Nova Scotia College of Art and Design], I worked mostly with pattern and surface design on textiles. That work really satisfied my desire to work with colour, form, and shape, and informs my work now. I also worked in costume and set design for theatre for many years, before attending art school. I’ve always been interested in painting abstracts, but I considered it such a challenge to do well when applying it to two-dimensional work. This show is a new departure for me, and I feel both challenged and excited that abstract painting is the right direction for me.”
JJ Rhoades: “I have never made any other kind of art. Abstract art seems to be the natural end to my artistic process. The materials and tools I am using; printed matter, ephemera, knife and ruler, take the lead in the creation of my abstractions… and I can’t draw hands.”
Andrea, what’s your favourite piece of JJ’s?
A: “Spring in Bruges 1” What I really love about this work is how JJ has collaged actual black and white photographs in to this piece, marrying them seamlessly with other hard edged paper cut-out forms. This piece combines the idea of memory and nostalgia with more iterative and repetitious graphic forms.”
JJ, same thing but vice versa.
JJ: “I was really drawn to the pinks and golds of Andrea Stokes’ “Absolution”. I loved the colour and the movement in that piece.”
To both of you, favourite piece in the whole show?
Andrea: “My favourite piece is “Denim on Cherry Beach” by me.”
JJ: “I enjoyed making Islands Five. The island pieces were inspired by the time I spent living in the Caribbean and are meant to reflect the geography, energy and colour of that place.”
What does pairing the work do?
Andrea: “It really reinforced the oppositional forms of my work versus JJ’s. [His] work is extremely precise, and uses mostly very bold primary colours and strong, clean graphic elements. My work is the very opposite – soft, warm, organic shapes and lines.”
JJ: “Pure elevation. I am honoured to share the walls with such a talented and prolific artist.”
Frew: “First off I LOVE abstract artwork and it’s always exciting to see what shapes and colours and feels different artists can create. The wonderful thing about this show is that these two artists both have very different approaches to creating work. JJ is meticulous in his placement and cuts of his collages while Andrea is so fluid and organic. They’re also so different in their colour choices whereas JJ has strong solid colours Andrea’s colours are soft, warm and soothing. The great thing with pairing these two artists together is that because they are so different they actually work off of each other, they emphasize what’s interesting and different in each other.”
For Andrea and JJ, what are you reading / looking at / listening to these days?
Andrea: “Currently reading “We All Love the Beautiful Girls” by Ottawa author Joanne Proulx. Painted most of this series to the soundtrack from “She’s Gotta Have It” – Spike Lee’s TV series, NOT the movie.”
JJ: “I am reading… and re-reading Sum: Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. I’m listening to Rhye, Colter Wall, Cicada Rhythm and the best from the 2017 Hintonburg Music Exchange.”
I would encourage you all to go take in this unique space and show, and do so now while it still has that lovely feel of Ottawa’s best kept secret. Get in there before the word gets out. Password is New England Clam Chowder.