This post is by Heather Bulman, a public relations student at Durham College and the RMG’s current Communications Intern.
Toni Hamel was drawn to art very early in life. She remembers creating her first sculptures from the clay brought up from the ground after her parents added a well to the backyard of their Italian home. To this day, Hamel keeps the earliest evidence of her true passion – a photograph from kindergarten with a few drawings on the back.
In Italy, Hamel fought to pursue an education in the arts. Finally, in 1983, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Academy of Fine Art in Lecce. However, after moving to Canada, she found it difficult to find a job with a degree in fine arts. Hamel took advantage of the dawn of technology by studying computer graphics at Sheridan College. As one of the few women working in technology at the time, she went on to have a very successful career as an interactive media developer and instructor at the University of Toronto. Despite her successes, Hamel grew tired of her career and, with the support of her husband, decided to return to her true passion. Since 2007, she has focused her creative efforts solely on her art. Although she incorporates many mediums into her pieces, she works mostly with graphite.
“I started as a painter, but then I got tired of colour. Colour distracts me,” says Hamel. “To me, it’s like decoration. In the work I have evolved to, there is no place for decoration – it’s about the essence. I extract everything else. In doing so, I arrived at drawings. Drawings don’t have contextual information, just the central message. I don’t produce images, I produce content.”
Beginning February 4, she will have the opportunity to create new content as the second artist in residency at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG) in Oshawa, Ont. In the galley’s Art Lab, attached to the recently opened Gallery A, Hamel will have the space to reflect on humans’ relationship with the environment in her new series, The land of Id. This subject matter will complement a current exhibition in the RMG, Running on Empty, while exploring different formats.
Hamel’s experiences in Italy have inspired her to explore powerful topics such as social and political issues. She believes artists have a responsibility to raise awareness about important topics and share their experiences.
“It is difficult for artists to get the general community interested in the arts,” explains Hamel. “When I was growing up in Italy, there were no galleries that offered art classes to a variety of generations, like the Station Gallery or the RMG. Gallery A gives the artists the opportunity to develop new pieces while sharing and engaging with the community.”
For this artist, it’s all about sharing a message. Hamel often uses humour and satire to explore controversial topics. While she admits that reality can be offensive sometimes, she also finds it challenging to find the right balance. As her work has evolved, Hamel has learned that sometimes she can say more with a whisper than a shout.
Toni Hamel’s exhibition The land of Id runs in Gallery A from March 3 to 29. Image by Toni Hamel.