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Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid, courtesy of Susan Hobbs Gallery, Toronto
Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid, courtesy of Susan Hobbs Gallery, Toronto

Premier Painter

Governor General's Award-winner Shirley Wiitasalo says "I didn't choose painting, it chose me"

During her successful career as an artist, Shirley Wiitasalo—a faculty member in the Department of Art’s visual studies program – has never considered pursuing any art form other than painting. “I didn’t choose painting, it chose me,” Wiitasalo has said. “It’s a traditional medium but it still poses challenges.” For her work, Wiitasalo has received a 2011 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. Winners receive $25,000 and their work is exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada.

Wiitasalo started out painting abstracts in the 1970s, and then introduced figurative imagery to her work. Her pieces have been shown everywhere from the Art Gallery of Ontario to the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland, to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

The Canada Council for the Arts, which grants the Governor General’s Awards, commended her art, citing, “From her evocative imagery to her recent explorations that employ a more reductive vocabulary, Wiitasalo is interested in unravelling the mystery of the painting itself.”

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