Paul Morin, the artist, and the Paul Morin Gallery are one, inseparable in fact. Let me explain further. What you see in the gallery, is only one part of Paul Morin the artist, who because of his ability has been able to put the village of Alton on the map!
THE PAUL MORIN GALLERY
We begin with the gallery. As you pass through Alton, your first impression when you see Paul’s place of work may be that it is just another old church which has found a new use. Paul Morin has deep feelings as to the building’s origins, including its history. Add to that the small town feel of Alton, and yet how close he can be, when necessary, to Toronto.
The building is Heritage Designated, built in Victorian Gothic style and actually sits on a fieldstone foundation. The construction is triple red brick with contrasting yellow brick detail, very typical of that era. The church building has been through a lot in its time. It survived a major flood in the late 19th century, a catastrophic fire and multiple owners. Around the time of the depression, it was sold to the Town for $1.00 on the proviso it was used as a place with public access.
Now we come to 2015, when Paul Morin purchased the building and restored it as his gallery. The church had fallen into disrepair over the decades and would need a significant amount of money to fix it. The building was being offered for sale by the Town on the proviso that a reasonable proposal for restoration accompanied the offer in order for it to be acceptable. Paul knew it was meant to be his, but he also knew he was up against about five other bidders, most of whom had more resources than he did. A chance lunch with an acquaintance gave him the encouragement and inspiration to put in his bid. Luckily, his proposal was just what the Town was looking for!
Paul worked 13 hours a day for over 27 months and put in over 14,000 hours of his own labour to restore the building once the Town of Caledon agreed to his purchase proposal. Paul terms his work “reawakening the building”.
Today, the church is Paul Morin’s “hub” as he terms it.
PAUL MORIN, THE ARTIST
Paul Morin is really an artist extraordinaire. Walking into his gallery, you are immediately struck by the light and airiness of the space, with its soaring ceiling. Inside he has installed free standing display walls for his lovely paintings, mainly on the subject of the outdoors. There is also a stage on which musical instruments are set in an arch built of recycled timbers, perhaps a small clue to another of his talents.
Paul is not “just” a fine artist, but a multifaceted creative wonder who is also a commercial artist and illustrator, who uses music, video and lighting in his works. He has done all of this and more in a freelance career of over 25 years in which he has worked for major North American advertising agencies and publishers on art installations, music CDs, and videos. The multimedia nature of his work is what keeps him energized, he says. When you come down to it, he is, in fact, a storyteller using all the arts!
Paul is deeply interested in traditional cultures which are grounded in the earth, spirit, harmony and wisdom of life. Cultural and biodiversity runs as a theme through much of his work and he has literally travelled the world to do his research immersing himself in the cultures and settings for his illustrations.
As an illustrator of 20 books, one of which he authored, his first book was “The Orphan Boy” in 1990. This is the retelling of a Maasai legend about the origins of the planet Venus. It also won the Governor General’s award. This led to work with different publishers, doing a book a year, this time being necessary for producing the illustrations.
Documentaries have come from his travel and research. He says he makes sure that when he travels he takes the best sound and photo equipment with him. When working in his studio, he immerses himself in music, which he finds inspirational.
Paul’s works have been exhibited in museums across Canada, including The Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, and Toronto’s Royal Ontario museum. In addition to the Governor General’s Award, he has also won numerous other awards including an Award of Excellence from the Town of Caledon for his work on renovating the church itself.
His latest work features “steam punk” industrial elements with themes highlighted in footage, music, regenerative software, glass, and found objects telling a story inside or outside a shadow box. He is utilizing large mural “room wraps” as a way of creating an overall mood. A custom or existing painting can be designed to cover an entire wall, creating depth which is not possible with conventional treatments.
In his “hub”, Paul wanted to create an atmosphere of “good intentions”. “Good intentions” are vital to everyone, he maintains for “spiritual practices” and the creative force to work. The gallery is now a venue as well for concerts, public cultural needs and meetings, and even weddings! Events happen in the gallery such as drumming circles, Solstice celebrations, native dance, storytelling, and the list goes on. The building, as a result, does not fall into a strict “retail” category.
Part of this creative atmosphere, is to make art accessible to everyone and to encourage others in the surrounding community to take part in projects, no matter what area of interest. To that end, he created the Alton Art Institute, which meets in his gallery. Sometimes he shows movies from his extensive classic collection with discussion and refreshments afterwards, and from time to time it could be a one-on-one art experience. He also enjoys giving back to the community because of the incredible support he has received.
It’s all part of what Paul Morin calls “his fertile garden, and with a real gleam in his eye, he says that’s because “he gets to be the gardener”!
Written by: Diana Janosik-Wronski | Photography: Cory Bruyea