In the 1980s, Leaside High School kids would skip classes and hang out in one of three places: the AV room, the “butt hut,” or the art room. For Brandon Steen, it was the art room where he would head to hone his creative skills. During these breaks and in art class under the tutelage of his favourite teacher, Gail Fularski, Steen’s talents developed and flourished. Now an award-winning artist whose work has been showcased around the world, Steen has returned to Leaside.
In 2017, Steen, along with his wife Jane Holden, came home to care for Holden’s mother at Jane’s childhood home on Richlea Circle. In the months leading up to Jane’s mother’s death, the couple rediscovered the generosity and caring spirit of the community. While they could have moved back to their Mississauga home or elsewhere, they couldn’t imagine any better place than Leaside to call home. It is a neighbourhood, Steen says, where he and Holden have felt “tremendous support.”
While Steen has painted in numerous styles including pop surrealism, he is now a contemporary realist painter working with acrylic on custom-made birch panels. Citing Canadian artist Alex Colville as an inspiration, Steen focuses on the historic qualities of Toronto. His recent series, entitled “Vanished,” contrasts the environment of the city today with that of the land of the Indigenous peoples thousands of years ago. Depicting the flora and fauna that once existed in the city, Steen takes viewers back to a time when Toronto was home to moose and bears.
The artist has also worked on and continues to paint Leaside buildings that speak to the neighbourhood’s contributions during World Wars I and II. His paintings document buildings which are still standing but slated to be demolished, for instance Research Enterprises Limited (REL) on Research Road, which housed the production of electronics and optical instruments during World War II and which will soon be razed and replaced by yet another storage facility. While Steen is not necessarily anti-development, he does want to capture the neighbourhood’s military history before all signs are erased. He is passionate about preserving Leaside’s character in any and all future projects. As he points out, “the neighbourhood’s aesthetics need to be honoured. Developers have only got one shot and they need to do it right.”
With the support of his wife, his community, and his three English bull terriers, who keep him company in his home studio, Steen is receiving more and more praise and commissions. His art has been shown in galleries around the world and can be found in private home collections globally. He is now a gallery artist at the Elaine Fleck Gallery on Queen St. West, where his work will be featured in a show opening on June 2nd from 7 – 9 pm.
While skipping classes may not be a behaviour to encourage, in the case of Brandon Steen, it was these moments of unfettered creativity, along with great mentoring and pure talent, that produced an artist Leaside is proud to have living in its midst.
For any enquiries about Steen’s work or his June 2nd show, contact the Elaine Fleck Gallery at: elainefleckgallery.com or 416 469 8005.