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Jungle animals come to life in art exhibit

Romi Samuels with her painting The Elephant in the Room

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Toronto artist Romi Samuels is an established expressionist painter, whose love of animals dates back to her childhood.  Memories of family vacations at a game reserve in the African veld (bush) ultimately became the subject of her collection of paintings.

Samuels’ upcoming art exhibition The Lion, The Watch, and the Wardrobe will take place Oct.25 through Nov. 5 at Toronto’s Gallery 1313, at 1313 Queen St. W.


Large-scale canvases of lions, giraffes, elephants, zebras, baboons and crocodiles will be on display. Samuels skillfully creates her lion collection using bold brush strokes with layers of texture in monochromatic black-and-white with just a hint of colour. The smaller and more intimate wardrobe portraits feature pastel colours painted on board. The African animals project intense primal emotions while the wardrobe paintings are expressive of the personalities who owned these fashion accessories or accoutrements.

“Until now, my paintings have been oil paintings. This collection features acrylic and charcoal with a little bit of mixed media and collage. The canvases are enormous with my largest reaching eight feet. I’ve given the paintings names beyond the picture to give it a human quality that you can relate to.

“ In the lion collection I’ve named the giraffe Above The Fray; there is a huge picture of the giraffe and it’s mainly a picture of its neck and head at the top so you have this feeling of its head in the clouds above all the mundane that’s going on below. Another example is the elephant; a painting of an old, sort of wise elephant, who has been around for a while, and that one I’ve named Wisdom of the Wild.

“Paintings in the wardrobe include a pocket-watch, gloves, fan, hairclip, hat, shoes, boot, purse, belt, and tie. In each of these paintings there are hints of a hand or a hint of hair or a hint of foot so it’s not just the still life; there is some of the person behind it with intent to relate to that person, to evoke the kind of person that they were,” said Samuels.

The wardrobe paintings are especially sentimental to Samuels.

“The delicate and elegant gloves belonged to my beloved late mother, Hadassah Sacks. Old fashioned lace gives a sense of old-time elegance which you very rarely see today. It goes beyond just being a still life of gloves because the way the hands are placed, the posture of the hands, looks feminine and elegant and refined,” reflected Samuels.

Mother’s Gloves from Romi Samuels’ wardrobe collection

Samuels grew up surrounded by art. It was only after graduating from university with a masters degree in French literature that she developed an interest in creating her own art.

“My mother was a big influence in my quest to study art. She was an artist who taught art and she was an art critic, so from an early age there were always art-related themes going on in my home,” said Samuels.

Samuels’ work is influenced by a generation of South African expressionist painters. “The great Irma Stern, Wolf Kibel, and Maggie Laubser who were themselves influenced by German expressionists, are, I think, very formative of my style,” she said.

Samuels’ art training dates back to when she arrived in Canada some 17 years ago. “When I moved to Canada, I took art classes at the Dundas Valley School of Art in Hamilton. Three years later I moved to Toronto, where I studied at Central Tech College with Sadko Hadzihasanovic and Suzanne Mitch.

The exhibition The Lion, the Watch, and the Wardrobe is adapted from C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “In C.S. Lewis’ famed novel, children come to live at a professor’s house, and find safety during the war. They open a door and enter into this enchanted world. There are two parallel universes: the harsh, terrible environment of the war, and also the wonderful, magnificent, enchanting universe of Narnia.

“It is the same sort of way in my exhibition. On the one hand, my work reflects the harshness of the South African environment of the fauna and the bush veld and the harshness of the nature. On the other hand, you have got this wardrobe which is fanciful and colourful and whimsical.  In that way, they link with the book,” explained Samuels.

“I hope people will identify on an emotional level with my paintings by realizing everything we see or create is influenced by our emotional responses and we can all relate to that in some way.”


See her website for more information

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