Taylor Swift-inspired art series coming to Holland’s Cake & Shake

By Joseph Hutt – 

Kitchissippi’s Cleo Thompson is one of the many local artists to have volunteered their time to make this year’s Hintonburg Happening the best yet.

Active in the arts industry for the last 20 years, Cleo has recently shifted her focus from a career in graphic design to creating art full time, where she works extensively with watercolours and acrylics. She has taken part in several group showings around Hintonburg over the last few years, at small venues such as Cyclelogik.

Now, Cleo is bringing her latest series of works to Holland’s Cake & Shake for the Hintonburg Happening. This 13-piece mixed media collection is called “A Reinterpretation of a Reinterpretation of 1989,” alluding to Ryan Adam’s 2015 cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Each piece corresponds to a specific track from the cover album, which patrons will be able to listen to at their respective stations via QR codes.

Cleo Thompson alongside the first work in her series, based on Ryan Adam’s cover of “Out Of The Woods.” Photo by Jospeh Hutt
Cleo Thompson alongside the first work in her series, based on Ryan Adam’s cover of “Out Of The Woods.” Photo by Joseph Hutt

Cleo laughingly recalls one of the first times she encountered Michael Holland, owner and chef at Cake & Shake. “He said, ‘I like your work,’” she recounts. “‘I don’t like Taylor Swift.’”

Cleo wasn’t wholly convinced, however.

“Everyone my age has a secret love of Taylor Swift. As much as we all deny it, including Michael… we all kind of love her. So I hope this will appeal to everyone’s comedic side.”

However, it’s also important to remember, as Cleo explains, that her work isn’t necessarily being directly inspired by the pop icon, rather by Ryan Adam’s own unique, folksy take on her lyrics. “So anyone who really truly actually doesn’t like Taylor Swift won’t hopefully be totally turned off,” Cleo adds.

It was Adam’s rendition of “Out of the Woods” that inspired Cleo to create the first piece in this series, and it has been an interesting experiment for her thus far.

This series is “concept-driven, as opposed to technique driven,” Cleo explains, “So it works backwards in that, like a graphic designer would, you take from the language to start manifesting visuals. That’s what I’ve been doing with each of these pieces, working within the parameters of the lyrics to come up with concept.”

For her, this method is completely new.

“I’ve never done it before, working with sayings and stuff. It’s a big buzz thing right now, sort of these words of inspiration… I love seeing typography in pieces, but I like to have it buried within the concept. So I guess that’s how this came about.”

This may even be the start of something more elaborate, should the exhibit be a success.

“If this audio component and this lyrical concept artwork works and the public likes it, then I’m looking to do a much bigger show,” says Cleo.

This is just another aspect of Hintonburg Happening that Cleo can appreciate: the cultivation of an environment in which artists are more at liberty to try new things that similar opportunities don’t often afford.

In Cleo’s opinion, Hintonburg Happening has a very casual approach.

“It’s not stuffy, it’s not intimidating, she says. “So, as artists, we aren’t as stressed out. It’s not as daunting as, say, signing a gallery… These paintings that I’m putting up are almost silly… and it’s not the kind of thing you would do if you were doing a very serious show.”

There is a vernissage taking place at Holland’s Cake Shop (229 Armstrong St.) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 7. Visitors are encouraged to bring a smart phone and headphones so they can enjoy the audio component of the installation.


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