By Zenith Wolfe
A Kitchissippi artist has poured her heart into over 200 canvases in support of Heart Month.
Alison Fowler is a self-taught artist who began her creative career in 2009 at a second-floor studio on Wellington St, W. For over a decade she has held annual Wall of H’arts shows around Valentine’s Day, designing small heart canvases for local art buyers as gifts or collectibles.
This year’s show took place Feb. 11-13 at Fringe and Foliage, a hair salon and house plant store in Westgate. Fowler spent two months designing this year’s hearts, motivated to make the designs more special for her first in-person sale since the start of the pandemic.
“I find my hearts are more extravagant, or they’ve got a lot more personality to them, because I know (buyers) are coming to see them in person,” she said.
Fourteen special canvases were offered at a silent auction, with all proceeds going to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation. They brought in a total of $2,400.
The foundation’s donation program will match all funds raised by Wall of H’arts, according to Lindsay Firestone, the director of community engagement for the Ottawa Heart Institute. She said events like this raise awareness for medical research projects.
“The funds raised will help to give people the gift of time,” Firestone said.
All other canvases were available for a flat $60 in a turn-based sale. Buyers received numbers when arriving at the venue. They were then called on one-by-one to approach the wall of hearts and choose up to five canvases. Fowler said this process is one of the best parts of the event.
“I absolutely love to watch people reach out and touch my paintings. When they do, I feel that I have somehow succeeded,” she said.
Fowler added that she enjoys using her art to make people happy. She likes painting poppies and trees because of their interesting colours and textures, but more so because they resonate with buyers.
The same is true for Wall of H’arts, but Fowler said the show has an added element of mystery. It starts with the palette knife, a “messy” tool that allows her to blend colours into unique, unpredictable patterns. She said some artists steer clear of the palette knife because it’s hard to control, but that’s exactly what makes it her favourite implement.
Fowler said the sales can be mysterious as well: a buyer might eye a canvas all night, only for it to be gone by the time they approach the wall, forcing them to change plans on the spot. She’s also never sure about attendance, so she shares this feeling of anticipation with her viewers.
“I’ve had years that I’ve sold completely out. This year I didn’t sell completely out and I don’t care,” she said with a laugh. “That’s not the point. I (just) love seeing people picking their favourites.”
Andrew King is Fowler’s partner and a prominent Ottawa artist who painted one canvas for the event. He said Wall of H’arts is now an anticipated event in the capital, adding that the venue and affordable prices of the canvases helped make art more accessible to the community.
“There are people lined up at four o’clock in the cold waiting to get in and get first choice,” King said.
This was the case for Ashley Brunette. She arrived with her husband at 4:05 p.m., nearly three hours early, to grab the first canvases on Feb. 11. Brunette bought three hearts this year: one for her collection of seven canvases, and two as gifts for her best friend, and her stepmother.
“Every year (Fowler) comes out with a new sought-after heart, so I try to get here to expand my collection,” Brunette said. “They’re the perfect little size that you can create a gallery wall at home the way you want it.”