Next-big-thing artist Sam Shuter readies big solo show in Toronto this weekend

Artist setting up permanent work space in new gallery to be located beside Andrew Richard Designs


Toronto artist Sam Shuter poses in front of one of her paintings

Toronto artist Sam Shuter, the one who paints dapper (headless) dudes in men’s suits, darling of the fashion industry, profiled in lad mags Esquire and Maxim, has a big show May 8 to 10 at Andrew Richards Design, 571 Adelaide St. E.

With the blogosphere abuzz with her stunning and quite sizable paintings, representation in London, England, and New York City and buyers snapping up her works from T.O. to Texas, Shuter could be the next big thing.

The young artist is a study in contrasts, just like her paintings. She is wildly creative and free of inhibition, interested in following her own path. But she also seems very driven to succeed in a “real world” kind of way, while at the same time continuing to question what the heck she’s doing with her life. It’s a question she will likely continue to ask herself for a long time despite her rather meteoric rise in the art world after just three short years plopping paint on canvas full-time.

Following the show, she’ll be setting up a new permanent work space within the gallery the folks from Andrew Richards are opening next door. She will also be curating a few shows there every year. But the vibrant young painter has time to meet for a coffee at the western-themed café on the ground floor of her downtown Toronto condo. 

“It’s all part of the journey,” she says, of her dual nature. “I used to laugh at that, the cliché, but it is a journey or a roller coaster. Personally, I love it. One day everything is fine; the next day, it is terrible. And it’s like, ‘Why is anyone even paying attention? I’m throwing in the towel.’ I used to think I was a crazy person, but then I found out that’s just the creative process for a lot people, and I just have to stick with it.”

Shuter was born in Montreal, and many of her family members worked in the textile industry in the city’s fashion district along Chabanel Street.

Her parents moved to Toronto when she was young, and she spent most of her formative years in the Bayview and York Mills area, where she attended York Mills Collegiate Institute.

Family is at the root of much of what Shuter does with her art and the type of artist she is becoming.

As a child, she was surrounded by the colours and textures of the garment industry. But it’s much more than that.

“They also taught me about integrity and hard work, and a lot of my inspiration for work comes from them,” she explains. “They always worked so hard to give us kids every opportunity and encouraged us to give it a shot, so I’m grateful for that alone, that I feel supported enough to take risks.”

And risk she did, giving up a budding career in the film industry to pursue her artistic passions. But, as is often the case, following your dreams can often lead to some seriously serendipitous events. Case in point: the memory box discovery.

Shuter came upon her now signature esthetic after looking through some old memory boxes from her childhood.

“It blew me away,” she says. “There were all these guys with suits and bow ties that I used to doodle all the time. I had the thought to put one of the illustrations on top of an abstract background and a light went off.”

In choosing this particular garment to express herself, Shuter has a chance to play with the familiar ideas of a suit as a symbol of adulthood and hard work. That old chestnut is juxtaposed against an absolute stunning use of colour and detail and movement. 

“The inspiration for painting suits has a lot to do with sort of figuring yourself out,” she says: “What your identity is, your character and societal pressure, all kinds of stuff relating to the question of who I am and how I can make a difference. How can I matter?”

Not uncharacteristically, despite being untrained in art as well as in the ways of the artist, instead of proceeding with caution, she went big, taking out a bank loan, signing up for the Toronto Art Expo and getting to work. 

She created eight new paintings for the show and sold all of them. “I freaked out,” Shuter says. “I had a moment of ‘Who am I? What does this mean?’ ” 

Since then, she’s hired two people to help her with administration and studio work. Her original works are hefty, clocking in at three-by-four feet and up. She also does a brisk business in prints. She’s also working on new works that do not involve suits, and she hopes her growing audience is ready.

“But I’ll always do the suits It’s a big part of who I am,” she says.

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