Culture  Tightrope walk to success

Paper Apartment Gallery takes a personal approach to the art community

On August 7th, 1974, French high-wire artist Phillippe Petit strode along a three-quarter inch steel cable between the twin towers of New York’ s World Trade Center. If asked to imagine a feat as perilous and incredible as this stunt, the average person would likely be at a loss. They would also, however, be forgetting one crucial example: the uncertain life of the independent artist.

These artists seem to be treading their own tightrope between artistic satisfaction, and material deprivation. Given the overwhelming precariousness of the artist’s existence, it is always exciting when independent, artist-driven endeavours manage not only to survive, but to thrive. As Courtenay Mayes of the Paper Apartment Gallery is aware, it is unusual that opportunities like this succeed against all the odds facing them.

In the summer of 2009, Mayes moved into a new loft located on St. Laurent. Before she brought the first box of her belongings in the door, however, she knew her new digs would eventually amount to more than a run-of-the-mill home. “I moved in with the intention of starting a gallery,” she said. While Montreal has a vibrant artistic community with many world-class galleries at its disposal, Mayes wanted to create something daringly different. “A lot of my friends were making art which probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to be shown in a regular gallery setting,” she explained. In light of the situation, Mayes saw the opportunity to create an artist-run gallery, which would accommodate unique artistic talent. “I wanted it to be less of a gallery, than a community art center.”

While she began by seeking out artists to display, the Paper Apartment Gallery soon took off like a paper plane, and Mayes began receiving “ submissions from all over the city.” She credits this success to the “from-the-ground-up” aesthetic of her venture. “I think that because there is so much art being produced in Montreal, artists really appreciate artist-run galleries.” These submissions have become increasingly varied since the gallery’s beginning as a showcase for her friends’ work: Mayes has hosted international artists as well as members of the francophone community in a truly inclusive environment.

When choosing which pieces to display, Mayes is often drawn to works that are difficult to exhibit such as, performance art or large-scale installations. It is this interest that exemplifies Mayes’ dedication to art, that she is willing to incorporate overwhelming artistic endeavours into her personal space. Working with the artists themselves, installing these exhibits often takes a lot of work, and the result can be displayed for a number of weeks. For Mayes, what makes everything worthwhile are the artists themselves, who scrounge for opportunities to showcase their work.

Like any artistic adventure, the Paper Apartment Gallery has proved to be unstable and has required a fine balancing act. There are various factors that must be considered, money being the major obstacle. “Until now, I have paid for all the events myself,” Mayes said with a sigh. In a tizzy, she explained the proverbial house-of-cards effect of financial stress and the uncertainty of her gallery’s future: “when my lease is up I don’t know if I am going to continue with it.” The whole operation is subject to the ephemeral nature of the art world’s tastes, but at least for now, Mayes is generously sharing her home with various pieces, which enliven her living space.

The Paper Apartment Gallery houses numerous artistic events, providing ample opportunities for creators and admirers alike to bask in the artistic atmosphere. The next event, taking place on October 29, is an amalgamation of music and visual art. The exhibit, Inside the Altar, features a Mexican Day of the Dead theme, and artwork influenced by “esoteric theories.” The mixed-media work of Sophie Edell, Kendra Bramson-Bowes, Andres Chavez Gotilleb, David J. Romero and the projection work of Mayes herself and Sadaf Hakimian will be displayed along side the music of Hearbeat Hotel, Grimes and DaPinkNoise.

The impact of artist-initiated galleries on Montreal’ s independent art scene has been substantial, across many disciplines – take Eastern Bloc, Silver Door, and Squalor, for example. Starving artists, rest assured. Even if you fall thousands of feet, brave innovators like Mayes will be there to catch you.

Inside The Altar runs at the Paper Apartment Gallery 3655 St. Laurent room 206, on October 29. Email for more information.