St. Marys artist Andy Kittmer shows work at Toronto’s “The Artist Project”

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DCVI grad Andy Kittmer stands next to one of his works that was recently on display at Toronto’s The Artist Project, where he has exhibited for the past two years.

By Rob Edney

It takes a village to raise an artist, and while that artist has begun to explore the global village, his feet are planted firmly in the soil from which he was raised, St. Marys.

This past weekend, Andy Kittmer confidently took his place among more than 250 contemporary artists at Toronto’s The Artist Project. Kittmer returned to the show as a sophomore after a successful first year in 2015. In its ninth year, The Artist Project is unique in that the artists are present throughout the four-day show. Collectors, curators, gallerists, designers and enthusiasts have an opportunity to speak with and buy original works from the creators.

While the world is discovering Andy Kittmer, with shows in Vancouver last year and a feature in a Bogota, Colombia gallery in March, among others, his work is entrenched in the minds of anyone who has attended the hallowed halls of DCVI over the last decade. The 30′ mural that graces the main ground floor hallway came about during Andy’s “victory lap” when art teacher Maggie Jorna recognized in her student both a talent and a passion that needed to be nurtured, and the need to customize Kittmer’s curriculum so he could graduate with his peers.

Led by Jorna, the staff of DCVI offered Kittmer a much-needed credit if he would bestow upon the institution his graffiti-inspired art on a large and permanent scale. “So it was basically ‘paint a mural for the school,’ but it had to meet some requirements such as theory, subject, and context, which went towards university level art – in which I got a 98 percent. It also counted towards my community service hours,” Kittmer reminisces.

The project, which also included the school crest and motto in the front foyer by the office, began in the summer of 2004 and finished January 2005 – roughly half of a year. Despite the long hours, the labour intensive project, as Kittmer saw it, was worth every second. His peers admired his work on a daily basis, his elders put faith in his abilities and the very institution he had struggled with was now working with him and taking his confidence to a new level.

“In high school, I was really inspired by my art teacher Maggie Jorna. She really opened my eyes to the possibilities of the art world and has always been a huge support even though we didn’t see eye-to-eye for the first couple of years,” explains Kittmer, who himself marvels at the patience and flexibility afforded to him through his typically, rebellious teenage years.

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Kittmer’s 2015 painting “Man With Colour”

While his early work found its inspiration in the work of graffiti artists, it was soon being tempered by the works of surrealist master artists such as Dali and Ernst.

Kittmer has more recently drawn inspiration from the community of fresh, new contemporary artists he finds himself amidst.

He still finds himself drawn to the envelope-pushing genre of “street art,” or “public art,” and its freedoms with artists such as Tristan Eaton and Etam Cru, while continuing to develop an appreciation for fine art with an eye to Casey Weldon, Martin Wittfooth and Jenny Morgan. The marriage of these two diametrically opposed genres is clearly visible in Kittmer’s work.

Through all of the success, the ever-increasing respect from peers and the reverence from art enthusiasts, Kittmer manages to keep himself grounded and never forgets where this all began.

“Both of my parents are artists in their own right,” he said, reflecting on his formative years and the principles that guide him to this day. “My mother is a stained glass artist and my dad does fine carpentry, and has been a successful drummer. Constantly being around the projects they were working on, as well as providing for and raising a family, taught me to work hard and do what I love, no matter how exhausting or tedious it may be.”

Those principles have served him well as his biggest supporter, his high school sweetheart and now wife, Becky, proudly mans the booth at The Artist Project to allow him to graciously greet every enthusiastic patron looking for a moment of his time. The rebellious Andy Kittmer of a little more than a decade ago would probably be amazed to see the successful artist, father and man he has become, but one person wouldn’t be surprised at all: Mrs. Jorna.

It only takes one believer, one inspiring mentor.

Thank you, Mrs. Jorna for truly being “a teacher.”

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