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Since October 2021, The Local Gallery has been figuring out ways to integrate itself into the city and its immediate community. Co-founder and curator Pepe Bratanov has worked in the creative industry in Toronto for fifteen years, and he and his partner’s appreciation for creative talent inspired them to launch the gallery. During our meeting on the launch day of AGRODOLCE—sweet and sour in Italian—he was abuzz about this being the first official summer launch for the gallery ever.
“People are out and about and wanting to do things again. Taste of Little Italy is coming back after a 2-year hiatus too, so we’re just excited,” Bratanov says of the launch. “We like to do themed exhibits that hit cultural events, and since we’re in the heart of Little Italy, and the Taste of Little Italy is around the corner, we decided to do a food-themed exhibit.”
AGRODOLCE is a love letter to our collective passion and cravings for food. It also coincides and pays homage to the Taste of Little Italy, a welcome return to the College St. strip after a two-year hiatus.
“I love going to interesting festivals like the Taste of Little Italy and Taste of The Danforth because I love food, and it also helps us stay relevant by measuring the city's pulse,” Bratanov explains. “We’re very much a commercial gallery, so we want to display good work that has universal appeal and will sell so we can keep the lights on.”
Aside from the day-to-day economics of operating a downtown gallery, Bratanov still aims to keep things unique, fun and comfortable. Hence the exhibition of paintings, sculptures and graphics that colour the clean white interiors like a visual feast. All the artwork from the group of nine different artists “pops,” so to speak, making a food-themed pop art show perfect for the venue.
“Everyone has a certain connection to food that triggers so many emotions in us,” Bratanov says, walking me through the gallery. “Looking at some of the work, you’ll see things related to candies or cartoon characters that will remind you of your childhood.”
To make his point, we pass by a classic hungry Homer Simpson piece, mouth agape with telltale drool running down his chin.
“Then you have someone like Bourdain who is such a beloved figure,” adds Bratanov, pointing to another incredible work by artist Jibola Fagbamiye. “Even when you look back in the past, artists have always painted landscapes with food and wine in the back or foreground.”
The artist, Fagbamiye, enters the gallery as if on cue. I take the opportunity to ask him about his involvement with the show and the inspiration for his Anthony Bourdain portrait. The pair met over Instagram, the twenty-first century artist's best friend and maybe the world’s greatest connector of our times. After sliding into each other’s dm’s, Bratanov invited Fagbamiye to contribute work to AGRODOLCE.
“Painting Bourdain was Pepe’s idea,” Fagbamiye admits. “It made sense because he’s such a beloved person in and outside food circles.”
Anyone else would just paint a portrait of Bourdain and call it a day, but Fagbamiye likes to insert messages and quotes into his work to give it a more profound meaning. The Bourdain painting references many of Bourdain’s own words in the piece and makes it as much a message board for humanity as just a portrait. This is certainly someone who will exist in pop culture for generations to come, and he’s been immortalized again beautifully at The Local Gallery.
Not all the work is so deep, and the overall vibe is fun and playful. The saying goes—you eat with your eyes first—this show is an array of artfully displayed food porn that any Toronto foodie and art lover would love to have in their home.
“When you buy a piece of art, you’ll be looking at it every day, so it should be something that makes you happy,” says Bratanov. “While I can see the value of investing in art, I prefer buying art that I can enjoy.
As an artist himself, Bratanov also has work displayed in the gallery. It’s perhaps one reason why he considers supporting ‘local’ so important. He is actually a part of the local community of artists whose work is on the walls and plinths. In fact, he and his two partners decided early on that there was so much local talent in the city that there was no reason to look elsewhere.
“The more you grow talent within the city, the more you harvest the creativity that comes with it,” he says. “It’s just like the local food movement and makes so much sense.”
Be warned, seeing this show might make you nostalgic, but I guarantee it will make you hungry. Luckily, the College Street strip is packed with great restaurants and an abundance of food options. A perfect idea would be to reserve a spot at a nearby resto and plan to see the show first.
Feast first with your eyes, then with your mouth.
AGRODOLCE is on until July 2.