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East Toronto Artists: 

From Paralegal to Painter


ETC . . . news, September 19, 2002, by Christine Manning :

When you meet Elizabeth Russ the first thing that strikes you is her energy; it is positive and extremely contagious.  Not only does she have energy and enthusiasm about her own work; her energy for other artist's work comes through loud and clear.

Elizabeth hasn't always been a painter; it was a winding path that got her to where she is today.  After spending 20 years working as a paralegal in BC and in the UK, Elizabeth decided that she'd had enough of the legal world.  She took the courageous step and started going to OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) part-time to further her artistic talents and interests in art.

In 1997, she graduated with honours and 2 years later acquired a building on Queen Street East, spent several months renovating the space and opened up a gallery in May 2000.  She never imagined when she first registered at OCAD in 1990 that she would be running a gallery a decade later.  At the time she imagined that she would support herself through selling her paintings, having shows in galleries, etc.

When asked to describe her work, Elizabeth stated that "her work is what she would call abstracted realism.  There is a concept of reality in an image that has distorted references."  Her latest body of work is based on the Aboriginal raven, which is seen as the trickster or jester.  The images that she creates are more than what you see, she likes creating art where the viewer can come back and look at the piece several times and always discover something new.  Her goal when painting is to create intrigue and provoke questions.

Her first passion is watercolour, but this body of work was done in acrylics.  Elizabeth states that "with watercolour it's hard to work big, and sometimes the concepts that I have need to be big."

After graduating from OCAD, she spent several years showing her work in different cafes and galleries in the city.  She decided to open her gallery because she knew that there were a lot of artists in the city with incredible talent that weren't being taken in by the better-known galleries in the city and she wanted to give them a venue.  Today there is a waiting list of artists who want to have their shows at Gallery 888.

The gallery has really become a full-time job for Elizabeth, but she still manages to find time to paint.  By enrolling in courses or teaching courses in the city she forces herself to make time for her own artistic pursuits.  She knows that if she takes a course she will always find the time to get to class, otherwise her time disappears rapidly in the day to day management of the gallery.  She manages to exhibit her work at the gallery at least twice a
year by partnering with other artists.  The next show that she will be participating in at the gallery will be November 26 - December 8, entitled "North of 49".  She is partnering with photographer Tracey Hawken.  Examples of the work to be shown can be found at www.gallery888.com.

Elizabeth chose Queen Street East as the home for her gallery for 2 reasons.  One being that she felt that Queen West was saturated and second was that the building spoke to her.  "Riverdale feels like an enclave within the big city", states Liz and the "building just hooked me . . . really good ghosts haunt this place."

Elizabeth uses her experience and expertise to help artists organize and launch a professional show.  She states that "many first-time artists have used Gallery 888 as a springboard for their careers."  But it is not only up and coming artists that show at Gallery 888, many established artists have exhibits there as well.

Born in Victoria, B.C., Elizabeth moved to Toronto in 1990 and has lived in the area ever since.  Painting has always been an interest of hers, even when she was working as a paralegal.  She has passed on her artistic genes to her son who is now studying illustration at OCAD.