An epiphany, brushstrokes and a love of motion

Brian Baker/Town Crier BRUSHSTROKES ON THE WALL: Forest Hill actor/painter Elizabeth Lennie with her Puck-inspired, award-winning portrait of a boy. Artists, she says, have a “child spirit” within them.
Brian Baker/Town Crier
BRUSHSTROKES ON THE WALL: Forest Hill actor/painter Elizabeth Lennie with her Puck-inspired,
award-winning portrait of a boy. Artists, she says, have a “child spirit” within them.

A dip into the artist’s palette is an escape from the structured environment of acting for Elizabeth Lennie.

She stands in the living room of her Casa Loma home, a smile radiating from her lips, as she talks about the “harmonic convergence” of her award-winning painting that’s on the wall.

The image is of a young boy’s face; an impish grin hanging beneath mischievous eyes and a button nose. He could be mistaken for Peter Pan, but she says Puck, from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was her inspiration.

It was a change from her seasonal duet of swimming and skating, a play on the theme of water, that won her the 2013 People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Artist Project Faces competition.

The blond-haired boomer, who’s appeared in such TV shows as Due South and Flashpoint, admits the honour came from “out of the blue.”

Her usual fare decorates the dining area. Small portraits of swimmers and stills of Canadiana: skaters out on a frozen pond.

She recalls a moment in 2002 where she had an epiphany, leading her to take art courses at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

“We were living in Summerhill and we were renovating the house, and I would buy a quart of acrylic wall paint,” she says, as the conversation continues up to a loft studio via a cast-iron, spiral staircase.

She adds that she “just loved that motion” of painting the walls.

“After, people were teasing me that the house was standing on paint alone.”

The cosy loft is home to her easel, painting tools and a stereo quietly playing the music of Nick Drake, Keith Jarrett, Neil Young and Zoe Jordan — Amy Sky’s daughter.

Slivers of sunlight stream through blinds in two skylights.

“When we moved in, we had to reinforce the floor, and put plywood down,” she says, casually, sifting through old source photos on her desk. “It had the skylights, although they face west and gets really hot in here.”

There’s a playfulness in her voice, as she admits artists have a “child spirit” within them.

“It’s really important to hold onto that child spirit,” she says. “We lose it when we grow up: we let it go and we lose our playfulness, creativity, sense of humour, all of those things that kids enjoy.”

Perhaps that’s why her daughters (with husband Michael Kirby) Maryanne, Lucy and Katie Kirby inspired her on one of her first art projects.

“We had a cottage in Tomagami and we used to go up there … We went up one August long weekend, and we had brought our eldest daughter’s best friend — her name is Kyra (Vitko) — and we had brought them.”

The next year, while in Grade 6, Kyra was diagnosed with cancer.

“She ended up being in SickKids for 16 chemo treatments over the course of the year,” Lennie says. “She’s alive, she’s 24 and she just graduated university.”

Lennie says she is close friends with Kyra’s mother, Sarina Condello.

“That story of Kyra, I didn’t realize how affected I was … Kyra and her brother and sister were the same age as my three kids, and they went to school together.”

Once summer is over Lennie draws from her photographer friend Gary Beechey’s pictures of skaters, and Canada’s pastime, shinny.

The only obstacle is when Lennie is called for an acting gig, where all creative control is in another’s hands.

“Acting is all-encompassing, so once the call comes in for the audition or the booking it defaults into precedence over everything: memorizing lines, creating character choices, breaking down the script into playable beats, so it doesn’t leave much space for the imagination to float freely into the visual art sphere,” she admits. “During these times I cannot paint so the collision of preparing an acting role and working towards an art opening is surreal.”

Her next art showing is Oct. 18 at the Studiohouse Gallery in Wellington, Ont., and after that the Christmas Smalls Sale at Art Interiors in Forest Hill.

“One thing about painting is you can control that,” she says. “You abandon yourself to the process, and if you don’t like what you end up with you can just discard it, or repaint it. “When you’re an actor it’s there on celluloid, and you’re not in control … You’re just one cog in the wheel.”

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