(By: Angela McLean)
The 27 Club has been called everything from a cultural phenomenon to a tragic coincidence to a downright curse on some of the world’s most popular musicians, artists and actors. Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain are among the club’s “members,” all having died at the young age of 27.
For Toronto-based artist Abriella Sammy, who has spent years studying the “club,” turning 27 this month presented a unique set of fears.
“It feels like you’re getting really old and you’re supposed to figure out where you are in life and [until recently] I didn’t know where I was or what I wanted to do,” she said.
That changed in January. As a sort of New Year’s resolution, Sammy decided she was going to make 2018 her year and push her art into the public sphere, starting with her take on the 27 Club.
The exhibit, aptly named The 27 Club, was put on display at the Thompson Hotel Lobby Bar on Friday, April 6 – Sammy’s 27th birthday.
“I was like OK, how am I going to do this, why would I do it, how am I going to get people out. I thought, instead of going out for drinks on my birthday, I’m going to do this event and then get friends and family, which is who I want to be around when I’m revealing my art for the first time, as well as some other people in the city to come out and it’s all come together,” she said.
Sammy gave her artistic treatment to five of the 27 Club’s most iconic figures – Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. As a sixth addition, Sammy included an abstract self-portrait.
Stylistically, Sammy is a fan of the resin arts. It’s a unique medium that can only be controlled to a certain extent.
“When you pour it you can kind of control the colours and the movement, but once it’s down it does its own thing and reacts chemically to the other things that are in it,” Sammy said.
You can look at each piece from multiple angles and get a different perspective each time.
“I felt like in a way this medium was a good correlation to these artists,” Sammy said. “They were free spirits, tapping into things that had never been done before. In the same way, I want people to look at this art and say, wow, this is something I haven’t seen before and I want to know more.”
Sammy’s portrait of Amy Winehouse and her self-portrait seemed to capture much of the attention at Friday’s event, but she felt a special connection to her representation of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“It’s the only one that isn’t actually a portrait. I changed direction and instead of doing his face, I did his three-pointed crown, which is kind of like his logo and signature,” she said. “It was the piece that I started with because I thought I would be able to finish it the fastest. I thought I would just do one layer and be done with it and then it turned into something completely different with six or seven layers and I feel like I grew a lot through that one piece.”
Sammy’s road to 27 has had its share of twists and turns. After dropping out of Queen’s University’s fine arts program, she lost touch with art. What she had hoped would be the start of her career ended up making her question her passion all together.
Just over a year later, Sammy picked up her paint brush again and joined the art history program at the University of Toronto. She said the program gave her a great foundation of knowledge and helped her find herself as an artist. The 27 Club is proof of that.
“27 was where these artists’ careers ended and 27 is where mine is beginning.”
(Header photo: Sheraz Khan/Fusion Beauty & Photography Studio)