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Michael Venus and Brad Firmino: Colour by Icons

Written by

Stephanie Braun
November 24th, 2015

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The Never Apart LGBT Historic Colouring Book is a fun and retro-kitsch project that also serves as an educational tool. As the very first art exhibition in the Never Apart Gallery, the 25 iconic images from the book were displayed after having been coloured in by a number of North American artists. The books can also be purchased for $20.00 each, with 50% going to Rainbow Railroad and 50% to going directly to fund the youth-focused programming at Never Apart.

A little more about Colour by Icons with LGBT activist and artist Michael Venus:

How and why did you come up with this concept?

I came up with the idea because I felt it was a wonderful tool to teach people about their LGBT heritage – something we’re not taught in schools. LGBT history has been erased, so celebrating these pioneers and their achievements is crucial for growth, acceptance, and identity. Involving 25 local and international artists was an idea to build community, expose the talents of the contributors and bring the project to an international level.

What went into creating it?

Never Apart’s founder, Dax Dasilva, and I chose a very diverse selection of trailblazers that we wanted to include in the book. These formidable people are no longer with us, but they paved the way throughout history and represent a real evolution for the LGBT community. Each of them inspired us in different ways and symbolize many aspects of what Never Apart is about. I chose iconic photographs of the subjects which I gave to talented artist and friend, Brad Firmino, who did his magic and turned them into totally awesome cartoon versions that resembled the colouring books that so many of us loved in the 80’s.

What are some reactions to the book that touched you the most?

The coolest thing was getting Mink Stole to colour in Divine’s (her long time friend and co-star of many John Waters films) portrait which she did with watercolours at her home in Baltimore. When I was giving her a tour of the exhibit, Divine’s song “Native Love” happened to be playing on the exhibit’s playlist as we entered the gallery. We were both touched by that magical moment, and I’ll never forget it. Having Candis Cayne see her chalk rendition of Marlene Dietrich was also pretty amazing. I have to say it has been really fun having famous, living queer icons react to it with great fondness. Fashion Guru Patricia Field, fashion/art star Scooter Laforge, Rock goddess Peaches, and “bad boy” filmmaker Bruce Labruce all love their copies of the book!

What do you want people to get out of the experience (of interacting with it)?

For starters, is therapeutic and calming, so that’s one intention. I love when kids of all ages lose themselves and end up bringing to life these awesome works of art that are reflections of them. Our other main intention was giving LGBT youth a sense of inspiration and validation as we celebrate role models. We see the positive experience people have knowing something like this exists.

What’s a common reaction you’ve noticed from people experiencing it for the first time?

Huge smiles. Folks are generally very excited about it and like to go through the book and let us know who they recognise, and then ask about the people they don’t know. It’s kind of like an automatic, his/hers and “transtory” lesson, haha. People are blown away by how good it looks too.

What do most people say about it?

How cool it is. A lot of people really enjoy the subjects, because the book has some seriously legendary artists from the 80’s and 90’s who were such innovators.

Kids love it too!

Haha, totally! Children of all ages are drawn to it (pun intended). Kids automatically want to start colouring.

What do you think the future holds for Colour by Icons?

We really hope to travel with the exhibit to other cities where we can showcase 25 of that particular town’s innovative art scene-makers. We’d like to see the book in more educational outlets, and continue to raise awareness and celebrate queer culture. I feel we still have a ton of opportunities to expose the project, and are just getting started. We hope to get more media attention on the project. Maybe one day we’ll do a part two! Brad and I had such a good time creating it and would love to see it evolve!

Who is Michael Venus?

I am a multi-dimensional artist working in many media and charged by activism, creating change and creating culture. I have been producing projects and events mainly under my artist collective “The House of Venus” for three decades and moved here to Montreal in February to be Executive Director of Never Apart.

Who is Brad Firmino?

I’m a painter and graphic designer. I like to describe my art style as “Pop-Renaissance”: a mix of pop culture, modern iconography, and colour palettes while utilizing classical themes and techniques. I create various fun and innovative series of works under my own brand Enjoy Artwork.

 

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