“My painting is non-figurative, abstract, maybe it’s lyrical. All the terminology is not important. What is important is the actual painting. When you’re looking at the painting, you’re looking at something real, and that’s what counts.”

– Rita Letendre 

I’ve spent the past 13 and a half years growing up next door to the Omm painting by Rita Letendre, and never really thinking much of it. Its bright colours always reminded me of skittles: cherry red, sour yellow, and sweet apple green. The painting hangs in my Nana’s house, which is red brick with jet black lining around every window, and the basement is always a few degrees brisker than the temperature upstairs. 

My Nana bought the painting in 1972, when it was “hot out of Rita’s studio.” I’ve been told that the painting arrived during the dog days of summer, when the hot and sticky air is perfect for lounging. My mother was only eight when it arrived, filling her childhood home with joy. Like me, she grew up beside it, playing all sorts of games with her three sisters under the watch of the painting. My mother says she never thought much of the painting as a child, not appreciating it enough. When she entered adulthood, she began to realize how marvelous the piece of art is. 

In Aug. 2017, my family received a phone call from my Nana: the Omm was to be displayed in Rita Letendre’s Fire & Light exhibit at the AGO. 

My heart skipped a beat. A painting that had touched three generations of my family was about to touch the lives of thousands. Best of all, we’d been invited to see the painting on display with some of Letendre’s other work. 

At this point, I had begun to fall in love with the painting —free falling, hard and fast, I wasn’t scared of hitting the ground if it meant I could stare at it all day. 

When the day arrived, my mom, sister and I piled into the car and drove downtown to see the exhibit. We met my Nana at the front doors, where, before entering, she encouraged me to not only admire the Omm itself, but also the people admiring it. She wanted to me watch how the painting touched other people since I would always be welcome to go over and sit in front of the painting once it had returned to her home —gaze at it and fall in love with it, all over again.  

It was, and remains, as simple as the razor-sharp lines on the canvas of the Omm, composed of so many layers and so many different grains. I watched people look at this painting and the memories it holds about my family’s history. Seeing the painting on display was an indescribable experience. To appreciate the piece of art in a well-known and reputable gallery provided me with a sense of success —although it was not technically my own. 

Art continues to be one of the major things that brings me joy. Having the ability to go to galleries and appreciate all of the collaborative works is a privilege that I’ll never be able to be grateful enough for. 

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