The Surrey-raised 2008 Southridge School graduate, 21, opened his second solo show, Copycat, at McGill University’s Fridge Door Gallery Wednesday, and he says it combines pieces created ‘live’ at different events over the last few years.
“I like to paint in front of people” he said, describing it as “nerve-wracking” but inspiring at the same time.
“I’ll go up to people very casually and say ‘Hi, I’m Aquil Virani’ and I’ll ask them to draw me something based on the event they’re at.”
Armed with a group of drawings at the beginning, he’ll start his own large format painting – comparing the material gathered initially to the ‘buffering’ needed when downloading a video – “but I always need more drawings to continue.”
“It’s a very accessible, fun, interactive process,” he added.
“I can take suggestions from people on what to draw, how to paint, what they see.”
The people who give him drawings get to see their drawings reproduced on the larger work, but conformed to Virani’s style, which incorporates bold cartoon-like line over large areas of colour wash.
“I’m creating something that is larger than the sum of the parts,” he said. “I’m the facilitator of communication of the communal art piece, but the sum of the parts makes an art piece that’s original.”
He said he first started doing this kind of painting when he was still at Southridge, crediting art teacher Suzy Baranszky-Job with allowing him to develop his own style.
“She had a hands-off approach – if you were interested to go off by yourself and do something and you had the motivation to work at it, she would let you,” he said.
“I had the inkling this was something that would work for me, that this would be a career path that was possible and pleasurable.”
Virani said he enjoys these kinds of projects most of all, partly because he’s “a social guy,” but also because the concept of connecting with people resonates with him.
“It’s like the movie, Into The Wild, where the moral of the story is ‘happiness is only real when it’s shared,’” he said. “I’m also a performer – I love being live in front of people.”
He titled his show Copycat, he said, because he’s interested in the theme of imitation, and exploring the line between drawing inspiration from somebody’s idea and copying it. With regard to viewers’ participation, he knows he’s going against the egocentricity that drives many artists.
“I’m a keener and an over-achiever. I love to be successful, but if I don’t have friends at the end of it, if I don’t have communication with people, then its not worth much.
“It’s about the interaction at the end of it all.”