York artists sweep the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts awards

Every year, the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts (TFVA) presents an artist grant to a local artist who shows exceptional talent and creative achievement. In its 10th annual awards ceremony, held May 13 at the historic Arts & Letters Club of Toronto, the TFVA awarded York visual arts Professor Yam Lau the $10,000 prize.

The two other finalists for the artist grant were Lau’s department colleague Professor Kevin Yates and York alumna Diane Borsato (BFA ‘97), who received $2,000 each.

The TFVA also awards four annual scholarships of $5,000 to graduating students from Toronto’s leading postsecondary institutions for arts education. York University nominated sculpture student Kristie MacDonald for the honour after a rigorous selection process considering both studio work and academic excellence. MacDonald was selected by TFVA to receive one of the four coveted awards.

Right: From left, Kristie MacDonald and Yam Lau

York Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Phillip Silver and Professor Janet Jones, chair of the Department of Visual Arts, attended the May 13 event to cheer on the York honourees.

“The Toronto Friends of Visual Arts is genuinely interested in the leading edge of visual arts from both an intellectual and visceral point of view,” said Silver. “It’s no coincidence our faculty and grads shine in both arenas. Congratulations to Professor Lau for receiving this community endorsement of the talent we recognized in him when we invited him to join our faculty.”

“Kristie MacDonald epitomizes the kind of student the Department of Visual Arts is trying to develop: talented in the studio, articulate about the goals of her work, and academically engaged with ideas in the contemporary art world,” said Jones. “York University’s emphasis on thought and analysis as an integral part of artmaking is what differentiates us from other institutions. Our studio-sector graduates leave with a practical foundation to support them in a diverse array of career paths.”

“I am honoured to have my graduating body of work recognized by York University and such an important community organization [TFVA],” said MacDonald. “I’m so grateful for the support and time dedicated to me by the visual arts faculty and technicians, notably Brandon Vickerd, Michael Davey and Brian Hobbs. I plan to use a portion of the money to fund a solo exhibition next year. The remainder will be saved for graduate school.”

Above: An image of Yam Lau’s work from his Room: An Extension exhibit currently displayed as part of the Contact photography festival

Lau joined York’s Visual Arts Department in 2005 as a professor of painting. His creative work spans painting, writing and new media, and focuses on the exploration of new expressions and presentations of pictorial space. His most recent works combine video and computer-generated animation to recreate familiar spaces and images in multiple dimensionalities and perspectives. In addition to his media work, Lau is also actively involved in the local community. Certain aspects of his practice, such as using his car as an ongoing mobile project space, are designed to solicit community participation. The recipient of numerous awards from the Canada, Ontario and Toronto Arts Councils, he publishes regularly on art and design and has exhibited widely across Canada, the US and Europe. His work is currently exhibited in Contact, the largest photography festival in the world and a premiere cultural event in Toronto.

“I’m grateful to the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts for recognizing my work and providing this grant which will support my current research and creative work on traditional Chinese architecture,” said Lau. “This material will in turn support my proposal for a new undergraduate course I’m developing that will explore the intersection of visual art, architecture and urbanism.

“I also want to thank the TFVA for nominating me alongside Kevin Yates and Diane Borsato,” said Lau. “I admire these artists very much and I wish them success.”

Yates is a sculptor who joined the faculty in York’s Visual Arts Department last year. His art practice and research revolve around creating works that function like film stills: a “pause” so the viewer can examine and inspect. His sculptures often take the form of highly realistic miniatures that, when installed, are surrounded in the gallery by significant negative space. This technique allows him to control the amount of information given out to the viewer and to suggest a much larger, less directed narrative, setting the stage for a perpetual mystery.

Borsato, who teaches at the University of Guelph, is an interdisciplinary artist working in performance, intervention, video, installation and photography. One of her recent interventions was staged for the Art Gallery of York University, where she led a group of dancers in the absurd and heroic feat of relocating a snowbank from downtown Toronto to AGYU by public transit. She was featured in York visual arts Professor Jennifer Fisher’s essay "Tangible Acts" that was part of the anthology The Senses in Performance (Routledge 2007).

The TFVA is an independent non-profit organization that gives financial support to the visual arts in the Greater Toronto Area and provides an educational program for members.