Meet the 26-Year-Old Toronto Artist Who Got on Saatchi Art’s Radar

For our new interview series, we’re sitting down with real movers, shakers, and tastemakers that inspire us. To kick things off, Eighty-Eight’s PR Manager pulled in a favour with her bestie, Erin Armstrong — who just so happens to be one of Toronto’s rising artists — to chit-chat about art and design, and get a little personal at the same time.

The minute you walk through Erin Armstrong’s door, you can see she does not have the apartment of a typical millennial. Believe it or not — there are no traces of Ikea anywhere in the 26-year-old artist’s eclectic Toronto home. Instead, Armstrong has filled her cozy space with a mishmash of antiques and vintage scores that reflect her personality and passion for art. Oh, and did we mention she managed to effortlessly “throw” it all together in less than one week? Duh.

Emerging on Canada’s art scene only three years ago, Armstrong has made a name for herself on a global stage signing with galleries in New York City and Toronto, and exhibiting across the world in London, Australia, Miami, Edinburgh, and Stockholm.

If you’re just catching up on her short, but impressive career, here’s what you need to know. She was: named one of the “Top 20 Emerging Artists in the World” by Rebecca Wilson of Saatchi Art; commissioned by The Drake Hotel to create a can’t-miss, 150-foot art installation that decorates the outdoor walls at Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County; featured on ShopBop as a prints and design master; and signed with Bau-Xi Gallery, one of Canada’s top commercial art galleries, to sell her pieces to the Canadian art elite — and I could go on.

We sat down with Armstrong (on her matching canary yellow antique chairs, no less) to answer all the questions you probably had at first creep — most importantly, where did she get that charcuterie board (sorry, raw wood serving plank) from, and can we come back for some wine and cheese? The answer to the latter, by the way, is always yes.

Morgan: In eighty-eight words or less, can you tell me what you do?
Erin: I’m a figurative expressionist artist.

Morgan: How did you get into painting?
Erin: My mom is an artist. When I was young I would fake sick all the time to stay home from school and paint in her studio. Those “sick days” resulted in me have zero mathematical abilities as an adult, but gave me my core foundation and love for art. After university, I decided art was what I was meant to be doing, and I needed to follow the passion I had ever I was that little kid in my mom’s studio.

Morgan: Now you’re all grown up with your own studio and apartment. How much time do you spend at the studio vs. home?
Erin: Art is my full-time career, so I treat it that way. It’s nice that I’m my own boss, but it also forces me to be accountable and disciplined. I can’t not go into the studio — into work — because I don’t feel like it. To be honest, I very rarely don’t want to go to the studio because I genuinely love what I do. I’m at the studio at least 5 times a week working anywhere from 5 to 12 hours a day. Once I get home I edit images, post on social media, paint at my kitchen table, answer emails, do interviews — work doesn’t end when I step out of the studio, but I enjoy every aspect of it.

Morgan: Can we talk about this apartment — when did you realize you had a knack for interior design?
Erin: Like painting, my mom, Gin, is also into interior design. Growing up, we used to go vintage shopping at flea markets. We would drive out to Aberfoyle in Guelph on Sundays and hunt for treasures and re-do rooms in our house. I’m a very visual person, so I think it also comes naturally — seeing how textures, colours, and prints go together.

Morgan: Gin is too cool. Would you say she’s a design icon for you, or where do you go for design inspiration?
Erin: I love, love, love, Jonathan Adler. I was in Palm Springs this January, and was staying at the Parker Hotel, and fell in love with everything he had done there. When you walk into a place that you’ve never seen anything like before — it’s the most amazing experience — and he creates that kind of environment. It’s art in its own way. You need a special eye and talent to create an environment that enables some to experience something just from sitting in a room, and he is a person who does that.

Morgan: How would you describe your own design style?
Erin: Refined eclectic. I like an environment to feel funky and unique, but relaxed and liveable. I like collecting things from different places; I travel a lot for both exhibits and pleasure, and I like to pick up unique items along the way — a rug, mask, throw, pillows, ornaments – from the places I go. They become keepsakes for the memory, but they also add something unusual and meaningful to my space. I’ll pair the “out there” stuff with calmer textures and furniture like my big white couch and Moroccan white rug. It’s all about balance.

Morgan: What’s your favourite piece in the apartment, and where is it from?
Erin: I have a hand-woven, authentic Moroccan rug that was made in Marrakech. It was totally a splurge purchase, but I loved it and it lifts the living room, so I went for it. Special shoutout to Gin, again, who gave me my two canary yellow antique chairs — she had them recovered for me.

Morgan: What’s the coolest room you’ve ever been in?
Erin: Sketch in London, England, and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room at The Broad in Los Angeles.

Morgan: We work with a lot of companies and people looking to build stronger brands, and yours is obviously cool AF. How would you describe your own personal brand?
Erin: It’s weird to think of myself as having a personal brand. I like to create interesting work and show it in a creative way. No matter what you’re selling, people want to engage with you on a real and authentic level. People want to glimpse into the process and life behind the creation. I use Instagram and my website to share pictures and videos that show my process when working on a painting, or a project from start to finish, to let people see and feel how it all comes together. A good brand shouldn’t shove anything in your face — it should share good, quality content, and let people decide if they want to engage with it or not.

Morgan: We’ve talked about you as an artist, and you as a brand, so let’s just talk about you. What’s one thing you actually give a shit about?
Erin: Curiosity and passion in people. If someone isn’t interested enough in life to dig deeper and learn, push themselves and be something more than surface, then I’m not too interested in them. I like thinkers, doers, creators. People who are doing something interesting with their time, and not just going through the motions of life because they were told that’s how they should live.

Morgan: What are you totally over?
Erin: “Bae”

Morgan: What’s the soundtrack of your life (or at least – your Raya profile)?
Erin: Lil’ Bow Wow’s Greatest Hits

Morgan: Can you let us in on any secrets? What’s next for you?
Erin: I have a really big, exciting project coming up with a very well-known celebrity based in Los Angeles for a new interior design line they’re launching later this summer. Unfortunately I’ve signed many papers telling me to zip it until the launch so I can’t say much more at this point in time, but look out for something launching mid-July or early August! I have a two person exhibit alongside Kathryn Macnaughton at my gallery, Bau-Xi, opening July 8th in Vancouver, which runs until the 22nd. Later this fall, I’ll have a solo exhibit in Geneva, Switzerland. My work is always available to be viewed in Toronto at Bau-Xi and in the U.K. at Arusha Gallery, and on April 25th my work will be up for auction via Art Gems.