The streetcar went by like I wasn’t there
Torontoist first encountered Yasmine Louis three years ago at the One of a Kind Show where she was selling her lines of pillows, shirts, and hoodies that have photographs and poignant, slightly melancholy, sayings silkscreened on them. The show is teeming with vendors offering similar items, but Louis’s work stands out due to her incredible talent for writing and love of Toronto.
This week, we had the pleasure of visiting her Queen West studio, where she’s been happily writing, thinking, designing, and printing for eleven years.
Louis came to Toronto through a fantastically circuitous route. She was born in Switzerland to a Swiss mother and Egyptian father. When she was just three months old, the family moved to Senegal where they stayed for four years before relocating to Cameroon. Ten years later, they picked up again and emigrated to chilly Montreal where she stayed until coming to Toronto at the age of twenty-one to study textile printing at OCAD.
After graduation, Louis won a coveted artist-in-residence spot at the Harbourfront Centre Craft Department. The residency program helps recent craft graduates begin professional careers by providing studio space, equipment, mentoring, and general support. They accept just five artists in each discipline—textiles, ceramics, metal/jewelry, and glass. During her three years in residence, she developed what was to become an extremely successful line of silkscreened pillows.
After leaving the Harbourfront, she moved straight into the bright, peaceful Queen West studio where she is today, housed within a modest two-storey brick building on Niagara Street with fifteen artists on each floor.
Louis is an extremely talented printer who makes all of her own silkscreens, and prints every piece herself by hand, but it’s her writing—printed on her pillows and shirts—that haunts us with its sensitivity and powerful simplicity. “Some people have come to my booth at the show,” she says, “and started crying. It touches people…they say it feels true for them.”
The inspiration for much of her recent work is the city she loves (you’ll recognize much of Queen West in her prints). After living in many far-flung places, what she most loves about Toronto is, she says, “the multicultural aspect. I never felt like a foreigner here…even with my accent. I really truly feel I am from Toronto. It’s the only place I’ve been that makes me feel like that…like it’s my city. Because everybody is from somewhere else…we all look a bit different and we have our own experiences.”
Louis’s love for Toronto and for her work came together recently when the City commissioned her to design t-shirts based on thirteen neighbourhoods in need of revitalization. For the project, she walked around each neighbourhood taking photographs, visiting community centres, and talking to people so she could understand what makes the areas special to those who live there. (The schedule for launching the t-shirts is still to be decided, but Torontoist will be one of the first to know.)
Louis sells mainly through shows or by appointment in her studio, but she will be at the MADE Show this weekend along with twenty other local artists. The show opens tonight at the Gladstone Hotel, and runs until Sunday.
Of all Louis’s creations, our favourite is a moody, storm cloud-grey hoodie with a print of the 504 King streetcar passing the Coffee Time at King and Bathurst. In Louis’s small handwriting it says: The streetcar went by like I wasn’t there.
All photos by Ayngelina Brogan.