As I speak to Joanna Aplin at her studio gallery, I’m simultaneously enamoured by her passion for creating an arts community that sees sustainable growth in the Owen Sound area, and by the fact that I’m standing inside of the Heritage Place Mall and I don’t want to leave.
As a young child, the mall was the epicenter of social life; a chance to browse through record posters, share vinegar-soaked fries in the food court, or to sneak a peek of the forbidden weed-themed t-shirts proudly displayed by San Diego or Action Tees. In Owen Sound, the Heritage Place Mall was the place to be, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been avoiding the place for the better part of my adult life.
Something about the moving-in of a few heavy-hitters: the big box stores with enough backing to keep the lights on, while the kitschy stores that once gave the mall its character either met disenfranchisement or ran out of business. The place began to feel like a graveyard, a difficult reminder of the way something can one day be filled with life and empty the next.
However, after standing inside of what used to be a children’s clothing store, for no longer than five minutes, I feel the breeze of something unfamiliar wafting through the hallways: change. The good kind.
Aplin is a Canadian fine artist whose mixture of figurative and abstract painting combines traditional and modern artistic elements such as colouring to create an experience that is both captivating and accessible. It is not common for me to feel immersed in many pieces that hang in a gallery, but when I visited Joanna’s, I found myself losing track of time with each painting I engaged with.
The work is moving, evocative, and indicative of someone with an ability to interpret the energetic components of life. Each piece seems to pave its own way like a protagonist in their own story while the quality and connectivity remains silently consistent throughout the work.
Not long after deciding to pursue her own art full-time, the arrival of a global pandemic made working from home unsustainable. While visiting the mall in 2022, Joanna and her husband Jamie came across a vacant storefront that read “for lease” and a plan was born.
As two creatives with respective needs for work space, they found themselves hopelessly inspired by the prospect of developing their dream studio within a storefront formerly used by The Children’s Place.
After many months of dedicated work in pursuit of their vision, they opened to the public in 2023. The space blends traditional elements of a gallery, while drawing back the curtains to reveal inner artistic workings. Intentional displays fill most of the gallery’s tall-ceilinged layout, while corners of the space showcase works-in-progress and act as windows into the mind of an artist brave enough to be vulnerable with the public.
Since moving in, Joanna tells me that the size of the space has allowed her to trace inspirational lineage from points of progress, and to maintain relationships between completed and ongoing works in a way that smaller spaces can’t.
As a former art teacher and someone who understands the impermanence of brick-and-mortar locations, her aspirations to make the most of the space are prominent. She plans on organizing educational and community-driven events in her gallery by hosting local guest displays, live-model drawing classes, and other forms of artistic enrichment. In 2024 she will host an arts project from the kindergarten students at Timothy Christian School in their celebration of the works of Eric Carle. She hopes to see more spaces like hers making new use of existing local locations.
Joanna Aplin is quickly becoming a local favourite and recently received a Platinum medal from the 2023 CommunityVotes Grey County Awards. If you love art, community-growth, conversation and the prospect of inspired change; go pay Joanna a visit at her gallery in the Heritage Place Shopping Centre.
You can follow Joanna Aplin on Instagram
Written by Marshall Veroni
Photos provided by Joanna Aplin