The studio looks a little different these days. Montreal-based visual artist TAVA lets us into his new reality.
Antoine Tavaglione aka TAVA is known for his vibrant, playful approach to pop art. Two of his signature characters – the Bleeding Heart and Ludo the Fox – can be found in studios, corporate head offices and prized home collections around the globe. TAVA spent recent years travelling the world and exhibiting his artwork, particularly in Europe and Asia where he has amassed loyal followings. At home in Montreal, the soft-spoken artist has an equally impressive group of devotees and strong gallery relationships with local stalwarts like Galerie LeRoyer.
When 2020 began, TAVA was looking forward to spending some time at home in Canada working on an exciting new dual café-boxing gym concept of his that was nearing completion. However, the plans for the café (Ludo Café) and gym (Panda Boxing) have been delayed due to COVID-19, forcing the artist to be flexible and simply work on the elements that are possible to tackle from home for now. His art output has also been impacted, with his kitchen becoming a makeshift studio and his apartment serving as a temporary storage unit. Despite the trying circumstances, TAVA is making the best of the situation by re-focusing on painting, launching co-branded art projects and helping support local organizations combatting COVID-19 through his work.
How are you doing given everything that’s been going on?
At the beginning, there was a bit of a rough patch because I was in the middle of opening a new business venture. I was opening a boxing gym called Panda Boxing and a café called Ludo Café based on my Ludo character. I was opening in March in the Old Montreal area. We were almost at the end of the construction but had to stop it obviously because of the pandemic, so the whole project is entirely on hold. So, that’s obviously nerve-wracking because it’s a brick-and-mortar project with rent and a lot of overhead. We’re working on the back end of it all now providing virtual sessions to our members.
What’s your role in this project?
I’m the Creative Director on this project so I’m taking care of everything that’s artistic – marketing, branding, design, website, fonts and pretty much anything that’s graphic. In a very short period of time, we created a good following and buzz within Montreal because we’re very unique. I had a lot of artistic freedom on this project, so it’s basically going to be filled with really large scale canvases, like twenty-footers and eighteen-footers that are boxing-related. It’s going to be really cool and the café is also very art-related. We’re going to have garments, sticker packs, boxing gloves that are going to be branded with the panda and the fox. Obviously it’s all designed by myself so it’s still a very fun art project for me.
Are the café and boxing gym connected or are they in two different locations?
Yes, they are in the same square footage. The café is under the umbrella of Panda Boxing. When you walk into the space, you walk into the café and Panda Boxing lies behind a Speakeasy-style underground door. When you walk in, it’s like you’re in another world. There’s no outside windows and it’s very underground, but still high-end with showers and glove service.
Are you a boxer yourself?
I train in boxing, but I’m not a boxer. My partner is a professional coach so he does the on-floor operations and coaching. I’m more involved in the back-end marketing and design.
It’s good you’re able to work on the back end for now and let’s hope things will get relatively back to normal in the coming months.
Yeah. I’m looking forward to that. I’m hoping Montreal gets to what we’ll call the “new normal” soon. Whatever it is, I’m itching to get back to work. I just want to get going and do my thing again.
Outside of this boxing and café project you have going on, how has life changed when it comes to your day-to-day practice?
This new brick-and-mortar project kind of took me away from making my own art a little bit. I did a lot of work in China last year, so I was there maybe four or five times back and forth. A lot of my business overall was in Canada, Europe and Asia. In Canada, I was mainly focused on the gym. I was shipping most of my artwork to Asia and I kind of neglected Canada and the U.S. Now with the COVID situation, I’ve been able to multitask a lot, so I was able to catch up and create a lot of new pieces for my local Canadian galleries and vendors, and do a lot of really cool artistic initiatives that are not only for myself but also for a good cause within the community.
What kind of initiatives?
I’ve been releasing prints and I’m going to be releasing more prints. Just in the next couple weeks, I’m going to be releasing a new sweater, I’m in production for masks and there’s another blazer garment project, both of which are art-related. I have another big brand collaboration coming next week as well that’s currently under wraps and we’re going to do something that’s COVID-related.
I’m really trying to be proactive when it comes to the community and giving back. I’m giving back a lot of the proceeds and net profits from these projects to the fundraisers I’m collaborating with. Last week, we worked with the McGill University Research Centre and donated all the proceeds to them. I’m going to do another quick one this week that’s not announced yet, but I’m going to be doing a major four-day blitz and releasing a new print.
Those prints really sold out quickly. Can we expect more?
My DMs have been flooded for people who didn’t get the first editions so I’m releasing a small edition of 100 prints for the second one and I’m also going to give some of the proceeds to the MUHC. I’ll also have other initiatives with other types of pop-up events that I’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks. So, it’s going to be really busy and on top of this, I’ve been painting a lot. I’ve been getting back to painting, which is super refreshing.
I’ve been doing stuff that’s really colourful, really fun. I haven’t been going to the studio but I have paint at home, I have people hooking me up with canvases and paint on call. The service has been really, really great. I’ve always been a really loyal client and I deal with one company that delivers all the goods to my place. They’ve been really amazing and I just bang out as many paintings as I can, just trying to do some new stuff for galleries, even if it’s virtual. It keeps me going, you know?
Did you set up a spare bedroom to be the art studio or where are you creating the paintings?
My living area is very big. It’s like 1,200 square feet just in the living area, so my dining room has sort of become my defacto studio. My place is very minimalist. I have my key furniture but I have a wall that’s maybe 30 feet that I can work with.
That sounds amazing. I’m jealous.
Honestly, I’m blessed with that. I’m really lucky that I have all this space to work in and it’s just a free flow. My place looks like a gallery. From wall-to-wall, I have a painting just leaned up against all the walls. All my walls were clear, as I never had a chance to put other artwork from other artists or even put up furniture. I just wound up using it as a space where I could store my canvases. In that sense, it’s fun because I get to be creative at home and it’s not a time to go out and do anything, anyways. I can do everything from home and do it comfortably so I’m really blessed with that.
Outside of art, what have you been doing to take your mind off things?
Honestly, I haven’t been doing much. I’ve been taking this quarantine thing really seriously, doing the groceries for my parents and I just want to play it safe. It’s a little bit of a touchy thing these days, so I just want to be respectful to people that I do see like my girlfriend and my parents. I go for walks alone, grab a coffee to support my buddies that have cafes in the area. You can’t go inside the cafes but they serve outside, so I just go support them, spend a few bucks and keep the whole system rolling a little bit. I go for walks with my friends at night while social distancing in very remote or industrial areas and that’s about it. Nothing special, you know how it is.
What’s the number one thing you’re looking forward to doing once we back to the “new normal” we discussed earlier?
I’m used to having big suppers with my friends. My friends are like my family. We usually have suppers at my place, like a good 20 people. Major Italian pasta dinners with seafood galore and that’s something we haven’t been doing in a while and I miss it. That’s one thing we’re going to do. And travelling. I can’t wait to just hop on a plane and take a trip to Italy or see some friends elsewhere. Anywhere. I miss taking little trips here and there.