A lineup of young supporters gather outside the doors of a new establishment located on Bloor Street West in Toronto. One look inside at the floor-to-ceiling brick walls and minimalist decor and it’s clear what brought all these people together: the vibe.

The crowded gallery is full of personality — from the subtle Blank Canvas logo at the entrance to the unique furniture that doubles as seats for guests. Even in the bathroom, which is full of graffiti, artwork is on display. Guests are encouraged to sign their names on the walls to leave their mark on the space.

“It was always my goal to have my own gallery,” says John Samuels, 22, founder of Blank Canvas. “There is nothing more liberating than having your own space.”

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“There is nothing more liberating than having your own space.”

The gallery is an extension of a blog about arts and culture in Toronto, Omit Limitation (OL), also founded by Samuels. He put together the OL team three years ago while studying at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto to build an online platform and create a conversation with the public. Eventually, the blog led to the team organizing its first event, The Alley, a showcase held inside a downtown loft featuring some of Toronto’s finest artistic souls, including Erik Flowchild, Savannah Ré, RMNGNT, Fucci and Soteeoh. With much success and backing from the community, the event grew into a series, which continued to gain supporters.

“We were just a bunch of street kids that were into street culture and expressing ourselves and finding ways to leave our mark in the city,” Samuels says. “Our legacy is obviously part of our story. Our story is our perspective and our perspective [was] our views.”

With a clear vision in mind, the next move, he explains, was to open up a space where the team could host its own events. During the hunt for the perfect location, Andrew Williamson of Black Cat Artspace introduced Samuels to a place that was once a barbershop. They renovated the space within two months using funds raised through crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, and opened in May 2016.


“If we want to see a change in society we have to find a way where we can start owning things.”

Blank Canvas creates opportunities for local artists through musical showcases, poetry slams, and photography and visual art exhibits. Samuels aims to not only add on to the city’s arts scene, but also to effect change, something he doesn’t shy away from as a young, Black artist and entrepreneur.

In fact, under his emcee moniker, Just John, he recently released rap/rock record, “Ignorant Youth”, which narrates his feelings about the injustices that many Black men face with police brutality. The track is “a rebel cry for marginalized youth to come together and take back their crowns,” Samuels states.

“To be a Black owner, man, [it] is just dope! If we want to see a change in society we have to find a way where we can start owning things and I think that itself is more liberating than anything,” he says.

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“It’s the kind of vibe where you aren’t expected to act a certain way.”

As the night progresses, a flow of conversations amongst the guests sounds throughout the grungy, yet sophisticated studio. The noise offers a complimentary background to the unique art installments by Fucci, an artist best known for his bold and colourful, sexually-expressive paintings; Hatecopy known for her comics inspired by Desi culture; Dahae Song, a minimalistic painter who features hand symbols as a focal point of her pieces and Kare, a graffiti writer with a talent for capturing detail. Every piece demonstrates what the OL team stands for — artistic freedom.

“We were the underdogs and weren’t the cool kids,” says Brianna Roye, 23, head of photography for OL. “A lot of people come to us for different events and anyone and everyone is invited — it’s the kind of vibe where you aren’t expected to act a certain way.”

As the lights dim lower and the music grows louder, no one is ready to leave. It’s midnight and there’s still a lineup of people waiting to get in. It seems the city’s artistic underdogs have found a new place to call home.

Photos © Isa Ransome + Urbanology Magazine

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that it was OL’s head of multimedia, Andrew Davy, who introduced Samuels to the space Blank Canvas is currently housed. We regret this error. 

Jennifer M. Joseph is a bilingual social media manager, digital media strategist and freelance writer with over five years of experience. She graduated with a Bachelors degree in Journalism from Ryerson University – where she pursued her love for writing and reporting, which eventually led her to the digital world. When Jennifer isn’t working – you can catch her immersing in art, bumpin’ some old school hip-hop and R&B or looking for the nearest place for WiFi.

1 Comment

  1. Six Months ago Carina Francioso and I, Nathalie Santa, ventured away from participating in Art Shows, Art Gallerys, Pop up Markets etc., that required a fee from their artists in order to participate. As emerging artists we decided to invest in our selves. We put these finances, that have been invested in events that aren’t quite ours, into something that we can proudly say we established and coordinated.
    On August 11th from 6:30pm – 11pm at the Gladstone Hotel, a collaboration of 10 unique and personally chosen artists will result in a beautiful collision of Art Worlds. Under one roof our guests will experience different Art Forms (Music, Photography, Fashion design, Graphic design, Floral Art, Culinary Arts and Baking, Visual Arts and Performance Art).
    This Event is titled- Collideoscope : A Collision of Art Worlds
    “We are artists colourfully colliding like beads, pebbles and bits of glass.
    The light is our creativity that flows through our diverse art forms, and together we produce a unified ecstatic vision of beauty.”
    Our aim is to encourage those who are pursuing a career in the Arts to never give up and to do what ignites their passion. All great artists started out with a dream to inspire and make a living from their talent, it is with the support of the community, family, and friends that we have been able to pursue these dreams. As a community we collide by motivating, encouraging and learning from one another – climbing the ladder to success wouldn’t be possible without this support. With this idea in mind, Carina and I have covered all expenses and allowed the artists to participate without paying any fees. All artists are being equally marketed through our own social media ports. In the public’s eye and within our group we are all Hosting this Event together. Regardless of who paid for the venue and other expenses this Event is theirs as well. Our idea is to offer opportunities to other artists without expecting much in return. With this said, we are charging a small entrance fee ($12 early bird/$15 at the door) to help cover our expenses.
    On a final note, Toronto is hailed as one of Canada’s tourism capitals, advertising the arts, fashion, food and entertainment, and this gala provides it all under one roof. You will not see mass production at this event but rather the heart and soul of independent artists who continue to follow their passion as well as encourage and support one another as a community of artists. You can follow these artists and witness their growth knowing that you played an important role in supporting them along their artistic journey.
    We write to you today in hopes that you can offer us any support in any form that it may come. Whether it be by Advertising our event, one of our artists, A feature on your social media outlets, etc – Anything that can help attract the public to attend our Event. We would greatly appreciate any support that you are willing to offer.
    We hope to hear from you soon