For Greek-born artist Katerina Mertikas, her muse is the sight and sounds of children. Her fanciful work reflects a passion for the playful subjects that also inspire her generosity. The magic of falling snow, rain drops and playing children serve as the theme for most of her work.
The winter scenes, so often depicted in her art, may be inspired by her impressions upon moving to Canada from Greece as a child. "I am much more of a winter person than a summer person - I like to paint snow and rain," says the vibrant painter who finds summer too calm. "The moodiness of a thunderstorm is inspiring. I like the turbulence of weather in my work."
The artist's well-recognized work was best summed up by an attendee at a recent gallery showing, who was overheard commenting that every good Canadian home should have at least one Mertikas. And this statement makes Katerina's generous contribution of her talent to UNICEF even more significant.
In 1993, her design was chosen as the cover for the UNICEF Christmas card, which sold out internationally for several years. Katerina continues to provide images for UNICEF, in addition to other children's charities such as The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, The Children's Aid Society in Ottawa and Toronto, as well as a number of hospitals, including the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. "After my grandson Christo was admitted to CHEO three times in his young life for minor illnesses, I donated a lovely hockey painting to the emergency department to thank the staff," declared the youthful grandmother. To learn more about this philanthropic artist, Ottawa At Home was welcomed into her Hunt Club Park home, where she discussed her work and personal style.
How would you describe your personal style?
My home is traditional and my paintings are what they are; they're bright and take up a lot of wall space. My works have nothing to do with colour matching - they brighten and liven up any room.
When did you start painting? I have been painting all my life! Art was my favourite subject and as a teenager I would prefer painting over going out. As I got older, like most artists, I dabbled in all types of mediums and styles. But it happened to be a painting of two girls pulling a toboggan in the woods on a snowy night, which caught the eye of a gallery owner and subsequently my first customer. The girls represented my daughters at the time.
You are very generous and share your talents with so many charities. What inspires this compassion?
My grandmother in Greece, whom I was named after, instilled in me at a young age, the importance of giving. I would like to be able pass this on to my grandsons. I want them to have an appreciation for art and to leave, as my legacy, a family with a love for art and the desire to help others less fortunate, through any means possible. I feel fortunate to be able to earn a living doing what I love doing and to also use my work to benefit others.
Why does your work focus so much on children?
As a mom, I have great respect for children. We have two daughters, Loukia and Gina. Both are married and we now have two grandsons, Christo and Dimitry (named for his maternal grandfather). I know that happy children basically make for happy adults. I love to see streets with children playing outside, to hear their laughter and watch them kick balls and play.
A dream of mine has been to illustrate a children's book. This September, Days to treasure. A Book of Seasons, written by Agnes Bellegris and illustrated by me, will be available for sale.
I love the strength of colour you have chosen for your walls! How did you decide on the colour scheme?
I am not afraid of colour at all and I needed to choose a strong wall colour as a back-drop for my own colourful pieces, so the deep gold seemed to be the right choice and it works with all the colours I use in my own pieces.
Tell me about the purple we see so often in your work.
Purple is the colour that I see sky and mountains as. Most of my work has purple in it, not because I love purple, but because that is the right colour for what I see when I see those elements.
In your home I see European inspirations. How much of your Greek heritage influences your decor?
My whole house reflects my Greek heritage. I am very traditional. In my grandmother's home in Greece, there was a large buffet in the dining room filled with china and crystal - we have the same. All our special occasion meals are in the dining room.
Where do you find furnishings to ?accommodate your taste in Ottawa?
I have bought many pieces from Thomasville by Cadieux. They came and helped me with the décor about six years ago, but I am due to do some redecorating again. That will have to wait though - my two grandsons are here all the time and now I am like a new mom and gear my home and life around these two little guys!
To view a selection of Katerina Mertikas' work, visit Koyman Galleries in Ottawa. —Written by Mary Taggart