“A Day in the Life” with Painter Ara Osterweil

Ara Osterweil is a painter born in Brooklyn and based in Montreal, where she is also an Associate Professor of English at McGill, as well as a frequent contributor to Artforum. She studied at the Art Students League in New York City under the abstract painter Ronnie Landfield. Central to Osterweil’s work is an encyclopedic knowledge of her medium’s history, and indeed she brings the acuity of a critic and scholar to each painting. But Osterweil is nothing if not irreverent, and for all the continuity she finds with her fellow travellers — Helen Frankenthaler, Richard Diebenkorn, and Joan Mitchell, etc. — she also finds the rupture of the contemporary. Take Sunset House (2022), with that colour field awe of nature and formal interest in landscape, though heed the ominous flame-blue clouds hanging at the top of the canvas. A hellish drift is blowing in; one feels Osterweil’s concern here about the unseasonable sweltering scene on which it is based. Another recent work, Sentimental Attachments (2022), is indicative of Osterweil’s interest in collage. A hand in acrylic emerges from a hole punched in the sunsetting sky; affixed to the canvas is an old scarf, inches from the reach of those wan fingers. As always with Osterweil, though, formal experimentation is never indulgent and, while the title might betray its mawkishness, she finds genuine pathos in this scene of a frustrated return to the past. Of course, when I think of Ara Osterweil, I do not think of any of this. I think of what she has taught me about being a good person in this world, and her advice on getting through heartbreak and grief, and the films and books she’s recommended, and the interest and encouragement she has given my work, and I think, Surely there is some higher power out there, because otherwise I can’t quite explain how I got lucky enough to meet her, to call her a friend.

-Written by Brandon Kaufman, filmmaker and friend

Ara Osterweil
Painter Ara Osterweil in front of her Meridien (100 x 90). Photo by David Baumflek
Ara Osterweil
A typical day at my studio in Mile End. There’s never enough room for everything I’m working on.
One particularly ravishing sunset, seen from my studio window in the Mile End. Skies and landscapes are the primary inspirations for my paintings.
Image of Prelapse (113 x 84) at my show last year at the wonderful McBride Gallery in the Belgo building. Photograph by remarkable art photographer Guy L’Heureux.
My daughter and I are rarely without our fairy wings. There is a forty-year difference between us but I try my best to keep up!
Eminent avant-garde film scholar P. Adams Sitney, filmmaker Brandon Kaufman, and Ara Osterweil at the launch of the Catalogue Raisonee of Andy Warhol’s films at the Whitney Museum in New York. In addition to being a painter, I am a film scholar and was honoured to contribute a few chapters to the book.
Ara Osterweil
Ara Osterweil in front of paintings by one of her favourite artists, Amy Sillman at Sikkema Jenkins gallery, Chelsea, New York. One of the great things about being an art critic is the need to go see art. Photo by David Baumflek
Ara Osterweil
Barn at sunrise in the Eastern Townships. My latest project is trying to renovate an old 1880s farmhouse into a studio and artist residency for artists who are also caregivers. Still raising money for the project—all by selling paintings. Photograph by Michelle Baumflek.


Which ’hood are you in?

My home and studio are both in the Mile End.

What do you do?

I’m a painter, scholar, writer, Artforum critic, and professor at McGill University.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently on sabbatical working on a suite of large paintings that combine landscape and collage elements. I’m also hard at work finishing two books: the first is an experimental memoir entitled Between Her Body and the Stain; the second is a revisionary account of American film history.

Where can we find your work?

You can find my work on my website and on Instagram



About Demian Vernieri 428 Articles
Demian is an Argentinian retired musician, avid gamer and editor for the Montréal Guardian, Toronto Guardian, Calgary Guardian and Vancouver Guardian websites.