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URBAN HIPPIE: Flourishing artist Choleena DiTullio (three shows this month!) on how environmentalism has shaped her work

Urban Hippie by Jen Lahey is published every second Tuesday Follow Jen on Twitter ‏@Jen_Lahey.

Ottawa artist Choleena DiTullio has been making with the art since she was a teenager. After her guidance councilor noticed she needed an art class to graduate, she took the plunge. Until then, she has been on the fast track to becoming a scientist, focusing on the hard sciences and math. Unbeknownst to her, after that fateful class, her art teacher met with her guidance councilor and the two went into cahoots to convince her to go into art as a career. She went on to complete a fine arts degree at Mount Allison University, and doesn’t seem to have taken a rest since. Some twenty-odd years later, her career is flourishing, and her artistic journey has taken on a decidedly eco-bent.

Oh, and she has three shows on this month (details at the bottom of this article).

Below, check out what went down when The Urban Hippie convinced her to submit to a quick and dirty Q and A.


Adirondack Fish integrates every piece of an old Adirondack lawn chair. Even the fish’s teeth are nails. DiTullio says it's thrilling to find ways to recycle large objects into paintings but it allows me to show my respect for the environment in my art.

What media do you work in, and what is it about that media that attracts you?
Well, I started out a mixed media artist. I used acrylic on canvas as my base and would find ways to adhere recycled materials and found objects to that painting. The great thing about stretched canvas is that it comes on wooden stretcher bars. That means that I can nail or screw things to it.

The most exciting artwork that I produced with this method was Adirondack Fish, which completely integrated every piece of an old Adirondack lawn chair. Even the fish’s teeth are nails. Not only is it thrilling to find ways to recycle large objects into paintings but it allows me to show my respect for the environment in my art. I’m an avid recycler and I attempt to live ‘green’ so you can imagine my excitement to be able to add this extra step of keeping objects out of the landfill. And when people buy my art, they’re doing the same. The enthusiasm spreads.

What do you do when you’re not creating art?
Ha! Sleep. Eat. I literally make art all the time. I just can’t seem to stop.

What do you hope people derive from your work?
I want to focus on art as a daily part of one’s life. Whether you’re in your bathroom, your office, or at the bus stop, I feel that we should be surrounded by colour and creativity. Art should be pervasive; in every part of every day. I want people to be inspired by my rich and bright colour palette and my playful themes. I hope that they feel so uplifted that they will crave having art in as many moments of their day as possible. It changes your mental state and perspective on life.

Using different papers, many with vegetable dyes, the DiTullio is currently creating works with a tile-mosaic effect.

What’s inspiring you right now?
Recently, my attention has been captured by the beauty and vibrancy of tile-mosaic. I’ve developed a process using different papers, many with vegetable dyes and recycled content, to create the appearance of classic tile mosaic.

Unlike traditional tile mosaic, this form is light and durable, making it easy to hang and transport. You wouldn’t believe it’s paper.

My most dramatic piece is a 5-foot-tall British Telephone Booth, which was recently bought by a local company for their offices. This is exactly what I was talking about before: people buying art to add visual richness to areas of their life outside the home or a museum.

So, what have you got going on right now, and what have you got coming up?
I’m currently in a three-month solo show that the Ottawa School of Art (OSA) arranged with the Canadian Tire on Coventry Road. The manager of that store loves art and has created a gallery space in the Exit Lobby. OSA partners with a number of businesses in town to reach their goal of getting art out to the public in unexpected places. You wouldn’t believe the traffic that space gets. 1000-plus people per day. It’s been excellent for me, that’s for sure. The show runs until March 5th.

I’m also in the juried group show called Mosaics, the name is very appropriate for the work I am doing now, at Trinity Gallery in the Shenkman Arts Centre from February 13th to March 19th. That show is put on by ArtEast. I have a number of other shows and events booked but one of the most exciting things that I have happening is this autumn. The City of Ottawa has awarded me a free studio at Britannia Beach. I’m really looking forward to expanding my practice into that space and evolving my mosaic art into works that are suitable for public spaces.

You can also catch Choleena’s work in a one night group show, Wonder Geeks Activate!, at Zaphod’s on February 25.