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Local artist turns broken instruments into art with unique painting technique –



Most people would look at an unuseable guitar as a bit of junk to get rid of, but local graphic artist Henry Buitrago sees something a little more exciting — an entirely unique canvas perfect for custom artwork.

Buitrago has had an interest in art for most of his life, with over two decades of experience as a graphic designer and illustrator, but his most recent passion has been exploring airbrushing as a medium. 

Specifically, Buitrago has been using the airbrush technique to create custom artwork on the bodies of guitars — both broken and functional.

“Keeping a broken guitar can maybe have a lot of meaning for some people, who don’t want to throw it away even though it’s unplayable and old,” said Buitrago. “And so there’s a kind of reward with creating art on it, something inspired to honour it. It gives a new meaning to it and people are happy to keep it.”

His interest in guitar art began a few years ago, with a personal project to repair an old bass back to working condition. That journey prompted Buitrago to get into airbrushing, as a way to achieve the look he was going for with the custom instrument.

After bringing the completed guitar with him to a jam session with his band at the time, a bandmate immediately offered to buy the piece and Buitrago realized there was likely plenty of people who might be interested in custom work of their own.

From there, airbrushing became a passion for Buitrago. He’s done plenty of commission work for clients, custom-designing their vision in his own distinct style on the instrument of their choice — including guitar bodies for display and working guitars for local musicians.

To name a few: bassist Dan Mason from Saskatoon hard rock band Saintvicious has Buitrago’s art on his favourite bass, and guitarist Chris Hunter from Moose Jaw metal outfit Northern Fallout has two custom instruments in his collection that tour the country with him.

Each piece is unique, offering a special kind of connection between art and client, especially for those with an emotional tie to the guitar boasting the art.

“His craft could be compared to tattooing, in that the instrument is an extension of the artist. and the final piece is a special link between the owner and the canvas,” said Mason, in a testimonial for Buitrago’s work.

Buitrago’s most recent project is something new — an inherited piano from a client who’s offered him free reign, creatively.

Much of Buitrago’s work reflects his personal interest in classic horror movies, especially as clients with similar tastes gravitate towards his sample work, but he’s also done a number of pieces catering to specific client requests.

He welcomes the challenge that comes with creating the perfect custom design for whatever ideas clients bring to his table, while still offering his own interpretation and style.

“For them, it’s a piece that’s going to be in their hearts, something important,” said Buitrago. “People have kind of a concept in their heads and they give you a starting point, but they let you create and I love that because when they come back to pick up the piece, they are really amazed to see what happened with that little idea they had, and how it expanded.”

There’s a lot of planning and consideration that goes into designing art for a guitar top, especially if it’s an instrument that will be put to work onstage. 

Buitrago has to consider things like the shape of the body and the placement of images, making sure to avoid putting important images in high-scratch areas or in places where the art may be blocked from sight by the musician’s hands or other equipment while they perform.

Buitrago_art2Buitrago’s career in art is longstanding, and designing custom guitar faces is just a recent combination of his passion for art and design, classic horror movie figures, and music. (supplied)

Painting custom art on guitars is something very few people in Saskatchewan are doing, said Buitrago, and using airbrushing as a medium is even less common since it can be a tough method to work with.

“Airbrushing on guitars is kind of a complicated thing, and it can be an expensive canvas. With broken guitars, you can mess it up but with a brand new guitar, it can be stressful,” said Buitrago.

Fortunately, there’s a healthy community of airbrush artists thriving in the province, and Buitrago says it is a welcoming space. 

“There’s a lot of people in Saskatchewan that are interested in [airbrushing] and they do really good work,” said Buitrago. “And it’s not just people in the big cities, they’re in a lot of small communities and I think that’s really cool.”

For Buitrago and many other airbrushing experts in Saskatchewan, the community is extremely open to sharing tips, tricks and special techniques between themselves and for new artists just getting started.

“You have opportunities to learn, there’s so many resources and ways to get the right information when you’re starting out,” said Buitrago. “People don’t need to be afraid of asking or doing some research before jumping this field and there’s so many artists out there, including me, who are really open to sharing information or tools, or just helping people learn.”

Buitrago encourages new airbrush artists and clients to reach out to him with questions or requests about his custom instruments, as he gets as much enjoyment in sharing his art as he does in creating it. 

A portfolio of Buitrago’s work is available on his website and he can be reached directly by emailing

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Quebec fights to give Jean-Paul Riopelle's art a proper home – The Globe and Mail



Les masques by Jean Paul Riopelle, 1964.

Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle

Jean-Paul Riopelle had returned from Europe 12 years before his death in 2002, but Quebec is still fighting to give its modernist art star a proper home. It’s a battle, made tougher by the pandemic, to preserve a precarious cultural legacy, but the artist’s supporters are digging in on two separate fronts.

One is a major exhibition arguing that Riopelle, a painter best remembered for the aggressive abstraction he produced in the 1950s in Paris, was influenced both by the northern landscape and the Indigenous presence in Canada. That ground-breaking show was supposed to be opening this month at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), but COVID-19 closures have delayed it until January at the earliest.

The other front is the recently formed Riopelle Foundation, dedicated to creating a permanent gallery and research centre in time for the artist’s centenary in 2023. With only three years to go, the foundation is still looking for a building after the MMFA announced last week that it is canceling plans to house the project because of the pandemic’s impact on finances.

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Pangnirtung, 1977.

Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle

“I believe the work of Riopelle deserves to be better understood and presented. … His critical stature has shrunk from being an international star to a provincial legend,” Stéphane Aquin, the new MMFA director, said in an interview. Aquin believes restoring Riopelle’s lustre is probably best achieved by the foundation presenting itself as a stand-alone destination in Montreal. At any rate, he is not going to expose his institution to the rapidly rising construction costs of adding a new floor to the museum’s Desmarais Pavilion on the south side of Sherbrooke Street.

“Our attitude is very definitely to move ahead and seek other alternatives, whether to acquire an existing building or build a new one,” said Michael Audain, the Vancouver developer and collector who co-founded the foundation. He was planning to donate his 36 Riopelles to the MMFA’s cancelled project.

The rupture between the foundation and the MMFA is not irreparable, as the museum unveils its new Riopelle exhibition, albeit online only. The artist’s daughter, Yseult Riopelle, who also established the foundation, was present for the show’s media launch Wednesday.

Jean-Paul Riopelle, second from left, on a fishing trip in Quebec, about 1975.

Claude Duthuit /Archives Yseult Riopelle

Author of her father’s catalogue raisonné, she began researching his interest in Indigenous art after his death. “We imbibed that atmosphere,” she said in French, describing the Inuit and Northwest Coast art that surrounded the family during the artist’s Paris years. In 2016, she joined forces with MMFA curators already working on the thesis that Riopelle, who began returning to Canada for hunting trips in the 1970s, was influenced by the idea of the North. And so, Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures came together, originally intended as a run-up to the new Riopelle wing.

That space was the latest of many ambitious expansions – probably too many – undertaken by former MMFA director Nathalie Bondil before she was controversially fired last summer. At Wednesday’s media conference nobody mentioned her name, but the exhibition that includes both historic and contemporary Indigenous art alongside 110 works by Riopelle seems typical of the multidisciplinary and cross-cultural directions she was championing.

The public can see the show online between Dec. 1 and Jan. 11, at which point the MMFA hopes to reopen. A full analysis of the exhibition’s thesis and art is going to have to wait for that physical tour: Riopelle’s best-known work is famous for a sculptural impasto applied with the palette knife rather than the brush.

Yet one goal of both the exhibition and the foundation is to broaden that popular image of wild-man modernism to include Riopelle’s delicate drawings and complex sculptures as well as the later landscapes and iceberg paintings. Audain, an impassioned fan, often speaks about the need to introduce the work to a younger generation across Canada. The show will tour to the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, B.C., and the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, but so far not to any international venues. Still, in an era when mid-century modernism is trendy and Indigenous art is highly prized, the exhibition might yet fuel a Riopelle revival.

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Meanwhile, the foundation pushes ahead. The Quebec government has promised that the $10-million grant attached to the MMFA’s wing will now follow the foundation to wherever it lands. “Riopelle lived in France for 40 years and returned in the end for the last 12 years,” said foundation director Manon Gauthier. “It’s about bringing a great Canadian hero home to Montreal.”

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Indigenous art set to soar on Gordie Howe International Bridge project –



Indigenous artists and a project co-ordinator who created massive artworks set to adorn the Canadian-side tower of the Gordie Howe International Bridge say they hope their work represents more than just artistic beauty. 

Several enormous paintings created by three artists — Teresa Altiman and Daisy White of Walpole Island First Nation, and Naomi Peters of Caldwell First Nation — will rise into the air up to 220 metres as the tower on this side of the border is constructed. The bridge company approached Paul White of Walpole Island First Nation to coordinate the effort. 

White said his hope is that when people see these works, they’ll ask themselves the tough questions that may lead to education and healing.

“And through those answers they gain an understanding of the artists as Native people, and Native people in general, and the messages Native people are trying to convey through their art,” said White. 

“[It’s] A way of really increasing the understanding between all the peoples of Canada and the United States too, and it’s just there is no better way to display it or describe it.”

Caldwell First Nation artist Naomi Peters works away on her piece for the Gordie Howe International Bridge project. (Submitted by Naomi Peters)

The artworks have now been installed, and the rise will be slow as construction on the tower begins. Once construction is over, the artworks will be repurposed in some way, say bridge company officials. 

For her part, Peters painted a picture of a hoop dancer that is five metres by seven metres.

“I dedicated over a week to it, and I was working day to night,” she told CBC’s Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre. 

“I’ve done a lot of larger canvas work. When I was young, my dad used to paint walls, and he taught me how to do it properly, so I had a little bit of a handle on it, but it really was a new experience, especially seeing those large panels. Holding them up, like you needed two people to even move them around.” 

Peters said this is the largest artwork she’s ever created before, and was overwhelmed at first. (Submitted by Naomi Peters)

As with each of the artworks and the intricate details they include, Peters’ hoop dancer has great meaning behind it. 

“I knew I wanted to do something that represented a lot of different tribes … Originally I was going to do something from my Pottawatomie heritage, like the grass dance or something, but I realized that would be a bit non-inclusive for other tribes,” she said. 

“So the hoop dance is something that a lot of tribes can participate in and people who are even non-Indigenous are allowed to participate in without any kind of decorum … I just wanted to show you something that everyone could enjoy.”

LISTEN | Hear more from Peters about how she created her work and what it means to her:

Afternoon Drive7:04Indigenous artists featured on Gordie Howe International Bridge project

A massive art project is set to be revealed as part of the Gordie Howe International Bridge project. Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre speaks with Caldwell First Nation artist Naomi Peters about the undertaking. 7:04

The painting process took place at an arena near Walpole Island First Nation, and White’s construction team helped the three female artists with the big undertaking. 

Workers traced sketches as outlines and even helped with some of the painting, which Altiman, who is 72-years-old, said she greatly appreciated. 

Altiman’s painting of a bear and three cubs  — white, red, black and yellow — are sacred colours to the Ojibway people, she said.

“For me, I was hoping that our art that we had on the bridge would be a teaching tool, that we are teaching people a little bit about who we are as a First Nation people, as Indigenous people,” she said. 

“And so the four colours are telling you something. They’re telling you that these are all the colours of the people of the world.”

Walpole Island First Nation artist Teresa Altiman created the works of a bear and three cubs. Daisy White, 17, also of Walpole Island First Nation, created the centre artwork seen here. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC)

Altiman also emphasizes how important it was that her fellow contributors are young women. 

“I think it is really phenomenal that this is happening for them as young artists, and certainly for myself as an older artist. I mean, I am honoured that this is happening and that my work is going to be shown in such a prominent location.”

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Art is good medicine in these trying times –



The pandemic has placed unique stresses on our community, with economic anxiety — combined with worry for the well-being of loved ones — affecting our collective mental health. That’s why it’s important to remember that Peterborough has always had the arts to bring us together. For years, artists, art therapists, and community organizations in Peterborough have worked with the shared understanding that the arts can have a beneficial effect on our mental health.

“Over the last 10 years I’ve been part of a number of art projects that engage with community members,” says John Marris, a community artist and consultant based in Peterborough. “Particularly those who face marginalization through poverty, disability and mental illness.”

Over the years — and to this day — a number of local artists in Peterborough have been involved in projects at The Mount Community Centre, the Youth Emergency Shelter (YES), Peterborough Regional Health Centre, and the Abbey Retreat Centre cancer care facility — to name only a few.

“There are many local artists involved in these projects,” says Brian Nichols, a Peterborough-based artist and psychotherapist who uses art therapy in his practice. “We don’t teach artmaking — we explore possibilities with folks who attend. It’s usually not possible to discern who is the ‘teacher’ and who is the ‘student.’ We’re all in it together, and that’s the fun of it.”

Prior to COVID-19, the open studios program at The Mount Community Centre had between 20 and 30 participants each week. Now, the program is limited to eight people who must register to attend, and must be residents at The Mount.

“Brian and I have just completed a six-week program of weekly art making sessions at The Mount for Mount residents,” says Marris. “Historically, before COVID-19, Brian was facilitating a roster of artists working in sessions that were open to the whole community to drop in and make art. This had been going on for two years.”

The pandemic has made these kinds of practices more challenging. Fortunately, there are innovative ways to work around the restrictions.

“I’ve just been involved in a pilot project where folks were sent a package of fabric and fibres, needles and thread and invited to ‘Take a Thread and Follow it,’” says Nichols. “The pilot was created for people living with health challenges.”

Nichols says he often leaves out the word “art,” as it can intimidate or exclude some people. Instead, he thinks of the practice as simply “making stuff.” The idea is to make the process as open as possible.

“Not everyone can be a Picasso,” says Marris, “but everyone has the capacity to express themselves, and needs to.”

Whether one considers oneself a serious artist or not, these kinds of programs, and the active involvement of both artists and non-artists, have been proven to have real societal benefit.

“There’s a ton of data now on some almost miraculous healing effects of immersion in various forms of art,” says Gord Langill, director of programs and services for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge. “Many mainstream community mental health programs in our communities now offer expressive arts groups and activities.”

There is great diversity in how arts and mental health can interact. There is Expressive Arts Therapy, the form of therapy Nichols employs, which is a proven tool for all sorts of healing, whether physical, mental, neurological or spiritual. There are galleries like Artspace, an artist-run centre in Peterborough, which has a history of supporting mental health recovery work. And then there are multidisciplinary arts organizations like Workman Arts — one of Langill’s favourites — which promotes a greater understanding of mental health and addiction.

“I have collaborated with Workman Arts on projects in my field of Early Psychosis Intervention, hosting visual and performance art exhibits at our conferences,” he says. “All of the work is produced by people living with mental health issues. For these shows, we brought visual art pieces and the young artists who created them from all over Ontario to our conferences in Toronto. They are always so moving for audiences, so empowering for artists.”

Many of these approaches have one thing in common: they bridge the individual creative experience with a sense of community. This can help to address mental health issues that are connected to social isolation.

“There is a lot to be said for thinking of art as a collective experience,” says Annie Jaeger, a Peterborough-based visual artist. “Sit in a theatre, or listen to music, or read the same book — it is not entirely a solitary enjoyment. I think that’s kind of profound.”

That said, it would be wrong to assume that all artists are necessarily engaged in self-therapy. Though there is plenty of evidence to support the mental health benefits of art — for individuals, as well as for the community at large — the practice of making art is multifold.

“I resist the ‘art as therapy’ characterization,” says Jaeger. “Certainly, it is therapeutic — but so is fresh air. We need it.”

What is clear is that artmaking, and the appreciation of that making, can help to create community, which is good for the mental health of us all. It can empower and enrich, providing, in Brian Nichols’ words — “another way to think about and imagine the world.”

And that world can be an interesting an inspiring place, perhaps a little brighter than the one we inhabit in the day-to-day. As the celebrated Peterborough poet PJ Thomas says in the poem “Crimson Flowers,” from the recently released collection, Undertow: “ … the weather always changes, / and we will someday have / clear sailing again.”

Tim Wilson is a freelance journalist working in Canada and Mexico. In his native Canada, for his nonfiction writing he has received a CBC Canadian Literary Award (first) and a National Magazine Award (gold). Writing as TE Wilson, he is also the author of the Detective Sánchez series of crime novels.




This series of articles about the arts, culture and heritage sector in Peterborough is presented by the Electric City Culture Council (EC3).

EC3 is a not-for-profit service organization supporting the arts, culture and heritage sector in Peterborough and the surrounding region.

EC3 provides strategic leadership, research, resources and connections that build and strengthen the sector.

EC3, along with the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough, is currently raising funds for the Peterborough Arts Alive Fund, to provide Strategic Recovery and Resilience Grants for local arts organizations affected by COVID-19. You can donate at

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