career karma – Sarah Lazarovic


Sarah Lazarovic is one of the people I met thanks to curiousity.  I had heard about her garage-based gallery, the Montrose Portrait Gallery, somehow on the internet, and I went there by myself, not knowing anyone who would be there, under the pretense of writing a post about it for blogTO.  It was a good example of why it is a good thing to seek out the unfamiliar – I instantly liked Sarah, her plucky and prolific approach to projects, and her group of brainy, creative friends.  I asked her a few questions about her various pursuits.

Sarah Lazarovic

Last year (was it last year? I can’t seem to access the D&S archives) you made a pledge on your fashion blog, Dress and Suit, to limit the amount of clothing you buy. Did the experience change the way you shop and the way you dress?

(Sorry D & S is quasi-defunct, I switched it to Posterous for email posting, and lost most of the archives. Plus the hubby and I realized we weren’t really interested in fashion, and didn’t want to blog w/no focus)

It was a couple of years ago now, but I’m thinking of doing it again. I’m not a person who is ever on trend, but at a certain point, if you haven’t grown taller or wider in ten years, you have every possible item of clothing you could ever need. Including Capri pants. The challenge was good for me because it made me aware of how casually and absentmindedly I had shopped. I wasn’t the kind of person who ever went shopping. I’d just walk by a store, pop in and pick up a dress. Or I’d accompany my sister shopping, she’d find nothing, and I’d come home with three frocks. I did buy mostly vintage stuff, but I also bought stuff at sweatshoppy fast fashion emporiums, and I wanted to stop that regardless.

Before I decided to do the year of no shopping, I realized there were a few things I was always looking for but never able to find. I kept buying things that came short of what I wanted in a coat. So I had a seamstress make a cashmere winter coat based on some sketches I drew and I bought a proper pair of winter boots. After that I didn’t need anything else. I started wearing things I’d neglected for years. I had the heels mended on pairs of vintage Gucci and Ferragamo pumps my grandma had given me. I fixed things that had been languishing untended in my closet for years. And I wore old dresses and remembered why I loved them. It really wasn’t hard at all to work with what I had and not want for new duds.

Since then I’ve allowed myself to shop. But I think I’m going to not shop again come January 1, because if I make the commitment I’ll do it. Otherwise, clothes just seem to swan dive out of store windows and into my closet.

You’ve lived in many places, but you chose to make a home in Toronto – and you draw a lot of inspiration from the city for your art. What is it about Toronto in particular that intrigues you?

Hmm. Toronto has a strange pull because it’s a place that reveals itself slowly. I’m not a native Torontonian, only been here for about seven years, so my art projects are a way of getting to know the city and Canada. I didn’t grow up with the Polkaroo and Maestro Fresh Wes, and I still don’t know all my Toronto neighbourhoods or who was mayor before Mel Lastman or what an Avro Arrow is, so I guess all my projects are at least tangentially about exploring, archiving and getting to know my newish surroundings. When I first moved here I worked as journalist for TOist, The Globe, Elle, etc… which immersed me in the city right away. I was always researching artists, restaurants, new shops, etc…a hired flaneur of sorts. Which helped me get to know the city on the quick. And buoyed me to continue investigating the city through art.

And sappy as it may be, I just love Toronto. I did love living in New York and London and I’ll always love Montreal, but Toronto is just such an easy, low-key place to live. It’s still relatively affordable, which makes for a city where artists and young creatives can live downtown. The people are great. And it’s much easier to mount art projects here. I am a bit of a nerd cheerleader when it comes to Toronto. I love showing people around. I grew up in geriatric Florida, so for me Toronto is a fantastically vibrant place. I love everything about it. Except for the weather and the paucity of good sandwich shops.

It appears you have co-directed the ultimate hogtown hipster rom-com, No Heart Feelings. It is described as a collaborative, improvisational process – can you explain further? What would the usual shooting day be like?

A few friends and I got talking about two years ago . We were all on the same page about the kind of feature we wanted to make and knew we couldn’t realize such an undertaking without each other. So we workshopped a loose treatment, cast friends and acquaintances, and shot mostly over the summer of 2008 and intermittently in 2009. Geoff, my co-director, and I shot, while Ryan, our other co-director, would boom and get coffee for our actors. Usually, we worked with a crew of four to five people, shooting whenever we could get our actors together for an hour or three. The actors would be given bullet points of things that needed to come across in the scene as well as a few good lines/ideas to put forth if it felt natural. The rest was up to them. The result is a film that’s almost painfully real at times. Having just come off a rigorously shot short with a crew of thirty, I found shooting with a bare bones crew and non-actors extremely liberating, and infinitely less stressful.

It was also a great exercise in compromise. Working autonomously most of the time, editing with two other people was a really good experience for me. And having grown up on the cusp of the analog/digital switchover, the fact that we’re able to shoot and create features with tiny crews and budgets will never cease to amaze me. I dropped out of film school at Florida State because I chafed at the restrictions of film. So much time, money, waste. It’s absolutely amazing that we can work so freely these days. Get a few friends together and you can really make anything you want. Okay, now I’m nerd filmmaker!

As for subject, we were all tired of the way Toronto was depicted in films. Toronto filmmakers would boast of making movies in which Toronto played itself, but it was usually more like Toronto playing Toronto playing New York. These films would always try to make the city look chic and cosmopolitan, instead of leafy and neighbourhoody and a little bit jolie laide. We wanted to make a film set in the Toronto that we knew.

I am always impressed with how prolific your projects are and the frequency that you do them at. The daily portrait project was the result of painting every day, but only for a limited time per portrait. Did you see your technique develop over that period of time? What did you learn?

I learned that my skills at capturing likenesses needed daily practice, like anything else. I do think I got better, quicker and more agile with my brush over the course of the year, but since then my skills have totally atrophied. I painted Lil Wayne for my brother-in-law last week, but it ended up looking like Whoopi Goldberg. Then I did another one, and he came out beautifully (for Lil Wayne, anyway). The idea is that I need to warm up. I’d never go running or take a ballet class without stretching. It’s no wonder that I need to warm up before I sit down to draw, even if I do most of my illustration work digitally these days.

It’s nothing revolutionary, of course, this one-a-day stuff, the Internet has just made it easier to document process. And it’s a great way of holding oneself accountable to personal challenges put forth in moments of grand overextension.

We met at the Montrose Portrait Gallery in your garage. Are there any future plans for the gallery?

The roof is caving in! Luckily, I got approval to renovate it at the Committee of Adjustments this week – to raise the ceiling, add windows and put a green roof on top, and INSULATE! Of course, this’ll take a while. So yes, the MPGC will be shuttered (like the NPG) as per usual this winter, but will no doubt rise again soonish! Thanks for participating, I have to get you your piece back to you!

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