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City View: Living in full colour

Patricia Gagic is a Hamilton-based international contemporary artist and author, with multiple awards for her painting, photography and writing. Her work has been exhibited in Toronto, New York, Geneva, Berlin, France, Austria, Zurich, London, United Kingdom and Seoul. She is a certified meditation specialist, feng shui consultant and reiki master. She was the founder of Kyralex Management Group and MLX Property Management with a successful career in banking and entrepreneurship while pursuing an artistic career. She was Knighted as a Dame of the International Order of Saint George Grand Prior of Canada. She was a member of the Ontario Cabinet of Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and is a member of the board of directors of the Sir Edmund Hilary Foundation.  

How would you describe your art and your approach to art? 

Motivated by the delicate balancing of elements of the past, choices made in the present and a powerful intention to change the future, each thought and intuition becomes master to the emergence of form and method in my art making. Complexity is a key frame. The infinity of iterations of a form is a fascination intellectually and in terms of my method. It drives how I engage with materials in the search for what is luminous to the eye and transcendent in meaning to the heart. My art is intended to point to what is greater than the conventional and logic-based point-of-view.  

The under-painting is central to how this orientation shows up in the final works. In search for the luminous and transcendental, the under-painting is an investigative yet carefully orchestrated evolution of intentional layering in which I am immersed in a process of moving with a rich flow of contemplative and clairvoyant thought. In this movement, I press-in on the mark-making with brush and paint, then stand apart from it, then press-in again and so on until the idea which wants to be noticed shows itself in relationship with my intention for an image. This process is deeply personal. It is intended to bridge to others and invite them to participate in the images I make, such that well-being is magnified by an encounter with something opening them to intuition of a greater whole. 

My art is influenced by the elements and landscape. Throughout my life I have been a curious one … and have been privileged to visit many different countries. I am very attracted to the mountains.  Spending time in Alberta and B.C. fuelled my inspiration. However, visiting the Chimpuk Mountains in Tibet formed well-defined new impressions. Combining the elements creates an etheric tone to the work and hopefully, stimulates a higher state of consciousness for the viewer.    

You have three books on the go. What are they about? 

I have been working on a non-fiction narrative Thirsters and Quenchers. My maternal grandfather came to Canada from Eastern Europe when he was 15 in 1906 without his family.  They communicated by handwritten letters. For multiple reasons he never returned to his homeland and built a fulfilled life in Hamilton. He passed away in 1976. A few years ago, I was fortunate to find a box of letters which were safely stored in his home. I was so intrigued and decided to have them interpreted as they were written in Cyrillic based on Church Russian. He lived vicariously through these letters. I was fascinated to learn so much about the family life there … especially from 1913-1917 and 1931-1933.  These are most revealing and almost haunting as his siblings shared their life during these politically volatile times, especially through Stalin’s Collectivization. 

Each time he received mail, we observed his intense sadness. I was unaware of how his life had been complicated by distance and war. He lived a simple yet extraordinary life providing a true sense of family and belonging even though he never visited his family throughout his entire life.  We benefited from his deep courageous love and understood why his emotions were pure and genuine. Now, in a world where we communicate effortlessly via phone, computer and social media, these letters are historically relevant and reveal the sophistication of the art of handwriting letters. People were thirsting for knowledge of their loved ones and friends and the letters quenched their desire.  Thus, Thirsters and Quenchers. 

I have always loved reading but fantasy and mystery have always captured me. I began to work on a book series The Black Snowflake. It is now a collaboration. The central character is Cyris who transforms himself into Dirk who is besties with The Black Snowflake. It’s a little bit of a twist on Johnathan Livingston Seagull meets Dr. Strange in a time space episode. The first in the series should be released before the end of the year.   

In 2015 I wrote a book titled Karma and Cash; however, I did not release the book publicly as I never felt it was complete.  It is now a re-write to expand the story.   

A new book project is also underway titled Camera to Me a collaboration with Ken Walls, Glenn Morshower and Brian Thomas. A series of stories and lessons on creating confidence and unmasking fear. 

Patricia Gagic is a painter, photographer, writer and drummer. Photo: Hannah Isenberg/ Isenberg Entertainment

What is the greatest satisfaction in the work you do? 

I am a student of life, my path has been deeply rooted in spirituality with a great need to believe life has purpose.  After my first book Karmic Alibi was published in 2014, I really wanted to dig deeper into Buddhism and neuroscience. I entered the University of Toronto and completed my certification in transformative mindfulness and applied mindfulness. I love helping people and being in service (I am a member of Passport Rotarian club 7080 Oakville). Combining this with my art training I created The Karmic Art Experience.  I offer an opportunity for people to journey from inside the mind and body to the blank canvas. People realize they can unlock more of their hidden and untapped potential by creating a thoughtful and meaningful art piece allowing the mystery within to manifest. Seeing the transformations and revelations in people is absolutely rewarding for me.  

Who inspires you? 

One of the influences on my artistic life and practice is the transcendental realist artist, Adi Da Samraj. He speaks about the function of art in a way perfectly giving voice to my intention. He writes, “True art heals, true art restores equanimity. Art must regenerate the sense of well-being. That is its true purpose.” This regeneration of well-being is an overarching purpose in my method and is the context of an intellectual consideration around image-making. It is my experience that well-being resides as an already-present condition in the domain of the esoteric rather than exoteric world of things and strategies designed to make us feel better, or safe, or at ease.  

The works of Wassily Kandinsky (1922) further inspire my attraction to complexity/simplicity paradox as the mathematics in his work harmonized aspects of my feeling with understanding and brought a joyful knowing and sense of something beyond the images themselves. 

My long-time mentor and dear friend, master artist, Dragan Dragic (who I was blessed to meet and study with in France since 1999) has deeply inspired me through his conception of the extraordinary depth he reveals in the palette of Matisse. Dragan surrendered himself to these secrets in a lifelong journey of revelation and dedication bringing me cause to examine and view his work with an appreciation of and engagement. Dragan encouraged me to see the beauty of abstraction lies in the various underlying hypostases combining or being in dynamic relationship in such a way as to become conscious to the viewer as a living process.  

As an artist, I look to find clues in the works of the great masters like Paul Emile Bourduas and Franz Kline… they are dynamic interpreters of boldness with monochromatic staging where black was equally as powerful as white and required careful fluid strength providing an ocean of plankton, food for the conceptual work to be done. The essence of my work is also rooted in the examination of the Chinese/French artist Zao Wou Ki and the French artist Pierre Soulages.  

Music has been a huge part of my creative path. In 2021, Greg DiFrancesco (professional percussionist) who I met when I was 12 years old encouraged me to sit behind a drum kit. His ability to interpret the language of music was breathtaking and ignited my curiosity. I played guitar (poorly) many years ago, but always had a desire to tackle the drums. The synapses were aligned, and I became obsessively smitten with drumming. Leaning into funk jazz by Pat Metheny ripped a new vein open. Meeting the family of Neil Peart (late drummer of Rush) engineered a new capacity for my brain to believe. His niece Hannah and her husband Alex have become family.  

My father John Joseph Semeniuk held me captive with his deep understanding of the law of generosity. My life was encouraged by his very humble beginnings and stamina. My mother has been a steadfast supporter. Unfortunately, my father passed a month after my 25th birthday at the age of 52 and the loss to this day is still felt. My mother just celebrated her 90th birthday!  Without a doubt my husband, Dr. Ned Gagic has been a source of great inspiration. A constant support and dynamic force fuelling me to push harder and do better always. 

On a motivational level, I am deeply moved by my very good friend Glenn Morshower.  He is best known for playing Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce in 24 and in multiple other feature films. I was so lucky to meet Glenn a decade ago via Craig Duswalt’ s Rock Star event. Glenn wrote the foreword to my book Karmic Alibi. He continues to teach his mastery course The Extra Mile and is now collaborating with Ken Walls (another very close friend) from Dallas, Texas. Their epic Ken and Glenn - Momentum Masters program is moving the needle upwards on changing lives.   

Prius Vita Quam Doctrina… Life is more important than doctrine. I acknowledge all who own their individual way and inspire me to keep my unbreakable promise. “To own the creation of the world I want, as an occupation.” 

What has been the greatest gift in your life? 

To balance this question, I must admit there is not one greatest gift. Every second above ground is a gift. I have never thought one moment/event/person is greater or less than another. There is a delicious struggle I engage in daily as I am drawn into what is “in-between” the phenomena, moments, ideas which arise and yet practising in the actual doings of the world to make visible what is found in those spaces. It is my adventure to capture more truth as an artist and be less of an ego and I sense the ultimate reality might be touched in the in- between spaces as both truth and egoless. 

In 2006, I encountered a rare meeting with Master Keo Ann in Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. This catapulted my entire life into becoming a harbinger for change in a place so far away. My husband and I assisted in building the first library in Angkor Wat which led way to our building a school/orphanage for poor children. Next steps included a school for the monks and innovation house in Boeng Meala. Sothany Peung, our interpreter, became one of my lifelong friends and teachers. We have worked diligently to host a school in Village Romeas near Phnom Pen.  

Receiving their messages weekly has been one of the most engaging gifts.  Our computer lab, chicken and mango tree farm are thriving! I have been invited to be an ambassador for the People’s Improvement Organization in Cambodia.  The founder is CNN Hero, Phymean Noun.  To participate with like-minded people is a gift. Supporting initiatives such as the Reflections Initiative, Help Heal Humanity, The Sir Edmund Hilary Foundation, Juravinski Cancer Centre, United Way, AGH make a difference.  

Why is drumming so important to you? 

My cousin Paul Panchezak is the founder and drummer of the local Hamilton band Trick Bag.  One of my good friends is Franklin Vanderbilt, the drummer for Lenny Kravitz. My art partner Greg DiFrancesco was drumming for Phat Orchestra and now the Boddhisatva’s … drumming just seems to be in my sphere. Greg and I launched brand Lotus97.7, creating NFT’s by drumming on the canvases with paint.    

I was also very good friends with the late Vince Fontaine of Winnipeg, a powerful Indigenous creator and founder of Juno award-winning Indian City and Eagle and Hawk. His messages to me were always filled with pushing the boundaries and encouraged me to listen to the heart of Mother Gaia. 

Drumming has opened the portal to feeling the heartbeat of the universe. I have loved painting and drawing however, when I sit behind my two drum kits… yes, I own two kits, Gretsch Renown and Sonor SQ1 kit and have added many new pieces, there is nothing that stops me.  My brain literally only feels and stops thinking words, it’s just mathematics and love. 

Can you provide a list of awards and accomplishments? 

Among my awards and accomplishments: A gold medal in photography at the Salon National des Beaux-Arts (SNBA) at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris in 2018; exhibition of my work at the Salons des Indépendants Grand Palais in Paris, the Brussels 3F Art Fair and the World Art event in Cannes in 2019, along with a silver medal in photography from the Societe Academique Arts, Sciences and Lettres de France in Paris. I have alsao won the pewter medal for painting in 2020 and the silver medal for painting in 2023. I’ve also received the 2020 Apollo and Daphne award from the Le Bernin – International Biennial of Baroque Art Salentin in Italy, the International Prize New York City in NY.  My work has been published in World of Art Contemporary Art Magazine and Contemporary Artists and I’ve been named one of the Top 10 contemporary artists. By invitation, my paintings were exhibited at the prestigious Whitney Commons Gallery in Toronto, Ontario in 2018. Art Tour International magazine named me one of the Top 60 best artists in New York in 2018, 2019 and 2020.  I was also named Artist of the Year 2020 and 2023 by Art Tour International Magazine. I have also been honoured with a Titan award by ATIM with a documentary feature to be released in 2024. I’ve hosted the Art In A Box project for the WXN (Women's Executive Network) Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada in July 2020 and a CAN#150 event for female Olympians.  In 2017, I received the Arts Excellence Award for Courage and Commitment to Human Rights, Dignity and Freedom from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in Toronto, awarded to Canadians who dedicate their lives to service and art.

I have been honoured to speak at the Harvard Club of Boston, on stage at Carnegie Hall in New York and the NASDAQ podium. Her painting was exhibited on the NASDAQ Jumbotron in Times Square in NY. She interviewed Walter O’Brian (Scorpion) on the stage of Carnegie Hall where she discussed the impact of artificial intelligence on the future of art.  

Karmic Alibi, my first book, was a finalist at the USA Best Book Awards 2014 and finalist at the International Book Awards 2015 in the non-fiction narrative category. Karmic Alibi received the 2017 Book Excellence Award in non-fiction. I have received numerous local awards and nominations, including Status of Women - Woman of the Year, YMCA Peace Medal, YWCA Women of Distinction, and the Toronto Women’s Expo Award of Excellence. Patricia was recognized by WXN (Women's Executive Network) as one of the TOP 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada and received the BMO Arts and Communication award in 2015. In 2016, Patricia was the recipient of the WXN Top 100 Most Powerful in Canada in the Royal Bank Category Champions. She received the WXN Top 100 award in the BMO Arts and Communications category in 2017. In 2018, Patricia was inducted into the WXN Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada Hall of Fame.  

What are you most proud of when it comes to your work? 

Winning the gold medal in Photography at the SNBA, Salon Nationale Beaux Art in Paris at the Carousel du Louvre truly was astonishing! First female, Canadian! Being accepted into the Academique Societe Arts Sciences and Lettres in Paris now with three medals is also epic. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame of the WXN (Women’s Executive Network) Top 100 Most Powerful Woman in Canada as a four-time winner was incredible. When I received the Lifetime Achievement award by the Universal Women’s Network, I held my breath. And being Knighted as a Dame of the Order of St. George held me captive. Named Artist of the Year by Art Tour International Magazine in New York and Titan Award winner, Twice named…Top 10 Contemporary Artist with Masters of Today in Italy. 

How would you describe Hamilton as a place to make a living as an artist? 

Hamilton is a very complex city. There is no doubt we exist with a great deal of ethnicity. I have been very fortunate to make great connections with both artists and musicians. However, it is not the local community that supports me. My experience has been to cultivate relationships outside of this city.  In my early years as a banker, I engaged in the community with being on various boards and committees. However, the art world is a very ominous place. What I love is that my true friends reside near me and support me, but the reality is in order to exist in the world of art you need to be fully present outside of your studio. 

How has the city changed in the time you’ve been here? 

I am a Libra with a Virgo rising; change is not something I manage well. The vibrancy of being raised near Barton and Sherman, attending Scott Park High school and HCI for Grade 13 shifted much of who I have become. We were obsessed with the Pagoda, The Grange, Paddie Green’s…. living life in a timeless place. Hamilton has evolved and I miss the freedom of hitchhiking and racing to McMaster University for classes on the bus. I rode my bike everywhere, wiping out multiple times…  Hamilton is extraordinary.  It’s a unique cosmopolitan place where you can find happiness in the quietude of just being.   

What is an artistic or cultural experience you’ve had in the city that stands out for you? 

I met Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1967 at City Hall. For many years, I participated as a board member of the Bach Elgar Choral Society when Wayne Strongman was the artistic director. At the former Copps Coliseum I saw Joe Cocker. I sat in the audience when Pavarotti did not perform! I have always loved the performances of local artist Jacob Moon! Visiting the Moore Gallery on Locke Street brought incredible talent to our community. 

What neighbourhood do you live in and what do you love about it? 

For the past 25 years, my husband Ned Gagic and I have lived in the Scenic Woods subdivision.  It is designated as Ancaster, but on the border of Hamilton. It’s location, location, location. One of the best features of this quiet little pocket, is having the escarpment behind the house. Mother Nature reveals her beauty season after season in its ever-changing growth patterns and wildlife surprises. I recall about 15 years ago waking up and seeing 20 deer sunbathing in the backyard. From wild turkeys, foxes and the rare site of a Prothonotary fall warbler this has been an extraordinary place to call home. We are minutes to everything! And most of all we have the best neighbours. I cannot imagine how lucky we are… 

What’s your ideal way to spend a lazy day in Hamilton? 

I’d love to have a lazy day first! On “spa” days, which do not include going to a spa, I find myself with camera in hand visiting places which remind me of the past as I visualize what they have become. Walking through Gage Park, sitting quietly on one of the many dedicated benches, cloud gazing and scrying… I love walking down Ottawa Street/Locke Street and visiting the wonderful shops. I am really blessed to have a super cool art studio space downtown, which is where a perfect day happens. Spending hours writing, painting and of course playing my drums.  Cranking up the speakers and letting the music filter into my brain. Spending time with family and friends trying out new French fry and pizza places! 

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in the city? 

Hamilton has had amazing restaurants over the years. It would be unfair to say one is better than another. I do wish some of the restaurants of the past were still here! I love two food groups… French fries and Pizza. I have been expanding my food groups over the past few years and admit having tried multiple new restaurants and food experiences. I grew up on Roma Pizza and while the dough has changed a bit from early days, it is still on top of my list. Back in the day, Aceti pizzeria at Ruth and Barton pretty much was Michelin in my books. I have enjoyed the Black Forest Inn, Hutch’s Fish and Chips, along with Valentino’s and La Cantina. The Famiglia restaurant in Ancaster is also one of my new faves.  

What is Hamilton’s best kept-secret? 

  1. Trails and views around RBG, Dundurn Castle. 
  2. Waterfalls… we boast many 
  3. Donuts: Grandads, Monster Donuts  
  4. Antique shops of Ottawa and Locke streets 
  5. Artists: Scott McDonald/lit up the entire city with his murals 
  6. Music: D.J. Chris Briscoe 
  7. Music: Brian Melo/Tommy Swick/Andrew McTaggart 
  8. Beautiful churches 
  9. ME!

Hamilton needs more of? 

As an observer of life, I see that Hamilton has become a haven for homelessness. I do not wish to become political, however, we are a magnet for those who are less fortunate. Perhaps we became the city where we recognize our ability to secure sacred space for those who have lost their homes, suffer from mental illness and addiction. We need more housing. We need apartment pricing to be lowered. More attention to repairing our streets of potholes. 

Hamilton needs less? 

Honestly, I do not know how to answer this … 

What’s the one thing you brag about Hamilton to outsiders? 

Community, a vast community of people that all seem to survive well. Hamilton just seems to vibrate a very high level of worldliness. So many incredible humans doing such good work. And McMaster University!