On first glance, Benjamin Jovero’s sketches appear to be an ode to celebrity – deftly capturing the features and expressions of stars such as John Lennon and Bob Marley, but as I wandered through the gallery considering his selection of subjects, a theme became apparent. Each person portrayed in Jovero’s work has spoken out against poverty or for the environment, or has shown support for the arts or the LGBTQ community. These are Jovero’s “seraphs”.
Despite what many would consider a life of hardship, Jovero’s message could only be described as one of hope. He finds his inspiration from those who make a difference, who lend their voice and their celebrity to help the many causes that are dear to his heart. They aren’t all famous in the traditional sense, but to Jovero they are all stars. Among the portrayals of Jovero’s “angels of the highest order,” you’ll see Bono alongside the leaders at the Christian Resource Centre (CRC) and David Suzuki along with past resident of the Toronto Arts Council, Karen Tisch.
Jovero touched down in Toronto in 2008 after a decade in New York City and a life-time away from his roots in the Philippines. He found his home in Regent Park getting by as a janitor and later finding a home at 40 Oaks, an innovative affordable housing project of the CRC.
His custodial work provides materials and sometimes inspiration for his art. The second part of his exhibition is a kaleidoscope of colours and juxtaposed images on canvases of reclaimed particle board from the backs of disposed office furniture. The paintings, which represent his feelings about his background in the revolutionary movement in the Philippines, depict shadows of guns overlaid with Jovero’s symbols of peace, the emblems of the Red Cross, maple leaves and the oak leaf of the CRC.
He certainly has embraced his new identity as a Canadian. He speaks passionately about his local heroes and as I peruse the raw artwork he plays me ethereal Aboriginal music on a hand-made flute.
When asked what his hopes are for this exhibition, Jovero says he would love for those depicted to come and see their own portraits. “They help (the arts and community), that’s the bottom line,” he says, “and for that I salute them.”
This is Jovero’s first exhibition. It will be free and open to the public at Daniels Spectrum in the 2nd floor Hallway Galleries from Dec. 15 – Jan 25.
Visit danielsspectrum.ca/hallway-galleries for hours and to learn about other upcoming exhibitions