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Toronto artist Michael Adamson has spearheaded guerrilla shows and inspired a new generation of painters to be more painterly.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

A classically trained painter who is his own guerrilla-style gallerist. A romantic who is a realist. A third-generation artist who strives to do things first. Michael Adamson is a contradiction in terms.

"There are two camps of people," the 41-year-old abstract painter reflects from his Toronto studio, "those who see me as political or apolitical. But really, I'm both, a synthesis of divergent movements. I paint because I love beauty. And I love beauty because it disrupts despots. I don't do what the leaders do."

Adamson is his own leader, responsible for inspiring a new generation of art school students to pick up their paint brushes to create lush, colour saturated works whose raison-d'être is that they are, well, painterly.

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"I'm the first in Toronto and maybe all of Canada in recent times to challenge the institutional ideology of art as needing to be conceptual or photo-based or Marxist-feminist," says the Toronto-born graduate of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, who also trained at Ryerson University and the esteemed Gesamkunst Hochschule in Germany.

"I did this by getting young people painting again, at a period in history when it hasn't been strictly fashionable to do so."

Adamson's anti-establishment stance compelled him early in his career to move from gallery to gallery when his work, alternating between conceptualism and expressionism, proved difficult to pigeonhole. Growing tired of the art world politics, at the end of the 1990s he began creating showrooms for his own work in vacant properties around Toronto, drawing both crowds and rave reviews.

"People call them pop-ups now, but no one was doing this sort of thing then," he continues. "These were artist run centres, sometimes derided as vanity projects, which presented guerrilla shows of new and unsung artists."

The idea eventually grew in popularity and soon even the establishment was taking notice.

"Major galleries started looking at the young painters again, artists who weren't afraid to pile on the paint until it was six inches thick," Adamson says. "And I taught them that. The young painters had followed my direction."

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