How Andrew Stelmack managed to add "visual artist" to his professional resume is the kind of story usually reserved for his other line of work—written in a script, performed on a stage.
Back in 2005, when Stelmack had yet to pick up a paintbrush, his nine to five gig was The Lion King in Toronto. After three years, he was starting to tire of doing the show daily, but the dollar figure they offered him for a fourth year wasn't one he was ready to turn away. So despite his waning interest, he agreed, all the while making a more creatively appealing promise to himself.
"As a way to reward myself—'cause I used to take jobs based on purely making a lot of money," he recalls, "I said 'If I stay for one more year, I'm going to take six months of my life off, and just lock myself in my home and paint."
Stelmack had never painted before. Armed with a lifelong interest and a general knowledge of colour, he privately made, "a lot of pretty bad paintings for a number of months," he laughs. But he did develop some chops; an art collector friend saw one of his works hanging in his house, unsigned. She pressed him about where he got it, and, after he revealed himself as the author, talked him into putting on an art show.
"I sold everything," he says. "Did another art show, sold everything, and it's just exploded into this brand-new massive career out of nowhere."
Now, his work with a paintbrush is overlapping with his stagework: Stelmack's been a regular Citadel fixture this year, playing Tobias in Sweeney Todd, and currently visible as the bumbling Lefou in Beauty and the Beast, and until the end of that show's run, his colourful, abstract canvases will be hanging in the Citadel's halls under the title of Bloody Beautiful. They're colour-anchored works inspired by both shows—lots of red for the Sweeney Todd works—which the Citadel agreed to showcase after hearing about his budding visual arts career.
For Stelmack, his growing success on dual artistic fronts offers benefits to both: he pulls inspiration for the works when acting, and his success as a painter has given him the ultimate actor luxury: freedom to choose jobs based on true interest, not the need for remuneration.
"As an actor, it always seems to be you are as good as your last show. You're always auditioning for people, you're always having to prove yourself," Stelmack says. "What you do is always subjective to what another person tells you to do, or they tell you how good you are … but as an artist what I've found to be so empowering and liberating is that I can just paint.
"When I take a theatrical job, it's because I believe in the play, and I really want to do it, which is something that's really important to me, because if it's not, I'd rather be painting." V
Until Sun, May 30
Works by Andrew Stelmack
Citadel Theatre, (9828 – 101A Ave), upper and lower lobby