Clerks: Starving Artist Gallery Cafe

Brantford’s downtown is home to a wide variety of shops and small businesses. These businesses define Brantford, but what defines the businesses? This is the inspiration behind “Clerks”; getting to know those who know us so well. From our shoe size to our favourite item on the menu, these business owners make us feel more like family than customers. With that being said, let us shine the spotlight on Christina Hajiioannou, owner of the Starving Artist Gallery Cafe.

For those who don’t know, what is the Starving Artist?

It is a full restaurant, art gallery and entertainment venue that educates the public as well as provides local food and supports local entertainers. Ever since I opened this place people will come in and will not be too sure about how the whole art thing works and they’ll question the prices. I have to sit them down and say, ‘Okay, when you work 20 hours, how much money do you make?’ ‘Oh, I make about $300,’ ‘Okay, so this painting is $80, and I can guarantee that this painting took them more than 20 hours to do.’ That’s the education; then they get it. That light bulb switches on and they understand it. The next thing you know, they’re coming in here, they’re buying artwork and they’re appreciating it. That’s the problem, a lot of people are just not educated on why original paintings cost that much.

You celebrated your one-year anniversary over the summer, how did that feel to reach that milestone?

Very good because everyone told me, if you can pass one year, you’ll be fine.” It was a relief actually. It was very overwhelming but it was a very good day because I realized how many people actually appreciate this place. People were coming in all day long congratulating me. Just coming and making their presence known. It made me feel proud.

Mayor Mark Friel made it out to the anniversary celebration. Has he been back since?

He came back once after that; it was just before Christmas to buy a painting. He had seen something from the same artist when he came into give me the [one year certificate]. He was like, do you remember this piece? and I told him, ‘this piece is probably gone because we change the show every month, but that same artist is still here.’

The Starving Artist serves some pretty unique coffee, where exactly is it from?

It’s from Ethiopia, it’s organic and fair trade. The man who roasts the beans, he gets it from Ethiopia and roasts it at home. He built his own roasting machine and it’s completely clean and organic. The guy who does it is a juicer and a cancer survivor so everything he does is completely organic; wheatgrass, the whole shebang. I know he product is excellent quality.

What made you want to go for those beans instead of Arabica or another type of bean?

I’m a coffee drinker myself, And I find a lot of the generic coffees you buy for restaurants or offices are very bitter. They don’t taste very good. They claim it’s ‘this, this and this’ and it really isn’t or doesn’t taste like it. This coffee actually tastes really, really good. And the public loves it. So I’m very happy and don’t any other coffee, because it’s the best coffee.

How many pieces have been sold so far?

Right now we are at 383 sold in one year and four months.

What’s your favourite piece in the shop right now?

The guy with the little heart; I love him. I like it because he’s got his own style, it’s very original. He should be hanging in Glenhyrst or something bigger. That’s what artists strive to do; to get that style that nobody else has. He’s come up with his own style that I’ve never seen before, he’s got his little characters and you can tell it’s his work.

Who’s the artist who painted it?

David Wierzbicki.

Aside from selling art, you’re an artist as well. What’s your favourite medium to create with?

I use a lot of acrylics with mixed media. And I use acrylic markers because I’m very detailed and with a brush you get those little brush strokes sometimes and I don’t like it. It almost looks like little hairs on the side of the line. I want my lines to be totally clean and straight. I don’t want anything coming off of my line. I have to have paint on my entire canvas, I can’t have canvas peaking through. It’s a painting, right? So it’s got to be a complete painting.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Things that I see. Sometimes I just go on the internet; I’m an insomniac, so sometimes at night I’ll just Google something that I think of: whimsical, pretty ladies, or something like that. I’ll put that in and get some fantasy art of beautiful women in these serene backgrounds. I just pick parts from these paintings that I see and make my own little thing. I’m visual, so I get my inspiration from physically seeing something.

I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve been doing the Walken challenge on Facebook. What’s all that about?

I love Christopher Walken and I stumbled upon a meme, so I Googled more Christopher Walken memes. All these really funny ones came up and I just loved them. I’ve got a really sarcastic sense of humor. So I started posting them and people loved them. I started getting private messages because people didn’t want to write comments on the posts. But they’re messaging me saying, ‘keep it going, I love this stuff, you’re making me laugh everyday, it’s something for me to look forward to.’ So I decided to post one everyday. I was really busy yesterday and didn’t get a chance to post one but I will tonight. I think I’ll be at number 24 or 25. I’m going to run out very soon, I think I’ve got two or three more up my sleeve and then that’s it.

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