Portraits

Humans of Halifax

Local café features a teen artist’s portrait work

“I drew the ‘100’ emoji because I feel like that’s something he would use.” – Madeleine West on one of her subjects.   Alexandra Biniarz

“See the guy with the fire? He’s one of the most talented musicians in Halifax,” Madeleine West points behind at her featured sketch wall.

Following in the footsteps of the famous Humans of New York photography project, the 16-year-old artist has started her own series of personalized portraits about the people where she lives. Her “Youth of Halifax” exhibition is featured at the Lucky Penny Coffee Co. on Quinpool Road.

Madeleine West standing in front of her “Youth of Halifax” project  at Lucky Penny Coffee Co.   Alexandra Biniarz

The self-taught artist started her project during the Christmas season, wanting to beat her winter blues.

“It’s just about getting to know people,” she says. “Halifax is so small, why don’t we do that?”

Alenne Adekeyode with her “checkered van” background and Vine promo, “Your Local Youth of Colour.”   Alexandra Biniarz

Despite having goals to expand her social network, West started off by sketching people she knew. Her first piece is of a friend and fellow artist, Alenne Adekeyode. The portrait stands out in front of a checkered background, inspired by Adekeyode’s favourite patterned Vans, says West. She explains that the subject “has a cool look” and is constantly promoting her Vine “Your Local Youth of Colour,” so West incorporated those personality traits in as well.  

Barb Kaill, owner of Lucky Penny Coffee Co., offered West the opportunity to show her work at the café.

“She just walked up to me after lunch one day and said, ‘I do art if you’re ever looking for some art for your walls,’” says Kaill.  Kaill and her staff took a look at West’s portfolio and knew that they wanted this to be the style that they incorporated into the café.  

“It’s just bright, positive work, even if some of the subject matter is heavy,” Kaill says, commenting on West’s existing artwork outside of the “Youth of Halifax” project.

West adds poetry to some of her artwork.   Alexandra Biniarz

Kaill remembers the look of excitement on West’s face when Kaill also suggested they host an art show at the café.

“She’s so down to earth and not big headed about anything,” she says. “It’s a big deal to have an art show in a public place when you’re 16 and she’s so humble about it.”

Since Lucky Penny instagrammed West’s newly hung artwork, it has been regrammed by Halifax Noise and has received over 300 likes. As a result, West says, she’s been inundated with requests from people asking her to sketch them.  

The art show will feature these new additions to the youth project, as well as some of her old sketches of nudes.

A preview of some of West’s “nude collection” sketches.   Alexandra Biniarz

“Not a lot of people are like, ‘I’m a teenage girl and I openly draw naked people,’” West says. There are already a few drawings with this subject manner hanging up in the café, but West understands that “some people aren’t fine with seeing nudes in a café,” so the rest will be available at the opening.

West maintains her busy schedule by participating in track and field, being pre-I.B. in school and playing the viola with the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra. She uses the rush and finds that it sparks more creativity giving her more time to draw.  

“It’s like that Jack White quote ‘stress creates creativity,’ … I agree with that,” West says, of the White Stripes member. “He’s my inspiration for a lot because he’s so badass.”  

“Deadlines make me more on the ball,” she says about having about three sketches to do per day before the opening. She is hoping to add one or two more rows of photos to the café before the art show on Feb. 25. It will be held from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.