Article From Eye Magazine , Sept 20,2007 by Damian Rogers. Link to online article


BY Damian Rogers September 20, 2007 10:09

Those familiar with Vivian Reiss' fluid, colourful and exuberant paintings could pick her house out of a lineup in a heartbeat, with its sprawling, exotic-looking vegetable garden – featuring stalks of burgundy broom corn that tower several feet above the heads of passersby – and custom flower-stem porch railings.

Reiss, who celebrates her latest exhibit Sept. 20 at her V. Reiss Gallery (500 College;, has lived with her husband in their historical Victorian manse near Avenue and Bloor for over 20 years. The home, which originally belonged to Canada's Baldwin Family in the mid-to-late 1800s, is an absolute marvel of ingenuity and creative expression – but it was not always so.

“Before we moved in, 20 unrelated people were living here together,” she says. “It was pretty rundown.”

Now, it's the kind of place people can't help but notice. “I was painting in the backyard one day and a woman saw me and said, ‘I've always wondered about the woman who lives in this house. I figured she must be from somewhere like the jungles of Brazil.'” In fact, as Reiss points out, she is from the jungles of New York, and settled in Toronto when she met her husband over 30 years ago.

Reiss oversaw all the major renovations, designing everything from the complicated inlay patterns on the wood and marble floors to the large doors and church-style windows added to create more light. In the living room, two unique chaise lounge chairs (Reiss shortened a pair of old-time children's beds and covered the headboards with sari cloth) and an ornate-yet-inviting Indonesian daybed provide ample seating for languid days contemplating the many unusual art objects the couple collect on their global travels.

The master bath – which has a mirror theme – boasts a generously sized hand-tiled Jacuzzi-style bath (another Reiss design) and a working fireplace (one of eight working fireplaces throughout the house). Her kitchen is filled with antique toys and dolls – there are several groupings of mid-century dollhouse furniture, including cast-iron stoves and miniature porcelain pitchers, some of which Reiss has owned since childhood. Her studio, on the third floor, is the least decorated space in the house, with her paintings carefully stacked along the walls. She's currently working on a portrait of her son for his birthday.

As we're saying our goodbyes on the porch, a woman walking past calls out to Reiss, “I love your garden, it's such a joyful vision on this street.” Reiss smiles graciously, and says thank you.

Email us at: LETTERS@EYEWEEKLY.COM or send your questions to EYEWEEKLY.COM

625 Church St, 6th Floor, Toronto M4Y 2G1