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Jan. 19, 2022 | Wednesday
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Magdalena Titian - falling in love with NOTL through watercolour paintings
Magdalena Titian in her Gate Street home and studio. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

It only seems fitting a hand-painted for sale sign is what attracted Magdalena Titian to the 1842 former slave cottage she now calls home.

More than 30 years ago, as a young Toronto painter inspired by the quaint beguiling streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake, she made the move to her Gate Street home, never looking back.

“As a floral painter, this was utopia,” she recalls.

 She was attracted to the peacefulness of the small town, which she visited on several occasions before finally settling down for good.

“Every time I came here, I was just so attracted to the ambiance, the quiet streets and the ability to exhale. It was really impressive.”

Titian is a watercolour painter inspired by French Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin. She specializes in florals, attracted to the complex arrangements and vibrant colours naturally found in gardens.

“I’m a Pisces, I relate to it somehow,” she says of her innate desire to work with watercolours.

“I chose to paint watercolours, a luminous medium, because I like painting on a wet surface, allowing the paint to create its own forms. In this way, the colours are never tampered with and are vivid and transparent as the light shines through.”

She says she’s able to create something beautiful by letting go of control.

“Letting go, freedom, has been in one way or another my ambition – in painting and in other aspects of my life.”

She worked in administrative positions until her love of painting began to take hold at the age of 25. She was a secretary at Canadian General Electric for several years; the position wouldn’t keep after her desire to create was realized.

Her preferred method is to paint “en plein air,” meaning outdoors. She says this gives her more freedom than she would have if she restricted herself to working in studios.

Immersing herself among the flowers and plants, she uses the inspiration of the up-close perspective to guide her brush strokes, creating the gorgeous floral watercolour paintings.

Well-travelled, Titian has set foot in 48 countries around the world, often bringing a small canvas and her paints along. Painting the world as she experiences it, she says she gets a better sense of the people and cultures she visits, blending into the scenery while blending the colours on canvas — and learning about people around the globe. In this way, she doesn’t look in from the outside, rather she becomes a part of the culture through the creation of her work.

Exploring many countries and pulling inspiration from elsewhere, she remains in awe of NOTL.

“I have travelled and painted in many countries, but never with as much satisfaction as here in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

Her enthusiasm for this small town was transferred to her mother, who initially couldn’t quite understand Titian’s infatuation.

“When I told her I bought a house in Niagara-on-the-Lake, she was like, ‘What, in that dumpy old town?’ She remembered it from the ‘50s, when it was an army base – and it was dumpy. Prince of Wales had sawdust on the floor and the place was almost falling down. The town wasn’t anything of note.”

Titian says she asked her mother to reserve her judgement until she could come and visit, adding that she knew her mother would fall for the town as she had.

“She did. That very weekend when she came, she was so awe-struck that she bought a house. She moved here and lived here for 25 years, bringing my grandmother with her.”

After living in “Toronto the good,” before congestion, development and traffic took hold, Titian says she outgrew the concrete city and no longer fit it.

She belonged in a peaceful, vibrant small town.

Titian attributes some of her love for bright colours and florals to the contrasting dry plains of the Prairies, where she was born. Hailing from Lennard, Man., she says she was in awe of the botanical gardens in Hamilton, Ont., when her family moved there when she was about four years old.

Recalling her beginnings in Manitoba, she says she came from the Prairies at a time when there was little else to focus on, besides nature.

“Dry heat, the occasional wildflower, the skies were constantly changing. My eyes always focused on nature.”

After making the move to NOTL, Titian was asked to teach some courses at the Pumphouse. When she started, it wasn’t the thriving art centre it is today.

“The Pumphouse then still had the big pump ... in the building, in the front room. There were cracked windows and mice and dripping water and so on, but it was a start. And the interest in the courses there grew slowly over the years.”

Titian had an art show in a park when Barbara Ahluwalia, one of the Pumphouse’s founders, was spearheading a move to renovate and open the Pumphouse as an art centre. She asked Titian to teach a class, and she happily agreed.

“And now it’s a very vibrant, active place. It’s totally changed.”

She’s a creator at heart, with a strong desire to pass her knowledge and experience on to anyone with an interest in artistic expression. In her calm and serene manner, she speaks of travelling with students to help them to also see the beauty in the world.

Titian’s gentle soul is expressed through her art and her surroundings. Her quaint, cottage home in NOTL is a reflection, the basement floor a studio space housing a lifetime of paintings. She happily opens her house and studio to those wanting to view her paintings, asking only for a phone call in advance.

In the warmer weather, she can be found in gardens around town, sitting on the ground among the plants, painting her heart’s desire in the sun.

She will be showcasing her art alongside Stevensville artist Otto Fondan in April.

“His art is large and dramatic. He uses hard mediums, oils and acrylics.”

Titian says the contrast of her bright, feminine watercolours next to his hard, masculine work is about balance. Excited to showcase her work, she says it’s something not to miss.

“People are still fascinated by nature and my art never goes out of fashion. With all the new development today, it’s more important than ever to stay true to nature.”

She says that everyone has self-expression in them just waiting to be discovered. Through art, she says you learn a lot about yourself. “It’s a mirror – if you’re brave enough to look at it.”

Her month-long gallery showing at the Niagara Falls Public Library on Victoria Avenue in Niagara Falls premieres April 5 at 1 p.m.

To arrange a viewing, call 905-468-4809.