Dori Vanderheyden

Home: Toronto ON
Title: Universal Woman of Optimism
Media: Gouache on Archival Black paper
Dimensions: 89 x 76 cm

Artist Statement

This portrait is one of a series entitled Black Matters, and came into being for two reasons. First was my thoughts and feelings, based on personal observation and experience, of how deeply prejudiced North American society still is. Second I was teaching art at Central Technical School and saw first hand racial prejudice at work in the system.

I painted one of my students, Jessie, Universal Woman of Optimism. She is completely deaf, wears a cochlear implant, and had many obstacles in her life, including losing her mother to cancer while in my class. Jessie has a smile that just knocks you out with genuine warmth. She radiates positive energy. She never gives up. She is now studying art and design at George Brown College.


I was born to immigrant Dutch parents and raised in Toronto. In September 2017 I will begin an MFA at OCAD University. Idiosyncratic ways of knowing, the slippage of perception, and identity is what I paint about. Recent paintings are about the power and history of place. Solid, silent witnesses, rocks are metaphors for the forgotten narratives and histories of indigenous people who were once in the places that have now been so dramatically altered.