Jeanine Brito is an artist, but you could also describe her as someone whose life is one great work of art. The 28-year-old painter creates surrealist, richly hued pieces that speak to the essence of memory. Meanwhile, her magical Toronto apartment does the same with mementoes, antique finds, and ornate pieces she finishes by hand. “I want to live in an apartment where I look around and everything is beautiful to me,” she says. On a warm September day when we visited Brito’s little light-filled wonderland, it was evident she’d achieved her goal, with her own works taking centre stage alongside thrifted furniture (miraculously sourced from Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace) that recalled the Art Deco era, the maximalist eighties and beyond. “My home isn’t done yet, but I love the process of it, anyway,” she says.
As a kid growing up in Germany, Brazil, and Alberta, Canada, Brito was playful and expressive. She loved dress-up, princess movies, and of course, painting, which is adorably on record in the book of her childhood works that her grandparents gave her for her high school graduation. “The earliest drawing in there is from when I was two, which I titled Happy Face with Hair Balloon,” she says. “The book also includes images from my princess phase, when I drew hundreds of princesses with voluminous, ornately detailed skirts.” In her teen years, Brito channelled her creativity into journals shared with friends in lieu of passing notes in class. The books were annotated with sassy thoughts, illustrated with potential outfits, and filled with what else: gossip about boys.
Brito’s own nostalgia for these times is in part what inspires her artwork. “I love painting that tells a story, and I’m perpetually living in my head and reminiscing, so it seemed like natural to make a show about all of these memories I’ve collected,” she says. This past summer, Brito exhibited August and Other Stories, a show that mined her recent and distant past with whimsical dream sequences that bring together candles, croissants, and self portraits. In her painting, The Parting Gift, a woman is depicted holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a fish peeking out from inside the wrapping. “In our early twenties, somehow my friends and I started joking that if someone broke your heart, you should mail them a fish as retribution,” she says. In The Fallibility of Memory, she paints herself inspecting a piece of cake with a hole through the centre, scared to touch it. “I ate a cake like that with my Omi a few years ago, and it’s such a precious memory to me,” she says. “The cake is a stand-in for that afternoon, but also for every other memory I wish I could preserve forever.”
As Brito worked on the show, she began thinking about the ways in which memory fails, “and how we willingly or unwillingly alter our memories.” In an era when altered versions of reality are preserved on social media forever, maybe memories are all we have.