Describing artist Andre Haines as a “jack of all trades” isn’t doing him justice, since it implies he’s also the master of none.
Haines, a local multidisciplinary artist, has taken on pretty much any form of creative endeavour you can imagine. He finished high school early to take the musical arts program at the University of Waterloo, and graduated the top of his class when studying theatre on Broadway. He’s created stage shows, been in movies, and wrote everyone’s favourite episode of sci-fi cult series Lexx (the musical episode “Brigadoom”).
But the medium that ended up drawing most of his creative energy is painting.
“I start my day every morning at four,” Haines tells Halifax Magazine in an interview at his home along the Bedford Highway, where he lives with his partner of 31 years, Gregory Watters. “I…go out to my little shed, turn on my heat, and I go out there and begin my painting, my work for the day.”
“I never intended to be a painter; I was going to be an oboist,” Haines adds, half-joking. But as he tells it, creativity is his oxygen, and painting was the only way he would be able to breathe every day. “My visual art is something I can do all the time.”
When he says he paints over 300 pieces a year, it’s not an exaggeration. The evidence of his productivity is on every wall, every shelf and side table, and every corner of his den.
“I have never met a painter with a higher output than Andre,” says Katie Hillman, gallery coordinator at Art Zone Gallery on Barrignton Street, where Haines is a member artist. “He is the most prolific painter and drawer I’ve ever seen.”
Haines has been doing something artistic every day for so long that, when asked where that creative spark was first lit, he had to stop and think about it. He grew up in an artistic family, creativity was all around him. But it didn’t take long to identify his father as the source of ignition.
“I used to watch dad,” says Haines. “We had a basement in our house in Toronto, and he had a painting corner set up down there. I would have been very little—a couple years old, maybe two or three years old—and I used to watch him painting with his ‘special paints’…I always figured, if I could get tall enough to get to the special paints, I’d be able to do paintings.”
Haines did eventually get those special paints, but as an inheritance. His father, Alexander Gigeroff, passed away last May at age 84.
Gigeroff was on Haines’s mind when he had his first major gallery show at Art Zone, a few months after he had died. And not entirely because of the special paints.
“Andre came and actually picked me up that day, to come into the gallery,” says Hillman, noting that Haines’s show coincided with the annual Pride parade. “I just remember the look on his face when he was looking around and seeing the parade going on, and that there were children there, and there were families there.” Haines had never been to a Pride parade before.
“I went down on the street, and I’m standing there, and all these people are going— gay, straight, everybody—just being happy with themselves,” he recalls. “When I was 10 or 12 years old…I could never imagine people walking down the street who were gay…and everyone applauding and happy.”
Gigeroff came to mind here as well, since Haines knows that, at least in some small part, a sight like that wouldn’t have been possible without his father.
“Dad did a lot of work in sexual deviations in the criminal law, and helped reform the Canadian codes and law for homosexuality,” says Haines. “I’d have loved him to stand on the street and to marvel at it. And maybe I was marvelling at it through his eyes, too.”
Before resettling the family to Yarmouth and becoming a painter, Alex Gigeroff held a PhD in criminology, and was one of the leading figures in the late 1960s championing for a change in the national consciousness towards all sorts of crimes of “sexual deviation,” homosexuality included.
“He was definitely a pioneer in that area,” says Judge Barry Stuart, a former student, colleague, and friend of Gigeroff’s. He explains that Gigeroff was very interested in bringing more caring and understanding to the judicial system, and getting to the root causes of taboo acts (rape, incest, and at the time, homosexuality) instead of throwing the book at offenders. He likens Gigeroff’s work to the notion of restorative justice, only decades ahead of its time.
“He was trying to get Canadians to recognize that this isn’t an aberrant kind of behaviour,” says Stuart. “It’s a behaviour that’s natural, it’s a behaviour that needs to be understood. He really was part of the raising of the consciousness.”
Haines recalls that Gigeroff worked closely with Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal party to decriminalize homosexuality. “He would go on Canada AM and talk about rape and incest and all these different things,” says Haines. “Of course, that didn’t go over very well. We’d have threats at the house, we’d have to leave the house. They didn’t want him to talk about these things.”
Gigeroff’s early championship of gay rights wasn’t spurred by Haines being gay himself; Haines came out after all that happened. His mother struggled with it, despite working in the theatre and having many gay friends herself, but to Gigeroff, nothing had changed.
“Alex would have been, was, no more concerned about that than he would be concerned about [Haines’ brother] Lex being a non-homosexual,” says Stuart. “He wouldn’t have seen any difference.”
Haines says that he didn’t correlate his father’s crusade and his own experience coming out in a turbulent time growing up. Looking back, he says that courage is another thing Gigeroff left him. “It’s about being brave. To be able to speak what your mind is, and be the kind of person you want,” says Haines. “I guess he gave me that. I’ve always tried to be the person that I am, and not hide and run. I guess that, more than the fact that he fought for gay rights or everything else, that meant so much more to me and instructed me as a person.”
His father’s special paints now sit in Haines’ backyard workshop, giving him a medium to create with, fuelled by an urge to create. Haines doesn’t believe in an afterlife but in these ways, his father’s still with him.
“Dad had decorated a little lampshade for his living room,” says Haines. “I took that when I moved the apartment, and I put it out in my little [shed]. In the morning, I go in and I turn on his little light