Living Art

Gallery 133 transformed a small family business into a destination gallery rife with bold, contemplative works.

When someone walks into Gallery 133 and sheepishly says, “I don’t know anything about art,” owner Paul Wise replies matter-of-factly: “Yes, you do. You know what you like and that’s what’s important.” It’s this friendly and disarming approach that’s been a hallmark of the family-run business for 30 years, empowering its clients and bringing them back again and again. It’s all about nurturing strong relationships — between the gallery, the artists and the clients. Wise’s daughter, Vanessa Axelrad, continues that tradition as director, working alongside her father. She quickly puts you at ease, sharing her passion for the art and obvious pride of the artists themselves.

Wise started the business in 1990 as a trade gallery for the design community after owning a successful framing and wall decor art business, which catered to large department stores, hotels and offices. Many of those clients continue to use the gallery’s services, which include fine art, reproductions, framing and installation. What started with a small roster of Canadian artists is now a full-service gallery on Toronto’s Castlefield Avenue design district. “We opened to the public in 2000, catering to art consultants and designers and this has proven to be a successful formula,” says Axelrad.

Over the years, the business has continued to evolve and grow. The pandemic added yet another layer to the gallery’s breadth — online purchasing, made easy by software that allows the client to “see” the piece in their own home virtually. The ability to custom crate and ship works makes them accessible worldwide. “We make a great effort to ensure people take it home and view it in their spaces. By offering that opportunity, they can get a real feel for its presence,” says Wise.

Many of the gallery’s artists have been with them for years, if not decades. The roster ranges from the whimsical and contemplative sculptures of Reinhard Skoracki and the lush and layered figurative paintings of Janet McGreal to the luxury brand-laden photos of James Manderville. “We’ve always valued our artists and they, in turn, value us. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship that, if nurtured, encourages growth and creativity,” he says.

All new artists are carefully selected. On a trip to the United Kingdom, Axelrad was immediately taken by the mixed-media work of British artist Stuart Hartley — colourful balls sitting playfully atop and around wood ledges, showing different colours and forms from all angles. The hybrid painting-sculptures are wholly unique, hiding letters of a book or a poem and perfectly emblematic of the thought-provoking art the gallery carries. “I’m going out and seeing all the most current, contemporary works. I’ve discovered some amazing artists,” says Axelrad, who along with her father has launched careers and brought international artists into the fray, in addition to their continuing support of Canadian talent.

When asked about the future, Wise says, “I am very proud of the work Vanessa has done. I see her building additional opportunities to have group and individual exhibitions, which I know will grow the gallery significantly. I believe it’s important to show new work and new ideas. If you are not innovative, you fall away.” Though disparate, the works carried by the gallery all evoke strong feelings in the viewer — many require more than a brief view to truly absorb their full artistic expression. There is a quiet yet powerful presence to many of them. Looking at art online is one thing, but to see them in person is quite another. The high realism works of Adriana Molea mesmerize and move as you walk around them, and the assertive lines of Pietro Adamo’s abstracts command your attention. The gallery’s expansive space allows for an excellent viewing perspective. It’s quite obvious when visiting Gallery 133 that they are not only selling art, but they are living and breathing it, too.