Toronto silkscreen artist and fashionista Kingi Carpenter has vision beyond beyond her creative genius.
Two years ago — after moving her shop and studio Peach Berserk out of her Queen St. W. location, where she’d been a fixture for nearly 20 years — Carpenter discovered her perfect home/work space. It was in a vacant variety store on Rogers Rd.
Her new digs are in a west-end neighbourhood, north of The Junction neighbourhood in York, on a street lined with cafes, shops, garages and a stretch of Prospect Cemetery. “I didn’t see crazy or run down. I thought, ‘This is so me.’ This is the Kingi version of the Taj Mahal: big, industrial, inexpensive: just what I was looking all over the city for. Seriously perfect,” she says.
Carpenter is the clothing designer, teacher and entrepreneur who founded Peach Berserk — a shade of lipstick mentioned in Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 novel Sex and the Single Girl.
She started her business selling silkscreened garments made from used materials, like pillow slips, and delivered them on her bicycle
Carpenter went on to create designs for author Margaret Atwood, musician Bif Naked, and the late musician Prince. She’s a celebrity in her own right, too.
“A few years ago I was in New York City with a friend and we decided to get a beer in a super-cool looking Lower East Side bar. I was almost intimidated to go in, and there was only one man in there, drinking at the bar. We walk in and he shouts out: “Hey! That’s Kingi Carpenter of Peach Berserk!”
Carpenter embraces every inch of her 3,000-square-foot, two-level rental space that she’s renovated. “We painted everything, including the ceiling, done Sistine-Chapel style,” she says, standing beneath her thrift-shop chandeliers. “The whole installation and move cost about $ 3,000.
“My insane collection of paint-by-numbers works came from thrift shops, church sales and every place I could look,” she says of her more than 800 paintings. “They fit my retro esthetic and have a fun sense of humour.”
The sign out front is Carpenter’s handiwork, made with hand-cut stencils. “I wanted it to look handmade. It suits my un-perfectionist nature,” she says.
On any given day, the space might be filled with a fashion shoot or a gathering of 35 businesswomen filling the main floor and occupying the half-dozen vintage sofas — some decorated with silkscreen images. She holds events and teaches classes. “The main floor is my living room/art gallery/rental space/art class teaching space, with my private living space, separated by a door, in the back,” she explains.
“Recently, the band The Used did a video here — that’s a big deal, if you are a classic punk rock lover, like me,” Carpenter points out.
Alongside her hundreds of paint-by-numbers canvasses are family portraits, in different styles and sizes, that include her father, mother, Carpenter herself and her daughter, Digby. Some feature rhinestones in bedazzled highlights.
The kitchen and working area for silkscreening are on the lower level, with a light table and an old, claw-footed bathtub for rinsing the screens. Alongside are racks and stacks of used clothing. “I believe in — and teach — upcycling of materials,” Carpenter says.
“My students make tote bags, patch jean jackets, the sky’s the limit. I like to teach kids that there is too much textile waste, and it is better to funk up what you own, or buy second-hand things and make them your own with screen print.”
The bathroom and a separate shower room are also on the lower level. “This is seriously the Taj Mahal for me,” Carpenter emphasizes.
Carpenter’s path to Rogers Rd. included a few years in what she calls a “normal” house on Shaw St. with a shed for her art projects and supplies. But the shed burned down, so moving was the next step.
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Affordable rent tipped things in Rogers Rd.’s favour. “I really liked the landlord, too,” Carpenter points out. The area has been acquiring some cachet, touted as Little Portugal and sporting so-named street banners. “Those are by the Rogers Rd. BIA,” Carpenter notes. “I’m a member. There are a lot of cool businesses in the area.”
“When it came to this place, I had to choose between a conventional apartment and job — or take a risk.
“I chose the path of most-resistance. This is a space that is funky, not neat and renovated. It’s in an area of Toronto that is still on the frontier. I love it.”