Qildfyre is the pseudonym of award-winning author, poet, and spoken word artist Vironika Tugaleva. She began exploring visual art as a way to counterbalance the abundance of words in her work. Visual art allows her to express what speech cannot.
There is an element of escapism in her creative process. Working with her hands is a break from working with words. Yet her paintings are still saying something. And her words still paint pictures in readers’ and listeners’ minds. The balance between visual and verbal expression has allowed her to sustain a higher volume of productivity as an artist.
Some recurring themes in her work include balance, healing, female sexuality, and the universe. If you search for vaginas in her pieces, you will easily find them. She explores the universe as a vagina birthing the world and birthing itself. She explores the necessary balance between darkness and light, inner and outer worlds, sacredness and profanity. She explores the beauty and chaos of the archetypal Goddess. She explores the meaning of love, home, and safety. Most of all, she explores herself, and by that, explores you. Dive in. You are so welcome.
Below, you will find her paintings in the chronological order of their creation and also the stories of how those paintings came to be. Afterward, there is a gallery of marker drawings. If you’d like to discuss purchasing a piece, please email email@example.com.
Art is Home
This was my first painting. Its arrival was unexpected. There was no pregnancy, only a sudden but welcome birth at a meeting of the now dissolved Stone Soup Collective run by Ordo Alchemeer Tinmagus. The story of this piece is the first chapter of my whirlwind romance with visual art.
I sold my things to travel in 2014, believing that Toronto would soon become a distant memory. Yet the first time I returned, something unclenched within me that I didn’t realize had been. It felt like home. This unexpected comfort has returned again and again. A few months before the creation of this painting, I touched down in Toronto on a windy October day in 2018. I had just spent 9 months in South America and intended to visit for a short time before going somewhere warmer for the winter. As I write this, it’s May. I am still here.
In Toronto, I found fellow writers. I found artists and musicians. I found spoken word. I found Ordo’s art jams. It was my second time going to one. I showed up with a canvas I’d been gifted. I wasn’t sure what would happen.
Ordo’s art jams were always full of people. Strangely, that day, I was the only person there. He told me things I’d never have considered. He said to paint the sides. He said to move my brush in circles. He told me to wait for the paint to dry. My poetic mind found such deep meaning in this metaphor. How many times in my life had I rushed things, lost the subtlety in each beautiful moment because I couldn’t wait for the metaphorical paint to dry?
There was a moment when Ordo and I looked at the universe unfolding on the canvas before us, marvelling at the fact that this was my first painting. A silent part of me finally gained its voice—a visual outlet I’d never accessed before because I was too busy chasing words.
My original intent was to write a longer piece on this background: “One day, you will show everyone why you’ve always been so strange. Against the background of your art, your madness will make sense.” The letters I’d planned to use were too big, so I decided to shorten it. It became a long sentence, then a short sentence, then a few words, and eventually… just three. The simplest version of what I wanted to say. Now, I see the presence of words in my first painting is a symbol of transition—a coming of artist story. A necessary but temporary addition. I’ve put my pieces here in Gallery 1017 after once again purging all my things and packing up to travel. I’ll be back, but I’m not sure for how long. Toronto has been home for me as long as my creative energy has felt welcomed here, but at the end of the day, I’m still a nomad. My home isn’t any physical place. My home is the process of creativity that guides me through each day. I’ve had a lot of trouble even thinking about selling this piece because it means so much to me. But at the end of the day, I’ve realized that the idea of art being home travels with me everywhere I go. I am ready to release this piece to a loving owner. May it live as a reminder of where you always unconditionally belong.
The idea of parting with this piece hurts me. Every time I look at it, I feel a rush of emotions paired with doubt that anyone else except me could ever appreciate its beautiful meaning. Even as I write this, I have some doubts about displaying it. If you are reading this, it means I was won over by an idea: no human experience is truly unique. We are all tasting the same fruits. By sharing something that I feel so deeply connected to, I am placing my trust in the human condition, knowing that I am not the only one who can benefit from this message.
When I was a teenager, I had intense sex dreams where I felt consumed by passion. When I started having sex, every experience was disappointing. Why couldn’t real life be like my dreams? I was passionate about my first lover. I felt him in my bones. When it came to the actual encounters between us, though, I often felt like I was performing a role that was expected of me. Blame porn. Blame the media. Blame my loveless upbringing. It doesn’t really matter why. But my relationship to my sexuality has, for most of my life, been fractured. I knew what I was expected offer. I knew what I wanted. And the two never seemed to match up.
I spent seven years in a relationship where I had labelled myself as having low sexual desire. It was my fault I never wanted to jump into bed. My body was unresponsive. It seemed to make sense. My first sexual experience wasn’t exactly consensual. I had used up the “love of your life” card on my first boyfriend. I made peace with it. Not only was I never going to feel anything like the feelings in my dreams, but I also was never going to feel anything like my most powerful approximations.
The story of my awakening—sexually and emotionally—is chronicled in my upcoming poetry book and spoken word album titled Bursting Into Art. This painting is the first piece of visual art that reflects on those experiences. Finding someone I not only felt passion for, but more passion than I felt for my first boyfriend. Finding someone I not only felt safe with, but more safe than I’d ever felt. Finding someone who made me feel not only the desire in my dreams, but something even more magical than that. Because it was real. It is real. And the source isn’t him. It’s something beyond that, something I’ve allowed myself to surrender into, something I’ve been carrying with me all along.
The two people on the swing look like him and I, at least to me. There have been times when I’ve looked at this painting while he was playing guitar and felt so wrapped in the arms of the Goddess: a concept I’ve continued to explore through my words and art. There have been times when I’ve missed his warmth, looked at this painting, and been reminded of the timelessness of a deep, authentic connection based on mutual respect, creative freedom, and healing through truth. There have been times when I’ve been clouded in doubt and seen the piece as a symbol of possibility, a story of the future rather than the present, a chastity belt protecting me from entering into anything less than what I dream about. I hope that whoever gives this painting a home will find empowerment in its deep reverence for female sexuality. Some men describe their genitals as “thinking for themselves.” In reflecting on my history of poor relationship choices, I’ve realized that my vagina has been wiser than me all along, trying to guide me to safety, love, beauty. If only I had been listening. If only I had given importance to my own desires, my passion, my freedom to feel like a Goddess. If only all women could feel so empowered to find lovers who truly respect the Goddess within them. If only we could all feel safe inside the cosmic energy that created us. I can only hope that this piece will play its small part in that social transformation.
This piece started at the Paint Lounge on College Street where my friend was having a bachelorette party. Relieved that we were painting instead of looking at strippers, I took the opportunity to play with all the amazing supplies available at the venue. I’d spent almost two hours playing with sponges, creating a background that is largely covered up in this final piece. Beneath its exterior is an undershirt of play, curiosity, wide-eyed exploration. A sponge. So enticing. Who knew?
I took a video of this piece, particularly the thick, gooey, golden inside and put it up on social media. Then, I left it at the lounge for a week to dry. Within that week, I was offered a spot for it at the Toronto Visionary Arts Show. I was overjoyed. Then, I was reunited with my creation.
The first look I took at this painting, after a week of absence, sent waves of disappointment through my body. The acrylic paint that had been so thick when wet was now flat when dry. Some splatters had dried in colours I didn’t like. I messaged the organizer of the Toronto Visionary Arts Show and tried to convince him to take me out of it. I told him I didn’t deserve it. This painting didn’t deserve it.
He didn’t reply to my message, but I could see on Facebook Messenger that he’d read it. I imagined him rolling his eyes and saying, “Don’t be such an artist. We all feel like this.” I looked at the painting again. I started to see it not as flawed but as half-finished. I had only spent 4 hours on it at the party, much less than I’d spent on any of my other pieces. Why not work on it more?
I added crackling paste to the areas I didn’t like. I slowly watched them come alive. I repainted the black “hair.” I redid the inside with relief paste and gold leaf. Now, it is a hundred times more beautiful than it ever was freshly painted and wet. I was proud to display it at the show.
But the story wasn’t over for Yoniverse. When I got the piece back, it had a rip in it. No one knew how or why. At first, I was disappointed. Then, I remembered the story of this painting—this painting that I kept thinking was finished, but it kept asking to be embellished, begging to have me reconsider the label of “complete” and being willing to create more magic with it.
I fixed the rip in the back and painted the front of it. When I look at this part, I see a scar, a shining beacon to what happens when we roll with life’s punches and keep going. When I look at the gold leaf on this piece, I think about how sometimes I have to lose what I think is beautiful to find something unspeakably gorgeous. When I look at the signature on this piece, the only one I’ve signed, I see myself defined as an imperfect being who is always in progress. I am the Yoniverse as much as its creator. I am a process. And I am always willing to create beauty out of chaos, uncertainty, and pain.
This piece and Safe Inside are painted on panels I bought together. One day, fueled by frustration, I pulled out some green and silvers paints and layered them on thickly all over the whole panel. It sat like this for months. I wasn’t sure how to proceed.
Before I ever bought the panel, I’d had a vision to draw something that looked like this. I was walking beside the lake at night one cold February day, and I found myself on an ice ledge over what looked like a stream. I started crying. What a metaphor for leaping into the flow. There is always a choice. The idea of leaping into a yin yang emerged slowly as I walked home.
I drew this concept, first in pencil, then digitally on Google Keep. I tried to sketch it on Illustrator. I tried to draw it in markers. Each time, I felt frozen at a certain point. I was so enamoured with this concept that I became afraid of trying to execute it. Who was I to paint something with so much meaning? I even spoke to a friend of mine who is a visual artist about commissioning her to draw it for me.
A few weeks before I was getting ready to sell all my things again and get back on the road, I looked at that green and silver wooden frame. What was I going to do with it? The idea popped into my head: draw the yin yang. In that moment, I felt I had nothing to lose. So what if it didn’t turn out how I’d hoped? At worst, I’d throw it out. So, I began.
The idea to draw a universe on the dark side came first. Naturally, the white spot emerged as a moon. The craters came later. I then laid gold leaf on the center “flow” which is still backed by the original green and silver background. The last thing I added to this piece was the person on the cliff. In all my drawings/sketches of this piece, this part was the most malleable. Its size and perspective has changed with each iteration of the concept. This was no exception. I didn’t imagine a person positioned quite this way, but now that it exists, I wouldn’t want it any other way. What a metaphor for my journey of self-love and self-discovery.
This is my most recent piece. When I dropped it off to the gallery, it was still wet. To me, the cosmic leap showcased in the painting isn’t just a concept, it’s also the story of the piece itself. I took a courageous leap to execute something I didn’t feel I could. And look what happened. Beauty. Love. Truth. Courage is so important. Leap. You never know where you’ll end up until you try.
Returning to the Core
I was invited to go up north to a cottage with some friends. When I arrived, there was a pad of mixed media paper and a pencil case full of markers and pencil crayons on the table. I was invited to use them. I did. I blended the pencils with my saliva. I drew the rainbow yoni from the inside out. The process felt sacred.
Later on, I came to work on my piece and was surprised to find that the pad was gone and so was the pencil case. The girl who owned them had left. All that remained was the semi-finished piece on the table. I asked my friend who owned the cottage for art materials. He brought me clay, liquid cement, and pieces of broken marbles. I made use of them. I went outside for a hike and collected leaves, moss, pine needles, tree bark. Later that evening, we dug charcoal out of the fire. This is what created the “hair.”
After I got back to Toronto, I added the “night” and “day” background. My intention was to create the impression of balanced energy. I had the idea to draw a small realistic bird—something I’d never done before (not just the bird but realistic painting in general). The piece sat for two months as I gathered the courage to do this. One day, I sat down, pulled up a photo of a bird and did my best. I was impressed with how it turned out, amused at how long it took me to muster the courage to try, and grateful for the opportunity to be brave in this new medium.
Feeling the piece was almost finished, I bought some sealant for the charcoal. I sprayed it on the black portion, thinking I was minutes away from being done. Alas, with the first spray, the middle of the piece—the rainbow yoni that had started it all—began to melt before my eyes. Horrified, I had a flash of a memory: taking a marker out of that pencil case up north and reading “Crayola washable.” Oops.
As a poet, I rejoice in finding metaphors in everyday events—especially tragedies. This was no exception. It struck me that I had used someone else’s tools, whatever was available, to create the epicenter of my piece. What a metaphor for relying on outside approval to create my sense of self! I had worked for months on the background around the yoni like I have reached for accomplishments to pad my insecurities. But because my inside wasn’t built consciously, it dissolved. I had to go back, get better tools, recreate my core. Just like I had to wipe clean my false self and return to authenticity, I had to wipe clean the center of this piece and recreate it. I bought real watercolour pencils and blended them with water. I used quality markers. It looks more vibrant now, more stable. The process of creating this piece is a metaphor for my journey of life, hence the title.
Dripping in Gold
One morning, I woke up feeling empty, desperate, and alone. I felt like the walls of my bedroom were closing in around me. I decided to go to the lake. On my way, I observed as my attention lingered on the painful parts of reality—road kill, angry graffiti, dirt. By the lake, I saw garbage, so much garbage. I started to pick up some of it. It turned into a kind of meditation. The eroded glass was especially beautiful, as was the Styrofoam. I marvelled at the persistence of water, wearing down these hard materials. I found a knife. I found a spoon. I found pieces of plastic.
I walked along the lakeshore and then into High Park. I also collected natural materials. I had the idea to make a piece that balanced found objects and nature. I sat on dirt. I climbed up hills. On my way out of the park, I found a man playing a strange instrument. I sat a few meters away from him and listened. He stopped playing and asked me, “How does it sound?” I told him it was good. He said, “I am not a musician. It is my hobby. I am not bad. But I am not perfect. I am trying.” He pointed to his instrument and continued, “It is very spiritual. It is like a human being. It has a soul.” I walked out of the park with tears on my cheeks and a smile on my lips. I wasn’t perfect. I was trying. I had soul. I was human.
On my way home, I stopped to get some food and asked the guy behind the counter if he knew where I could find a large piece of wood. He told me to look out back. I went rummaging in the alley in the dark. I emerged victorious. I bought some adhesive, took the wood to Christie Pits and started gluing. For weeks, I continued to return to this piece each time that I felt uncertain, lost, or heavy. There’s a lot of hot glue in it. There’s also a lot of redirected sadness and anger in it. It’s a symbol of transmuting darkness into light, garbage into beauty, chaos into order.
The layer around the glass is made of small pieces of paint peeled off drop sheets and cups used for pour canvases. Gluing these small pieces in a determined shape took hours and left scars on my fingers. It also showed me the beauty of combining abstraction with form, planning with improvisation. I carried that energy into the rest of the piece. Some parts, I laid out and then glued down. Other parts, I put glue on the back of and put wherever it felt right.
I found the gold and white paint, the inner flower, and the white “snowflakes” in boxes on the side of the road. The broken tile in the top right, I found on the street in one piece and broke with a crowbar. The red feathers fell off a costume worn by a woman whose face I painted at an ecstatic dance event in Kitchener. The pebbles nestled in the gold paint are a mix of silica gel from roasted seaweed packets and plastic pebbles I picked off the beach one by one. The “beads” around the golden inside were part of a plastic plant I saw in the middle of an intersection long before the beach day that began this story. I walked by this thing and, immediately after, got a strong impulse to return and pick it up. I tried to convince myself it was garbage, but the urge was too strong. I brought it home. More than a month later, I picked the red berries off one by one, amazed by how perfectly they fit into this piece.
I hope to make a statement about turning trash into treasure, transmuting pain into something beautiful. I also hope to call attention to the abundance of garbage all around us. I decided against using natural materials in this piece for that reason. As it unfolded before me, it became more than just a piece of art. It became a piece of activism. Look at what we’re creating. Yes, we can make beauty of it. But still. Look at what we’re creating. So much waste. So much opportunity to rethink our relationship to the material world.
This series started with me trying to take out my recycling. The gate was closed. I went to the church next door and found bags of discarded romance novels. I took a few home. I started cutting out words.
I kept piecing the words together, photographing them, but not gluing them down. A few months later, I traded a necklace on Bunz for a book called Seed, which contained pages of tear-off photographs. It was falling apart. The original owner said, “I don’t want much. I just want it to go to someone who can appreciate it.” When I agreed to trade for this book, I had no idea about the photographs. When I saw them, I could feel their future in my bones.
Mixed into the romance novels is a philosophical book translated from Polish called In Defense of Ardor by Adam Zagajewski. The passion with which the author speaks about art, poetry, and music is so reminiscent of the passion with which romance novels speak about human connection.
Gluing down the words continued to challenge me for a long time. I only began to put glue to paper a few days before the opening of this exhibit. The commitment involved in this process flooded me with doubt, self-awareness, and eventually, deep reverence for the role of trust in the creative process.
I dipped the edges in black paint mixed with molding paste before gluing the words down. Framing the space for beauty before creating it. I’m a poet. I live in metaphors.
There is one sad one. Cutting words out of books is an interesting process. I never know what their future will be, but I trust when I think something is beautiful. Once in a while, I found words that made me sad. I cut them out, despite sideways glances from my inner critic. One day, I was feeling low and all the sad bits came together into one very sad poem. It is the tiny splash of white in my dark, the bit of yang in my yin (or maybe the bit of yin in my yang?) I’m still trying to figure that out: the role of sadness and heartbreak in my non-fiction love stories. How much is too much? Is creating one sad piece a gateway for a dozen more? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I’m ready to allow whatever must happen to happen. I trust.
The Power of the Pen Collection Materials: markers, pens, gel pens, watercolour pencils, pigment ink, pencil Price: $50-250
Markers challenge my inner perfectionist to find beauty in whatever flows out instead of trying to cover up my rawness with my ideas about what it should look like. Markers and pens expect commitment. Paint can be layered. Markers ask for trust and acceptance.
In scanning these pieces, I’ve found that some translate perfectly onto a computer screen. Some don’t. This is the magic and the frustration of gel pens. Their holography doesn’t show up in digital versions. These pieces have a remarkable, irreproducible shine in their original form, like the most beautiful moments of life.
Two of these pieces, Lovocado and Sleeping Next to You, are made with watercolour pencils. This process is distinct as well. The original drawing is choppy and unblended. Then, water shows up like a messiah. The challenge, then, is to distribute the weight of the newly liquid colours in a way that honours the patterns of weight distribution in the visual universe while respecting the potentially destructive effects of too much water on paper. It’s a gentle alchemy.
Some of these pieces communicate love, romance, passion, wide-open trust. A few are sad. Some do not appear sad, but their creation was my escape from dark feelings. The meticulousness of colouring starry night skies requires 100% of my attention, which lets me divert that attention from the controlling, depressing, and hopeless voices in my head. It’s the closest thing in my whirlwind everyday life to vegging out in front of a TV. Like all my art, it is my salvation and my distraction.