A good portrait demands that the artist balance mood, character, exciting painting and an accurate likeness.– Jeff Sprang
Jeff Sprang has had the good fortune to meet and paint the portraits of some of the leading figures of our time.
In June 1990, Jeff Sprang attended a reception for Nelson Mandela at Central Technical School which led to the painting of the Portrait of Nelson Mandela. A limited edition print was produced and signed by Mandela in support of the education of Black South African students.
In 1995, City TV was the venue for a watercolour exhibition of Sprang’s portraits titled Putting on Airs. Portraits of Avi Lewis and Natalie Pujo of City TV, Erica Ehm of MuchMusic, and Jeanne Beker of Fashion Television were featured in the show.
Northrop Frye (1912-1991) was one of the most important literary scholars of the twentieth century, and a distinguished professor at Victoria College, University of Toronto for over fifty years. Sprang was one of Frye’s former students and Sprang’s 2005 portrait of professor Frye at the blackboard in front of the lesson The Conspectus of Genres hangs in Northrop Frye Hall.
In 2006, Sprang donated his portrait of Stephen Lewis to the Peel District School Board. A limited edition print of the portrait was produced and all proceeds from sales of the print go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to help ease the pain of HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Sprang’s work includes other notables such as Muhammad Ali, Sidney Crosby, Amanda Lang, sensei Masami Tsuruoka and Dr. Tom Chau.
Art publications including Art Impressions and Azure magazine have reviewed Sprang’s painting. He has also been featured in the Toronto Star and on City TV, CBC, Pulse 24 and CBC Sunday Arts Entertainment.
Artist Jeff Sprang with one of his limited edition prints of Olympic Swimmer Penny Oleksiak, at Monarch Park Collegiate, her former high school in Toronto on Nov. 12, 2019. Photo by Nick Kozak / Toronto Star
Toronto artist Jeff Sprang reached out to the family of Olympic swimmer Penny Oleksiak with these requests: Could he paint her portrait? Could she sign some prints made from it? Could those be sold to help fund school pools in Toronto?
For three decades now, Sprang has been combining his talent for painting with philanthropy, helping to raise money for nutrition programs in Toronto public schools, literacy foundations around the world and now, with Oleksiak’s portrait, pools at three local schools — Monarch Park, Carleton Village elementary and the therapeutic pool for special needs students at Sunny View.
Oleksiak was a Monarch Park student when she won four medals in Rio in 2016 — setting a Canadian record — at age 16.
Sprang said after watching the Olympics “and the fact that she was the fastest swimmer in the world at the time, the fact that she was so young, a student of Toronto and at Monarch Park — that was just so inspiring. It was such a remarkable achievement.”
He was first inspired in 1990, when he worked for the former Toronto school board as part of the communications team handling Nelson Mandela’s visit.
“He came to Central Tech (high school),” Sprang explained in a recent interview at Monarch Park Collegiate in East York, where a signed print of Oleksiak hangs in the hallway near the school’s pool.
“They had a line for the media” drawn on the floor that reporters and photographers, who had come from around the world to cover Mandela, could not cross.
But Sprang was staff, so he could get up close. He stood within a foot or so of the South African leader, snapping photos which he later used as the basis for his watercolour painting.
During the visit, Mandela had urged Toronto students to do all they could to help Black students in South Africa.
For Sprang, that sparked an idea. He spoke to the board, made up some prints of his painting and sent some to South Africa — which Mandela personally signed before they were sent back and used for a fundraiser.
Since then, Sprang has painted portraits from photos of Sidney Crosby — which became part of a travelling Hockey Hall of Fame art show — and musicians Leonard Cohen, Gord Downie, Bryan Adams and Drake.
His most recent is a portrait of Indigenous writer and Star columnist Tanya Talaga, which he hopes will be hung at the University of Toronto. Both he and Talaga are Victoria College alumni — though about two decades apart, he notes.
“I’ve known Jeff for years,” Talaga said. “We met while I was covering the Toronto District School Board nearly 20 years ago” as education reporter for the Star.
“He is a kind, empathetic soul. Art has always been his passion and its incredible to see how successful he has become. He’s painted so many incredible people and icons – from Northrop Frye to Nelson Mandela and Penny Oleksiak. I’m honoured to be the subject of one of his paintings.”
Sprang, 67, who retired almost three years ago from the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, began painting after university when his wife saw him drawing the house across the street and told him he had potential.
“That became life-changing,” said Sprang, who took night art courses for about four years “just
learning to draw before picking up a paint brush.”
Over the years, he has also donated artwork to be auctioned at board charity events and has helped raise money for literacy programs in Jamaica and for HIV/AIDS relief in Africa via the Stephen Lewis Foundation.
“I love working with Jeff Sprang,” said Greg McKinnon, the Toronto public board’s manager of museum and archives.
“Jeff sees where support is needed and he steps in and gives it his all. Often, the programs he supports are those that are under strain due to budget concerns and other issues.”
McKinnon said “the amount of time Jeff gives and the artistic expertise that he brings to a project is incredible. He is great to work with and his heart is in the community projects he commits to.”
When he requested the photo shoot with Oleksiak, her mother asked Sprang what to bring — in the end, the Olympian wore her Team Canada jacket and medals.
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Oleksiak later signed 100 prints, which sell for $200. A number of Mandela prints are also still available.
“Penny and our family would like to thank Mr. Sprang and the Toronto District School Board for this evocative portrait that commemorates the success of Penny and Team Canada at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio,” Penny’s father, Richard Oleksiak, said in a statement to the Star.
“We would also like to encourage everyone to join us in supporting pools and programs in community schools so all the children of Ontario have the opportunity to learn to swim and enjoy participating with their families and friends.”
Jeff was joined by students, staff and guests at Monarch Park Collegiate where a portrait of Penny Oleksiak was unveiled. During the 2016 Olympic Games, Oleksiak became the first Canadian to win four medals in the same Summer Games and the country's youngest Olympic champion, with a gold in the 100m freestyle, a silver in the 100m butterfly, and two bronzes in the women's freestyle relays. At the time, Oleksiak was also enrolled as a student at Monarch Park Collegiate.
“This portrait of Penny Oleksiak is a wonderful reminder of her extraordinary achievement,” said Monarch Park Collegiate Principal Virginia Pang. “Penny’s impact as an Olympic champion is profound and far reaching, and her influence as a role model continues to be felt by our students and by Canadians all across the country.”
The watercolour portrait of Penny depicts Oleksiak in her Team Canada jacket sporting her four medals from Rio 2016. One hundred limited-edition, numbered prints have been signed by both the iconic swimmer and the artist, and are available for sale for $200 each. All proceeds from sales will go to support swim programs at selected TDSB schools. To purchase a print, please contact Greg McKinnon, Manager, TDSB Museum and Archives, 416-397-3680.
Jeff Sprang’s art has been a catalyst in the growth of many charities in Canada and around the world. In June 1990, he met Nelson Mandela at Central Technical School which led to a limited-edition print in support of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund Canada. In 2016, Sprang’s portrait exhibition of musicians Drake, Gord Downie, Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie and television personality Traci Melchor of ETalk supported the literacy development charity, One World Schoolhouse Foundation.
Open Reception: Saturday September 10th, 10 am to 6 pm
Exhibition Dates: September 10 to September 24
The Onyx Building
482 Richmond St. East, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 1R2
This is not a law firm is my latest solo exhibition of portraits featuring Canadian icons in the music, sports and entertainment fields. New work includes portraits of musicians Drake, Gord Downie, Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie and television personality Traci Melchor of The Social.
All proceeds from exhibition are in support of the literacy development charity, One World Schoolhouse Foundation, a charity run by a friend and colleague, Richard Clewes and his wife Sonya White. They do two things. They organize book drives in Ontario schools so students can make a meaningful change for the benefit of their peers in the developing world. And they run the annual "Rainforest of Reading" Book Festival to support and sustain the impact of book donations. You can see the whole story at: oneworldschoolhouse.org
The Onyx Building
482 Richmond St. East, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 1R2
Jeff Sprang has been named a recipient of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal. The medal commemorates Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, and it honours contributions and achievements made by leaders and citizens across Canada.
Jeff Sprang received his medal at a gala ceremony hosted by the Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, and Mrs. Ruth Ann Onley, on February 6, 2013 at Roy Thomson Hall. The medal was presented to Sprang by prominent Canadian Dan Aykroyd.
The ceremony marked the end of the Diamond Jubilee Year and the 61st anniversary of The Queen's accession to the Throne. In keeping with the tradition of honouring milestone years of service, the commemorative medal was created to mark the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's accession to the Throne. The medal serves to honour the contributions and achievements made by Canadians from all sectors of society.
July 14 marks the 100th birthday of the late Northrop Frye - and across Canada, scholars, writers, alumni and fans are remembering and celebrating the legendary professor who transformed literary criticism.
“He was brilliant and extremely articulate,” says alumnus and artist Jeff Sprang, 60, recalling a class he took with Frye in the early 1970s. “He would have been about the age I am now, and I was one of those students who sat at the back and kept my head down and my mouth shut – but he was very, very gentle with those brave souls who sat at the front and asked questions.” Full article available here
Dr. Tom Chau now joins the likes of Nelson Mandela and Stephen Lewis in having his portrait painted by Jeff Sprang, a renowned Canadian portrait artist. Sprang has generously donated his painting to Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, which will reside at Sunny View Public School where a two-year pilot project, the Infinity communications Access Lab, connects Dr. Chau’s research to children with the most complex disabilities in the school system. Full article available here
This special issue of the UTQ celebrates the centennial of the birth of Northrop Frye in 1912. It was here that the young Frye published his first academic article in 1942. Projecting forward, not back, these essays look to the future of his ideas in the critical climate of the twenty-first century. The publication of Frye’s Collected Works has brought about a serious reconsideration of his criticism and what it might have to say to the future—and not just that of literary studies. The essays explore the Frye canon afresh to reflect on what a critic of today finds challenging, provocative, and productive in the rich record of his criticism.
This special issue contains supplemental material including the watercolour portrait of Northrop Frye, painted by Canadian artist Jeffrey Sprang, a graduate of Victoria College and one of Frye's former students. The portrait depicts Frye at the blackboard in front of his lesson The Conspectus of Genres. PDF Preview available here
During Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to Toronto in 1990, Jeff Sprang was extremely fortunate to meet and photograph Mr. Mandela at a reception held at Central Technical School. In commemoration of that visit, Sprang painted a portrait of Nelson Mandela which beautifully captures the grace and serenity of this moral and political leader. To order a print, contact Greg McKinnon, Manager/Archivist, TDSB Museum and Archives (416) 397-3682 Greg.McKinnon@tdsb.on.ca
To coincide with the opening of Stephen Lewis school, the Peel board has unveiled a limited edition watercolour print celebrating the Canadian humanitarian. Donated by artist Jeff Sprang, all proceeds from sales of the print will be donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to help ease the pain of HIV/AIDS in Africa. To purchase this signed limited edition print, call 905-890-1010 (or 1-800-668-1146), ext. 2809 or go to www.peelschools.org for a copy of the order form.
A watercolour portrait of Northrop Frye was painted by Canadian artist Jeff Sprang, a 1977 graduate of Victoria College and one of Frye’s former students. The portrait depicts Professor Frye at the blackboard in front of his lesson The Conspectus of Genres. Victoria has issued a special limited print edition of the Frye portrait. There are 200 prints in the edition and each print is $100 (plus tax). Proceeds will support deserving students at Victoria College. Each print is individually signed and numbered by the artist. To order a print, contact the Victoria Alumni Office at (416) 585-4500 or firstname.lastname@example.org