Maxime Gagnon Bergeron's truck is filled with portraits of pop culture icons, from Jimi Hendrix to Lady Gaga. She drove into Montreal Wednesday morning from Jonquière, Que., nearly 500 kilometres away, to retrieve the seven paintings she had in Le HangArt Saint-Denis.
Gagnon Bergeron is among dozens of artists whose works were locked inside the Old Montreal gallery several weeks ago when it closed its doors.
When she found out the gallery had locked its doors, she started an online group to reach out to other artists who had their work displayed there. She says they hired a lawyer to make sure they could get their artwork back as quickly as possible.
Group members say the sudden closure came down to unpaid rent by the gallery owners, but the owners have denied that was the case.
Vanessa Vaillant, another artist with work on display at the gallery, came to retrieve 25 of her paintings on Wednesday — and to collect, on their behalf, the artwork belonging to four artists in France.
She says there is still much that remains unknown about what happened.
Vanessa Vaillant, an artists from Terrebonne, Que., says she will have to reflect on whether or not she wants to have future artworks displayed in art galleries. (Joe Bongiorno/CBC)
"What we know is that on Jan. 2 we received an email saying the HangArt owner didn't have access to the space because the building owner changed the locks," she said.
Waiting to get her art back has filled Gagnon Bergeron with anxiety, she says, but now she feels a sense of relief.
"I'm really happy that it's over," she said.
"I have some paintings here that I was already supposed to have on display elsewhere, and it's been delayed because of this," Gagnon Bergeron said, adding that the delay may have cost her and the other artists some sales.
CBC reached Hervé Garcia, one of the gallery owners, but he refused to comment.
Earlier in January, Garcia told CBC in an email that the owners were going through corporate and personal bankruptcy, and that the company was collapsing because of the difficult economic climate.
In that email Garcia had told CBC that the closure meant the loss of his life savings, but the artists' work would soon be returned.
When the gallery closed, the building's owner told CBC he couldn't talk about the status of the lease with the gallery because of a confidentiality agreement.
Le HangArt Saint-Denis is temporarily closed but artists are recuperating their works. (CBC)
Second thoughts on galleries
The experience has changed Gagnon Bergeron's thinking on having her art displayed in art galleries. She wanted to try out having her art represented by a gallery, but it did not go to plan.
For the past eight years, she says she has had success selling her artwork through her Facebook page, accepting requests and delivering her paintings to clients.
In the future, she says, she will opt for art galleries that don't charge a fee for displaying her art and only take a commission from art sales — or continue to sell her art herself as more of Quebec's art galleries struggle and close their doors.
Vaillaint too has second thoughts about ever working with a gallery again.
"It's the worst experience an artist could live through," she said.
"I prefer to use my website and social media to get exposure," she said.
At the start, Vaillaint says she paid over $130 dollars per month to have five of her artworks on display, and the same fee for the gallery's Quebec City branch.
On top of that, she says the agreement was that the gallery would take a 30 per cent cut of any of her sales — a way of doing business that no longer works for her.
"We think that paying for having your work displayed isn't a solution," said Vailliant.