Corno: Soon, not now.

It’s 1:40 p.m., and Corno is just leaving. “Pour une demi-heure environ,” she says. 30 minutes–she’s probably going for food–and then she’ll be back.

June 9, 2012, is the second day of Toronto’s Luminato Festival, which lasts from June 8 to June 17, and Corno has been invited to do a live performance in Airship 37 of Toronto’s Distillery District. She will put the finishing touches to five new paintings–the event is free, but it’s worth much more. 

That’s because Corno is renowned internationally by now. She hails from Quebec, and has been painting for over 30 years. Corno first conquered the Québécois scene, then the Canadian one and, since 1992 when she moved to New York, the American one. The new millennium brought a new beginning for Corno when her work was picked up by NY’s Opera Gallery to be featured internationally in Paris, London, Hong Kong and other major hubs throughout the world. One of More Magazine’s Top 40 women over 40 in Canada, Corno has now partnered with Lancôme to launch the limited edition Lancôme by Corno makeup collection this spring–which explains the beauty gallery next to Corno’s studio inside Airship 37.

But right now, Corno isn’t here. There’s a DJ spinning house music, the kind that you would hear at a runway show–or on America’s Next Top Model’ if you’ve never been to a runway show. It’s not bad and definitely fits the theme of the experience. There’s some weird stuff, too–like the two young Asian women sitting in the middle of the room on a sort of white stool. They’re dressed in white, fitting in well with the white walls, ceiling, floor and long sheet where 20 buckets of Corno’s paint await their maestro. One of them has her hair up, in an inverted half-moon, and the other has a paper flower painted in red on her head. Both of them have paint–red, black, and green–on their suit. They also wear white heels that must be at least six inches high. I’m guessing they are the creation of Charlie Le Mindu, who has apparently collaborated with none other than Lady Gaga in his career. But ‘Soon Is Now’ is about Corno much more than it is about Le Mindu, Gaga or the two Asian mannequins.

And right now, Corno isn’t here–only her paintings are. There are five, each of them consisting of two 6′-by-5′ canvases. They’re stunning, all five are–Corno has painted the face of a woman on the left canvas, and an abstract on the right. Richard Soren, himself a painter, explains that Corno uses a thin acrylic paint. All five of the paintings were at first photographs, and were then colourized “with paint thin enough that the photo still shows true,” Soren says. The model in the photos, Corno will say, is “a friend of mine.” Each painting has a different colour palette–red, purple, blue, yellow and green. The colours are bold and vibrant, especially in contrast to the white walls, floor and clothes of the two mannequins. Again, such contrast works well.

At 2:25 p.m., Corno comes back. She has a spring to her step when she walks, which makes her hair bounce up and down–it’s loose, in a ponytail. She’s wearing the black pants of a professional painter, one with plenty of different colours of paint marks, with a black tank top that says ‘I (HEART) NY.’ This is where she started these paintings, in New York, and now she’s finishing them today in Toronto. Corno walks toward the centre sheet, crouches down, takes a brush and starts mixing the varnish she will use to finish her paintings. Claudie Gravel, “sort of” her assistant she says, is helping her because each painting is 60 square feet–and that’s a lot to cover for only one person. Corno isn’t sure how long she has worked on the paintings. “I usually work on many canvases at once,” she says. Tongue in cheek, she complains that, “Sometimes (the varnish) takes a while to dry off.”

She goes back to the centre of the room, picks up another brush that she plunges into the bucket of black paint, and comes back to the painting to sign it. Gravel and Corno hang the painting, starting with the abstract canvas and then that of the woman’s face. One day, these paintings might get sold. With Corno’s name and reputation, and given the dimensions of the paintings, each could go for $30,000-$35,000. Someone tells her that it’s too bad, because it’s too much money and he can’t afford it. Corno laughs. “I can’t afford it either,” she says. “We are in the same boat.”

There’s a definite theme to Corno’s paintings–Luminato calls it a ‘homage to femininity’–but the artist herself isn’t prepared to say what they are or aren’t definitely. “I need time to reflect, to look back,” she says. “I’m not sure exactly what I’ve painted.”

This isn’t exactly true. “It’s someone dancing. It’s someone happy to live,” she adds. “I wanted to have the same movement continue in all five paintings.”

Looking around the room, this is true. All five paintings capture a moment in the carefree and joyful life of today’s woman. Today’s woman is moving, beautiful. She’s fearless and empowered. Today’s woman is independent and is biting into life with little hesitation. She’s holding back nothing, and is living and enjoying life–she’s enjoying herself, most of all. She’s bold. Today’s woman is sexy and stunning. And she knows it.