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By Heather Solomon  - Canadian Jewish News - November 9, 2000

Every morning, just before sunrise, David Astrof lets himself out of his house to find a new vantage point from which to contemplate the coming of daylight.

As he stands on the mountain looking out over Montreal, or near the water watching the St. Lawrence River pick up pinpoints of sun, he attunes his eyes to beauty. This is how he readies himself for his work.

Astrof is an art dealer who has a finely tuned eye, not only for beauty, but for visuals that affect the viewer on many emotional levels. He represents 23 Canadian artists, a number of them Montrealers, and has found a unique way to show their works.

After a decade of working out of his home and sometimes mounting shows in the Belgo Building or at Galerie de la Ville in Dollard des Ormeaux, he's established himself in a venue that would be the envy of any gallery.

Last May, he met with Jerome Holmes, who manages McGill University's David Thomson Postgraduate Centre, known simply as Thomson House.

Holmes agreed with Astrof that the stately mansion at 3650 McTavish Street would be perfect for a gallery. Holmes would benefit by filling the four floors of rooms with topnotch art. Astrof, without taking on the overhead of a gallery and staff, would finally have the wall space to hang his extensive collection.

"I can comfortably place around 160 pieces here and security is great since it's a private club. Though it's not open to the public, people can see the art by appointment," says Astrof who can be reached at 514-286-2476. "I come to Thomson House every day to show people around."

He also makes office visits with portfolios of prints. Samples of his inventory may be accessed on his website at www.artap.com.

"The building is a huge attraction in terms of a venue for artwork because it replicates somebody's home or a place where they can sit and see artwork. Many galleries are so stark," says Astrof who has warmed the first-floor restaurant with etchings, mezzotints and lithographs by locally celebrated printmakers.

Paintings hang in the second floor bar and lounges, the third floor ballroom and the fourth-floor snooker room and meeting rooms.

On the walls flanking the grand staircases, the largest pieces find their place, like Victoria Block's mammoth pastels that belie their size with their delicacy of execution. Block specializes in capturing both formal and wild gardens, flowering under cloud-congested skies that are so real, walls "disappear" behind the frames. Block also happens to be married to Astrof.

"I come by this profession honestly, living with an artist and most of our friends are artists," says Astrof.

Aside from the well-deserved admiration he has for his wife's landscapes, some of Astrof's favorite artists are Shirley Katz, Dorothy Grostern, Evelyn and Marcelle Dufour, Judith Klugerman, Pat Walsh and G. Scott MacLeod.

Whether abstract or figurative, all are evocative. By their sheer numbers, it's obvious that the work of Katz especially captures his eye. He even sat for her in one of the time-honoured ways an artist might pay tribute to their dealer/patron.

Astrof is seen seated in the same bucket chair "hotseat" in which most of Katz's models have their souls bared by her.

Though unsmiling, the image of Astrof burns through the viewer with eyes that are alive with humour and the acuity of someone attuned to appraising esthetically what they see.

"There's a wide range of artwork here to accommodate any taste, but what I enjoy more than subject matter is the artists' vision, their own interpretation of what they're seeing," says Astrof. "If you can share their power of observation, you can see the strength of a piece."