words of love by Winnipeg artist Michael Boss
[following the devasting fire early in the morning of July 22, 2019, which destroyed the studio spaces of more than two dozen Winnipeg-based artists and creative businesses at 274 Jarvis Avenue in Winnpeg]
"A close relationship with someone in which feelings and thoughts are exchanged."
[from Cambridge Dictionary]
Most visual artists I know work very diligently, usually in the solitude of a studio space. Like so many of my peers, I will become deeply engaged with a visual art project that excites me, or when I see something another artist has done, that grabs me by the lapels, or sweeps over me like a warm ocean wave, attracting and drawing me in, absorbing my full attention. These compelling thoughts and images seep their way into my memory banks and begin to dwell within me, sometimes for days and weeks, others for years. Some of those images have etched themselves into my brain will stay with me till my days are done, and I return to them continually to draw inspiration for my own work.
Diana and I have filled our home with the work of several artists, predominantly friends and colleagues with whom our paths have crossed. We have purchased them, traded our own work for them, or received them as gifts. This is standard practice in the art community. We have many more pieces than we can hang at any given time. But those that are on display, even on a rotating basis, are savoured. We see them shift and change as the sunlight illuminates them, through varying times of the day, as the seasons flow past around and through our house and as day eventually gives way to night.
We wake up to artwork that greets our freshly opened eyes. They come into crisp focus as we re-establish consciousness and roll out of bed in the morning. Each room, corner and hallway in our house displays arrangements of treasures we have collected, that remind us of friends, family and acquaintances whose handiwork we admire. They are richly laden with memories and constantly spark warm feelings within us. It is not uncommon for one of us to walk up to one of these artworks, smile and say, "Man, I love this piece!"
This wonderful collection of work, created by members of a community of locally, provincially, nationally and internationally known artists, nourishes our souls on a daily basis. We pause often to examine and enjoy them. The visual evidence of the craftsmanship, knowledge and depth of creativity inherent in the artists who live in our midst is what makes it so difficult to accept the reality of the gaping hole ripped into the fabric of our community, when fire consumed the studios at 274 Jarvis Avenue, a mere 5 days ago. We know the level of quality and can approximate the quantity, even recall specific details, of a substantial portion of what was lost in that horrific blaze.
We understand intimately, the personal investment, the hours, the single-minded devotion and hard-won results that grew out of the dedication these artists demonstrated over many, many years. We understand what it means to be artists, to practice and perfect skills, and how simultaneously demanding, irresistible and all-consuming that process and life path can become.
We know what it is like to work in the studio till the wee hours of the morning to make manifest ideas that engage you so deeply that you don't even realize how much of the day and night you have spent wrestling with them, before you absently glance at your watch or a clock on the wall, feeling fatigued and wondering why, and then realize it is 2 am, and you should have had supper 6 hours ago, but had postponed it because you were at a particularly delicate juncture, or you wanted to just block in that one large area that would allow you to feel you had gained a foothold, and could rest in the fact that the piece you were working on was finally beginning to take shape. Perhaps you were in "the zone" and every move you made sang out with a compelling semblance of truth, or fluidity that indicates that you are briefly in tune with the rhythm of the universe in some small way. It's the kind of moment you chase and work towards each time, but only find when you manage to work your way subconsciously harnessing all of your skill and experience into harmony, into "the zone".
We understand what it is like to sit back on a chair and gaze around at a studio full of canvases, panels, papers, sculptures, photographs, sets and so on, and feel the satisfaction of knowing this is what you have created through your time and effort. This is what you have been working on for the past 5, 10, 20 or 50 years You pause for a moment and think; "This is who I am, and what I have done with my life. These are the fruits of my labours." And you are both surprised and amazed at all that you have created and accomplished, as if you were a conduit tapped into the source of all creativity. You ponder that thought, then let it go and launch back into the fray with a renewed vigour. We know about those moments.
What we don't know or understand, is how it feels to watch, struggle to grasp, or come to terms with the fact that what was once here has all been reduced to ashes over the course of a few hours. It must feel (as many people have recently noted) like being gutted with a knife.
We who still have our work and workspaces continue to feel shock and dismay at this event and circumstance, and a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs, a sense of commiseration mixed with a kind of "survivor's guilt" due to the certain recognition it could just have easily happened to one of the other old buildings in the city where we work and store our art.
The loss these individual artists have to endure is, in a very palpable way, a tremendous loss for our whole community. It is a loss of our shared histories, of manifestations of the creative activity and imaginations of our friends and colleagues. This fire not only destroyed scores of irreplaceable creations, but also historic archives, records of collaborative actions and events that were captured on film, paper, canvas, wood, fabric and through many other mediums.
These were evidence; traces of lives lived, eloquent, individual expressions of thought and emotion, subtle and vivid perceptions, offered up to the world by those who have honed and refined their considerable skills within, and beyond, this place over decades.
As our friends and colleagues struggle with the enormity of their individual, painful losses, and search for the way forward, we on the sidelines will continue to bear witness to the value of their past and future contributions and careers, and for what has been lost. We commune. We grieve with them. This is what binds us together. We celebrate our successes and share our grief.
July 25, 2019