I haven’t moved in four years.
I moved to Toronto in September of 2006. I lived in four places in three years and eventually ended up in Leslieville. Adam and I moved in September of 2009 with our cat. Our Friend Bob had lived there for the past three years, at first with his girlfriend and then with various sublets and friends. We decided to share the place between us; it was big two bedroom with a front and back deck, friendly neighbours and best of all, with the three of us living there each of us only had to pay $333 a month. We had an easy move; we lived just down the street at Woodbine Avenue and gradually moved things in while we waited for Lara (a mutual friend who was staying there) to move out. She moved out on the Monday of the long weekend so we piled up our things into the living room and slept on our newly-moved couches for the first two nights. We didn’t mind: the excitement of escaping our low-rise apartment with a superintendent who seemingly had it out for us was enough to keep us giddy for days. We’d long admired Bob’s main floor apartment, its hardwood floors and it’s direct access to the outdoors. It sits across a tiny parkette turned dog-park, and with all its trees its easy to forget you’re in Toronto (with the exception of the occasional… infamous Leslieville poop smell). We spent a lot of time making music and painting here, even renting a space at the Rehearsal Factory weekly.
I had a huge canvas Adam bought for my 23rd birthday, sitting in the back still wrapped in cellophane. At some point I decided to cover the wall in a sheet and attempt to use up all the paint I had in my collection; in hindsight so little I’d likely not even attempt a painting now. Up until this point in my life I had always painted sporadically. I never really had the space to do it so it was never a priority, however. At this point, I had never touched a canvas so huge (it was four feet by five feet) and because of it’s gravity it was easy not to worry. It probably had been years since I last painted, and I intended on painting over and over on this canvas, if nothing else. For whatever reason, I’d started in the middle, making big circles of paint with colours I was drawn to, not thinking at all about what I was doing.
Something clicked in me with this painting. I initially threw paint on a canvas and somewhere in there I lost myself and felt like I knew what I had to do. At some point, I stepped back and thought, hey, I think I like that, I hope I can do that again. I took me quite some time to even realize that ‘not caring’ and liking the outcome were cohesive (some people refer to this as finding a ‘flow’). It was an important (perhaps the most important) realization I’ve had about my own work. I think it all happened in that room, a room thereafter I didn’t spend much time in, to be completely honest. I finished the painting, and not long after it became the first piece I ever sold.
There was a time that I didn’t think I could ever sell it. More than one person told me it was ‘awesome!’ therefore that must mean it’s worth something! That must mean its the best thing I have ever painted! I told a couple people that if I ever thought I could part with it, I would let them know. I always told them there were loose ends to tie up, certain areas i’d like to tighten. They told me not to touch it. I told them to wait. I reasoned with myself that once I paint something better, I’ll let this one go. I didn’t. And I never touched that canvas again save for adding a couple layers of varnish. At some point, I realized someone needed it even more than I did, and moreover that if I kept it hanging I might always try and make something comparable to it. In hindsight, I think I needed to let it go in order to push myself to make something better.
For a long time I considered this painting a fluke, something I didn’t know how I’d ever get back. When I started renting a studio in the west end I forgot about this feeling, because in the beginning, everything felt so organic and purposeful. As if I had this noise inside me that I was only able to tap in those walls. I seemed to adapt the same feelings of sacredness to the studio, if I don’t have it anymore, how will I ever paint anything worth something?
Now, I’ve moved on from that space. LIterally, I don’t have it anymore. I haven’t had it since August 20th, and it already feels so far away. Right now, all of my painting things are packed up in a box in public storage in the East end. I’ve been feeling like I’m in limbo since mid-August, staying with in-laws until our new place is ready (Thanks Jens & Kathie!). On Friday, we will finally move-into a sprawling, bright loft where I’ll be able to paint right after I have breakfast. There was a time when I thought I needed to be away from my home in order to paint, that the distance was what helped me create. I liked the crumbly charm of 101 Niagara. I liked my studio-mates. I liked the 40 minute street car ride to & fro. I liked the ritual of walking to Spadina to catch the streetcar to avoid the listerine-breath’d Queen & Bathurst corner. Then after two years, the act of going there felt like a chore. It became hard to get up the motivation to hop on the streetcar to travel across town for a few hours. It became worrisome to stay at the studio late into the night, knowing I’d have to shell out for a cab or wait half an hour for a streetcar full of drunk club-goers. I never felt unsafe, but I didn’t want to do it anymore.
Now, I do think that one’s environment does play a part in one’s work, and I think that goes without saying. I think everything down to the song you’re listening to can have an effect on your piece. I enjoy painting with company, or without, and I am aware that whatever the situation is will influence my work. I like that I’m open to almost anything because that means I’m allowing myself to be influenced by a variety of different things, and thus my work will have variety. The greatest thing I have realized, and this has taken me a really long time – is that the studio space does not have to be that sacred. I shouldn’t give it that much credit. I used to contribute a lot of my successes as artist to my space, and it scared the shit out of me to consider being without it. And, don’t get me wrong – if I wasn’t moving into a larger, more private studio, I would probably still be panicked. But I decided a long time ago (and luckily for me my partner supports this) that having a work space is something I will always make a priority. I think my point is, if you think you need a spot to create, find yourself a spot to create. It doesn’t have to be an big industrial space in an old coffin factory, or a live-work loft. It just has to be a designated space. Once you give yourself that and commit using that space, it will change your life.
I felt so lucky to have found the studio on Niagara street two years ago– I very much felt that there was nothing else like it, that I had won the studio-lottery. And, maybe I did. I was lucky. I never thought I’d be able to find (or afford) a live/work loft (and to be fair, I couldn’t, on my own), but here I am. Instead of relying on public transit (something that alone can sour my mood), I can just walk downstairs. I think with all the chaos of moving out and figuring out when we can actually move in has made the prospect of living there very surreal, like it would never happen. But it is. On Friday. The biggest change of course is that I’m no longer officially sharing my space with Aime. I will miss that more than anything, but I know we will paint together again, probably sooner than later.
I feel really fortunate today. It probably helps this peach gets to hang out with me all day:
What’s new with you guys?