Intricate glass hangings made with found objects. Portraits capturing the essence of the sitter. A vibrant representation of a desert sunset. Prints using the textures and colours of paper to create mood. These were all part of the studio tour I went on today, marvellous, beautiful, striking art in a dozen places downtown. And while the art was what I went to see, the places were, in some cases, as much a revelation as the art.
You think you know the city you’ve lived in or near for thirty-eight years. I’ve walked every street in the old city, even the little ones, and the ones that end in only pedestrian access up or down a flight of steps or across a footbridge. But even with all this exploration, what is seen is the outside of buildings, not the insides: I’ve glanced into courtyards and up at windows and wondered, certainly, but interior spaces are private, unless you are invited in. As you are, in a studio tour.
Old buildings, for the most part, because those are where artists can afford space. An outbuilding in a courtyard behind stores, down what looks like a driveway. The door opens into a low, rectangular space, old windows at ceiling heights, plank walls painted white, holding the paintings. What was this building, originally? A carriage house? A stable? I didn’t ask if the artists knew; I wish I had. Across the street, an old office building backing onto the river houses multiple studios, a climb up to the third floor, into high-ceilinged space, large windows, good light: looking west across the river in one studio, a magnificent view of fall-bright trees and the roofs of houses; looking east, across the buildings and streets and spires of downtown in another. Both beautiful, both interesting, in different ways. And then down another alleyway, to another building once, perhaps, a warehouse, now transformed to both studios and living space, compact, efficient, creative, hidden.
Tiny board-and-batten worker’s cottages with basement studios; third-floor space in old redbrick houses accessed by narrow outside stairs. A glimpse into the interiors of the artists – cleaned up and organized, no doubt – but still a glimpse. What would a writer’s studio tour look like? All my office would show you is my laptop, a few reference books, and a plot outline taped to the wall.
Writers can write almost anywhere. If there isn’t space or quiet at home, we write in coffee shops and libraries; I’ve written on planes, in campsites, in hotel rooms. Visual artists need space to be messy, to leave unfinished work out to dry or to be contemplated, places where spilled paint or clay or the detritus of metalwork doesn’t matter. And so old and odd spaces downtown don’t sit empty, aren’t storage for boxes and junk; instead, they are places of vision and synergy and creation, adding another dimension to the city I thought I knew.