His life, in pieces Winnipeg visual artist draws inspiration from own mental illness to create work

Every month, the Free Press will profile a local gallery or artist involved in Winnipeg’s First Fridays in the Exchange, a celebration of local art and culture.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/07/2019 (1243 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Every month, the Free Press will profile a local gallery or artist involved in Winnipeg’s First Fridays in the Exchange, a celebration of local art and culture.

The link between creative genius and mental illness is a well-trod area of academic research, social debate and, of course, world-renowned art.

Art Preview

Pieces of Wood by Christopher Wood
● Cre8ery Gallery and Studio, 125 Adelaide St.
● Opens Friday 7 p.m.; runs until July 16
● Other First Fridays events in the Exchange District begin at 5 p.m. and continue until late; full guide at www.firstfridayswinnipeg.org

Writers Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and painters Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso are among the best-known historical figures whose illnesses informed what they produced. More recently, chart-topping pop-music artists including Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato have spoken openly about their struggles.

Winnipeg visual artist Christopher Wood knows all about it. And today, as part of First Fridays in the Exchange, the St. James resident will unveil his deeply personal exhibition Pieces of Wood at Cre8ery Gallery.

Dave Swiecicki photos Wood (left) and Cre8ery owner and executive director Jordan Miller.

Wood is forthcoming about his own experiences and uses his art to express his thoughts and worries while living with an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette syndrome.

“(Living with mental illnesses) has really influenced my work through colour selection, subject matter and the application of the paint,” he says. “I once did a series of paintings of purple homeless people… being homeless is a big fear of mine.”

His treatment experience also plays a role.

“In cognitive behaviour therapy, we were taught to expose yourself to your fears,” he says, adding that he’s able to project his feelings through his artistic work.

Primarily self-taught, Wood experiments with different styles, materials and techniques, and draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including a special interest in graphic art and graffiti, which grew out of his involvement in skateboard culture in the ’90s.

He has training in fine arts from Brandon University, but found the structure of the program to be incompatible with his style and interests. Even so, he has a thirst for knowledge and continues to teach himself new techniques.

“I feel that each piece is a piece of my thought process, hence the title of the show,” he says.

Wood hopes what visitors to the exhibition will take away from his work is to see the potential and capability of people who live with mental-health issues, and that “(they) are capable of creating and doing great things.”

First Fridays have been taking place in the Exchange on the first Friday of every month since 2010 with artists, galleries, shops and restaurants joining forces to generate a greater understanding of the arts, promote other events and build community.

Artists Sue Gordon and Karen Schulz, inspired by a similar event held regularly in Kansas City, brought the idea to the Exchange District.

Cre8ery owner and executive director Jordan Miller says she’s thrilled to be presenting Wood’s work and to be giving a boost to local artists.

“We’ve really grown a great community here,” she says. “And I believe that so many artists wouldn’t have a place in Winnipeg to show their works if I wasn’t here.”

A double-edged sword created by the continued success of First Fridays is that as the Exchange District continues to attract new residents and businesses, rental costs continue to climb, which has a big impact on small businesses such as Cre8ery, she says.

Miller says she chose the Exchange and the building (125 Adelaide St.) for its potential as a gathering space: an “artist mall for people who were looking for art.” She envisioned it as a hub for people to meet the studio resident artists, view and discuss the work, get to know the makers and purchase what they create.

The gallery has space available for artists to rent and hosts a variety of events, including pop-up shops, meetings, rehearsals, art groups, theatre productions and small conferences.

Although Miller has ideas for future expansion, there are financial limitations, especially with the organization’s priority of offering low rates for artists to create and exhibit.

And the benefits of First Fridays is not lost on Miller, despite the growing financial burden.

“I think First Friday takes away some of the fear that people have of walking through a gallery,” she says, adding the event gives artists a boost; all the art is for sale, and visitors often walk away with an unanticipated purchase.


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Frances Koncan

Frances Koncan
Arts reporter

Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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