Blog post 4 – January 4, 2016 by Alisdair MacRae
The break from my placement over the holidays was bittersweet. I sensed that people would miss the workshop, at least as much as I did. However, I needed to leave town to visit my family, and it was a good chance to recharge. When I came back on 4 January, there were a few surprises.
As always, Lee was setting things up when I arrived. We chatted about the holiday and how winter was now in full force. There were more people at the entrance to the building as well as in the lounge. I wondered how that might be reflected in the workshop. I announced the workshop in the lounge and on the fourth floor, then came back downstairs.
Remmy, an elderly man who had been working on a dream catcher for the last two sessions arrived. Matt and Howard came in, as well as Brian, a newcomer. However, John did not show up. Some people suggested he had left his treatment program and returned to Toronto. It was a challenge of the population in the workshop, that their lives could be very transient in nature. John was a very talented artist, and seemed to have some very ambitious projects under way. His absence was palpable, but activity soon picked up.
Howard was tired due to a poor sleep the night before. He said the snow removal equipment had kept him awake. Lee suggested lightheartedly that with four months of winter left, he’d need to get used to the noise. Matt was in good spirits, and had worked on two medicine pouches over the holidays. He had asked me if I could recognize cedar, tobacco, sweetgrass and sage as four Indigenous sacred medicines. With the help of the leather punch that I had brought in that week, he was quickly stitching them together with sinew.
Brian brought in a portfolio of drawings with him. He was not shy about sharing them with me, showing many of the tattoo designs that he had created. Some were for other people, and he had even tattooed Remmy girlfriend’s name onto his arm. I asked him how he did the tattoos. He explained how he used staples and a pencil to create a needle, which he sterilized with hand sanitizer and orange peel.
I learned that with many of the clients at the centre who had been in prison, creativity kept a person busy during that time. Frank, who had had shown up for the first workshop but had not returned, had fashioned dream catchers out of plastic bags. Brian was talented at giving people tattoos, including the one’s on his own forearms. He was also working on a number of drawings, including one that looked like a view through prison bars. He put the finishing touches on another one, a very detailed drawing of a heart with a dagger and flower.
I mentioned the opportunity to transfer some of his art to other objects, including clothing, and he offered up the drawing with the heart and dagger. Some of the other participants became very enthusiastic about the possibilities for the image, how it could look on different articles of clothing. I smiled at their excitement, but knew I would have to negotiate the technical capabilities of reproducing the image. Brian had the foresight to spray the drawing with fixative so it would not smudge. After the workshop, I took the drawing to an Internet café to scan it, and began to consider the possibilities as soon as I got home.
Alisdair MacRae received a BFA from the University of Victoria in 1998, an MFA from Bard College in 2002, and completed a graduate thesis in Art History at Carleton University in 2012. MacRae uses plans to examine community and exchange, experienced through a do-it-yourself approach that enables social interactions.