Thomas Brasch is having an incredibly busy year. The latest winner of the Ina Gilbert Award transitioned from teaching art to being a full-time artist. As artist in residence at the new Clark Centre for the Arts in Guild Park and Gardens on Scarborough Bluffs, he had a show at the centre. The piece, Toronto 02, which won the 2022 Ina Gilbert Award was part of a series titled ‘Out of the Darkness’. It features Holy Name Parish church at the northwest corner of Pape and Danforth.
“The works were commemorative pieces meant to evoke an event: the Danforth shooting,” says the self-taught artist. The photo with two police officers framing Brasch’s work had an unusual story. “One day, the custodian at the centre was trying to dial out and accidentally dialed 911 and two officers were sent out to the Clark Centre. I told the officers about the show and one of them turned out to be among the first on the scene after the shooting.”
The series spans wherever he travels. “More often than not, it’s purely coincidental,” he says. “In Oslo, it was really moving to see the museum dedicated to the 2011 attacks in Oslo and Utoya.” Brasch believes we need commemorative museums more than memorials.
“In North America we tend to sweep this away,” he says. “When society takes ownership and refuses to let the memory fade … Raising a general awareness is good. Done tastefully, respectfully, there is room for art to describe situations. We need more of this here. My gist is trying to do something different to create something calming and meditative.”
“I always thought I’d be a writer,” Brasch says. “But I found it easier to create images than to write.”
Although neither of Brasch’s parents were artists, he admits he “comes from a long line of documenters in photography.” His mother’s family came from the Sudetenland and were instrument makers. “My parents were very culturally aware. I listened to classical music and literature from a young age and was aware of great works including those by Goethe and Schiller.”
This inspired a love of languages. “I always thought I’d be a writer,” he says. “But I found it easier to create images than to write.” Brasch speaks French, German, and Spanish.
Raised outside Sudbury, he came to Hamilton to attend McMaster University. “I started in the sciences, then took French lit, a MBA then slowly found my niche, teaching.” He moved to Oshawa and then Toronto and taught for thirty years. “This art career was ramping up as teaching was ramping down,” he says. “It was never a case of, ‘What do I do now?’”
Brasch has three daughters from his first marriage. His youngest says, “My father always said, ‘Don’t go into the arts. There’s no money in it.’” But she does have an ability to paint, he says, so he has been encouraging her.
His current partner is a pathologist with “a penchant for literature”. “There is an idea that we might collaborate on a microscopic, cellular level.” This matches his philosophy that visual art cannot live in isolation. “All of the arts have to coexist together,” he says. While visiting The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto during the summer of 2022, he had the opportunity not only to see his award-winning piece hanging in the lounge but also to meet donor Jack Gilbert and tour the Club. “I found the LAMPS room to be very inspiring because it showcased all the arts. And I’ve talked to Jack a few times. He showed me a few things on Photoshop. I want to be him when I’m 95.”
Brasch portrait photo credit: Jack Gilbert