'It's shocking,' say artists entering Walnut Studios for 1st time after devastating fire

Toronto artists who lost thousands of dollars' worth of work in a fire which gutted Walnut Studios in the city’s west end on May 19th, entered the facility for the first time today to salvage whatever they could.

Artists say they’ve lost much in the fire on May 19 but community response has been 'amazing'

Dozens of Toronto artists lost thousands of dollars of art and supplies after a fire severely damaged Walnut Studios on May 19. (CBC)

A group of Toronto artists who lost thousands of dollars' worth of work in a fire that gutted Walnut Studios in the city's west end last week, entered the facility for the first time today to salvage whatever they could.

The Walnut artists spent the day in front of the studio trying to clean what they could of their canvasses. Throughout the day, many friends and well wishers passed by the studios to drop off donations.

Anand Jaggernauth, who said he was preparing for the Toronto Art Show in July, lost all of his work in the fire that took place May 19.

"There were 12 finished pieces that I had in there that were lost. All big pieces" he told CBC Toronto.

"I've been a full-time artist for about three and a half years, so I've lost all the little nick knacks, all the little things that you acquire on your journey and I think that part of it is the emotional tie. All the other stuff, you could paint because that inspiration's inside of you. But it's all those little things that you've lost along the way — that is the hardest to take, I think, for all of us."

Anand Jaggernauth (left) Jamie Macrae (right) said they lost everything in the fire. (CBC)

The studios, located in a large warehouse at 83 Walnut Ave. that was once a canning factory, were home to a family of some 45 artists.

Nobody was injured in the blaze, and Toronto Fire says there's no evidence to suggest it was suspicious.

Another artist, Jamie Macrae, said he too lost everything in the fire.

"All the brushes, canvases, paints, anything we had it's completely gone. I had just been stockpiling for the past three months so I had about 45 pieces in there... they're all gone," he said.

"I don't think it's really sunk in yet."

Shawn Skeir said he said he didn't appreciate the extent of the devastation until he got to the scene of the fire Saturday. (CBC)

Like Macrae, Shawn Skeir is still trying to come to terms with the extent of the devastation and the loss.

In fact, he said it didn't really hit him until he got to the scene of the fire today.

"It was actually kind of shocking for me because I was in the south part of the building and I didn't expect to have so much damage," he told CBC Toronto.

"So when I went in there today, I realized that like 80, 95 per cent of everything is destroyed. My materials, my paintings — I had like 25 paintings in there that I've been working on. So it's pretty sad, it's actually shocking... It's devastating, the fire is devastating and a lot of artists have been hit hard with this tragedy."

Walnut Studios has been a home for many of the artists for 10 years and Skeir said the idea of starting over is  "daunting" but he will work through it.

"It's like, take one bad situation and try to get inspired by it. The show must go on," he said.

Artist Nic Cooper believes some good has come out of the tragedy. Cooper said the community response has been been amazing. (CBC)

Meanwhile, Nic Cooper, who has been collecting paints and brushes for about a decade, said they are all covered in toxic fumes.

"I've just made peace with that over some tears," Cooper said. "We didn't know how bad it would be on the south side versus the north side."

But Cooper is inspired that some good has come out of the tragedy.

"It's really great to see support for artists. It's not something that we are necessarily used to," Cooper said.

"Artists are usually kind of a bit marginalized in some situations and just to see so much positivity about getting a new space and getting donations for art supplies and the Go Fund Me, has been amazing. That's really kind of like the light at the end of the tunnel," Cooper added.

With files from Greg Ross