Why He’s A Top 40: He stimulates and promotes Edmonton’s independent creative scene by writing about it, participating in it as an artist, mentoring emerging artists and mobilizing groups to make the city more artistically rich and diverse.
Key To His Success: He sees setbacks as opportunities, thrives under the pressure of things falling apart and practises what he preaches. “If you can’t find something in the city to keep yourself interested, don’t complain. Build something.”
Fish Griwkowsky, a prolific artist, photographer, columnist, illustrator, filmmaker, music critic, DJ and all-round scenester, isn’t the kind of guy to lounge around doing nothing. Yet here he is, on the couch on a brilliant sunny afternoon, in the cool of his living room, with his feet propped up. “I smashed my heel. I build steel grain bins for farmers to make money, and I fell off the top of a ladder,” he says. Despite his fall he loves the work. “It’s one of my favourite jobs. The bins are beautiful and will last 100 years.”
Given the circumstances, it was easy to pin Griwkowsky down for an interview. It’s a lot harder to pin down what he does exactly that won him a spot on the Top 40 list, since he has no official job title, no corporate office, no affiliation to a specific organization.
“I have a lot of interests – cats, art, making the city better, photography, journalism, filmmaking. But it was probably my work with the National Portrait Gallery that got me on the list,” he says.
In November 2008, Edmonton’s hope of being the permanent home of Canada’s national portrait gallery was squashed by the Harper government, which left many disappointed. But Griwkowsky saw it as a opportunity. He was the driving force in conceptualizing and curating the independent “National Portrait Gallery” show at Latitude 53 last summer, which featured some 40 works by artists from across Canada, including a photograph by Douglas Coupland.
Griwkowsky writes about the arts and social justice issues for SEE Magazine, the Edmonton Sunand various other outlets. He has had art exhibits at galleries in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. He’s a long-running cartoonist and did illustrations for the book, Field Guide to Monsters, published by Lone Pine. He promoted musicians including Colleen Brown, the Whitsundays and Corb Lund when they were still considered “emerging.” He’s into 3D photojournalism. And he recently did the cinematography on a short film written and directed by Trevor Anderson called The High Level Bridge. It was Griwkowsky’s first time as director of photography, and the film was accepted into the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, which is an unequivocal big deal. Now he’s writing and publishing a 99-page book with Andy Grabia about the politics surrounding a new arena in downtown Edmonton.
As for the heel injury that immobilized him, “I hadn’t had a day off before the accident in over a month, so it’s a good opportunity to refresh. In art, limitations are one of the best things, because they give you focus.”