About four years ago I was walking in our local neighbourhood in Kitchener and noticed an artist had taken over the space that had formerly contained Schipplings Bike Store. I had bought my saddlebags from the owner of that store years earlier and he was quite elderly and had passed away. A larger bicycle store wound up buying the inventory (mostly for historic purposes) and eventually the building’s second floor had an apartment rented and this studio appeared on the main floor.
I went into the studio partly because it had a friendly sign saying “Open” and met Jim Tubb. He was hard of hearing and was playing jazz (loudly) on a record player while painting abstract art. We talked a bit and he said that music was a big inspiration for him. I really liked some of his work and about a week or two later I returned to buy the picture above from him.
As a musician I think I get the order/disorder elements of that painting (and many of Jim’s other works) because it is similar to how jazz is an improvisation built on a structure (chords, melody, other player’s notes etc.). I still love it whenever I see it. It resembles a musical score.
Jim did not charge much for his paintings and gave away many to help charities raise money. I would drop by occasionally and we would talk about music and art. He was always friendly and excited about ideas. I think he used the word “striving” a lot to discuss his own painting. He was breathing with an oxygen tank which is never a great sign, but he always had a zest for life.
It was difficult for him to get around but he had a show at the Kitchener Library around 2015. I attended the opening and he chatted with old friends who know him from when he had been a financial advisor. I’m sure some of them were not sure how to reconcile the solid financial investment manager with the wild abstract paintings he produced.
I released my first CD at the Jazz Room on November 25, 2015 (after four years of recording) and Jim came to this event which was a real treat for me. He was tiring easily and only stayed for the first set but he often spoke warmly of the CD later on. He said he played it sometimes while painting and one of his favourites was “My Brother’s a Mormon”!
My wife and I bought the above painting for our anniversary. Something about it “spoke to us” and Jim said it was his take on a nude! Many of his paintings are a great combination of abstract and order so you can see relationships in them that are fascinating.
It was wonderful to have Jim in our neighbourhood and to be able to drop in and talk to him about music, art and life in general. As Facebook friends I called him our “neighbourhood artist” and he really liked that idea. So he made a “Neighbourhood Artist” sign and put it outside his studio. Jim had many visitors including people that loved his work and wanted to help him out so they “curated” his works and organized them onto walls so more could be displayed. He was amazingly prolific.
Jim gave away paintings to charity (and, towards the end of his life, to friends and family), he put paintings outside his studio some nights for “free” and he sold many as well. Yet he still had so many! Although I can see certain themes running through the works, I loved the diversity. I could view 3 of them and think “hmm, not very interesting really” and then the 4th would would be fascinating! He had stacked up his years of work throughout the studio so a visit would mean sifting through dozens of paintings in back rooms as he continued to paint out front.
In the summer of 2017 Jim told my wife and I the sad news we’d been expecting: he did not have long to live. In fact, the doctor had felt he’d been living on “borrowed time” for months.
Jim wanted to give us a couple of paintings and we chose the one above. It hangs above our tv and every time I view it I see different relationships and ideas. As Jim would say “Well, I like making abstract art because everyone can see something different in it, eh?”
Jim and I had talked a lot about music and art but I had always wanted to play guitar or piano for him. On several friday afternoons in the late summer I visited him in his studio with different guitars and an amp and I would play jazz, blues and other styles of music. Some of it was improvised and sometimes I sang songs and accompanied myself. He really enjoyed that and drew on paper and worked through visual ideas as I played. I talked to him about the differences between my (Collings) Waterloo guitar and my Martin and he was surprised that they had such different sounds since they were both “acoustic”. He was so thoughtful, he ordered me a Waterloo t-shirt as a gift!
My wife would visit him some Saturday afternoons as well and they would talk about life, books, spirituality and many other topics. In fact, in his last few months I believe Jim gave us all a course on “how to die with grace and happiness“. He was so pleased to know his paintings would be enjoyed by his family and friends and strangers. Even as his health declined he continued to order books from Amazon and posting poetry on Facebook (as well as rants against certain politicians in the USA). He was still eager to read new things, to think about new ideas. He was still giving so much to life.
Jim passed away on February 3rd, 2018. He felt he was failing in the winter months and had said he wanted to “make it to Christmas” which he did. I am deeply saddened when I think he will no longer be in his studio listening (loudly) to an lp of John Coltrane and that I won’t be able to talk to him about Robert Frost or the intersections of art and music. But fortunately his art is all around us. He created, and was happy, which is a great way to leave this earth.
Jim Tubb (self portrait)