September 27th, 2007 5:33 pm | by RICHARD SPEER News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Fire Burns More Than One Local Artist

Michael Wilson 9-26-07In the aftermath of a Sunday, Sept. 23 fire that left painter Michael Brophy's studio severely damaged, the arts community has mobilized to support the artist, who shows with the prestigious Laura Russo Gallery and was featured in the Portland Art Museum's 2006 Oregon Biennial.

The Regional Arts and Culture Council wasted no time in establishing “The Michael Brophy Studio Rebuilding Fund,” word of which was spread with the help of Brophy supporter and former Oregonian columnist Randy Gragg, who alerted his email contacts to contribute, even though, as Gragg qualified: “Mike and his partner, Holly Cundiff, are not destitute, but it is unlikely that insurance coverage will will entirely rebuild what they had.” The O's art critic, D.K. Row, posted an entry to the paper's art blog stating that “I hear that Michael lost a lot of paintings and other works. I pray not. My best to Michael and his girlfriend as they suss things out.”

On the arts blog PORT, curator Jeff Jahn lamented that “Michael is too nice a guy to have such terrible luck... If any of [Brophy's paintings] are destroyed, it will be a terrible loss.”

It is heartening to see the community helping and empathizing with one of its own, but somewhere in the flurry of hand-wringing and fund-establishing, another local artist's loss in the same fire has been largely ignored. Painter Michael L. Wilson also lost nearly everything in the fire, which reportedly was caused by smoldering embers from a neighbor's grill. Wilson—not as widely known as Brophy, not a darling of the Biennial, not a member of the blue-chip Laura Russo stable, but of the scrappier Everett Station Lofts upstart Rake Gallery—also suffered major losses.

Wilson's studio, which he had rented for the last three years, is part of a complex at 4555 North Williams Ave. that was divided into three sections, one used by Brophy, one by Wilson, and one by furniture maker Don Minnerly. At 6:15 am Sunday, Sept. 23, Wilsons says, “I bolted up and thought, ‘Something's really wrong here,' because I could hear something exploding—it was the bamboo in the yard burning up: Bang bang bang... I couldn't see anything in the room except for this beige color, which was the smoke.” He fell to the floor and crawled out of his bedroom into his painting studio, where he saw “smoke billowing and huge flames right between Brophy's building and mine.” His two cats, Simon and Cacciato, “were yelling and screaming,” but in the smoke he could not see where they were. When it became clear parts of the roof were collapsing and that his part of the building would imminently be engulfed in flames, Wilson crawled back into his bedroom and jumped out the second-story window, spraining his ankle on the ground 20 feet below.

Firefighters arrived and worked the scene for about four hours. Later in the day, when they determined it was safe for tenants to go back in the charred skeleton of the building, Wilson found the bodies of his cats, along with “piles of melted shit” that used to be his possessions. “Everything in the garage and the area above the garage was obliterated,” he says, including his prized motorcycle, a 1978 Suzuki GSX 400. “My living quarters—there was so much damage from water and soot as well as the fire itself. Most of my sketchbooks were destroyed, along with about 8,000 slides in my slide archive. All my camera equipment is pretty fucked, too.” His painting supplies were lost, and a few of his older paintings, although fortunately, the lion's share of his newest works are currently on view at Rake Gallery, where they are the featured show this month (see review, (Story continues after photo).

Michael Wilson in his former studio (above). Wilson sorts through the debris of his studio (below).
Michael Wilson sorts throug

Wilson, who is living with a friend for the time being, owns a bicycle that was not damaged and is now his sole means of transportation. Friends have given him new shirts to wear, as most of his clothes were destroyed in the fire, and he has been able to salvage a handful of possessions from the rubble. “Some things survived but with with scorchmarks and really bad smells. It becomes a matter of, Do I wanna clean this thing up or just throw it away?”

At first, the painter's plight was greeted with deafening silence from the arts community, in sharp contrast to the deluge of support for the more established Michael Brophy. In the last day or two, that has begun to change. Jeremy Tucker, founder and director of Rake Gallery, today announced a benefit to help Wilson get back on his feet. The fundraising luncheon is scheduled for 2pm, Sunday, October 14. (For more details, see

In addition, Tucker and fellow gallery owner Mark Woolley have agreed to display Wilson's painting, Salon, in Woolley's eponymous gallery for the duration of Woolley's upcoming group show, Be Blue (Sky) (Mark Woolley, 817 SW 2nd Ave., 224-5475. Oct. 3-27). If the piece sells, Tucker and Woolley say they will waive their commissions and give Wilson the entire amount of the sale. Wilson is grateful for the help, although he says he is “still in shock mode, walking around in circles—but there's a lot to be done... I have to move forward.”

Photos by Richard Speer.
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