Moose Jaw artists Jess Zoerb and Erin Zimmerman will team up at Zoerb’s Art House studio on Second Avenue Northeast for the Oct. 15 Moostletoe Tour. MooseJawToday.com chatted with the pair about spiritual inspiration, healing journeys, and building up the arts community.
Zoerb purchased the house at 720 2nd Ave last year after deciding she needed a studio. She said the energy of the space spoke to her. After “moving in” — with her paints, canvases, and easels — she realized she also wanted to make it a place that other artists could gather at.
“It wasn’t until I found this house that I realized I was looking for more than a studio for myself — it’s meant to be a community studio,” Zoerb said. “There is, for me, a spiritual growth. This journey has been very much a growing journey, as far as my art practice, and personally as well.”
Zoerb described her friend Erin Zimmerman as a cheerleader throughout the process.
“That’s because you’re awesome,” Zimmerman laughed. Zimmerman added that she’s loved being able to participate in the gradual creation of the Art House and see the difference it can make.
“She’s held workshops here that are just phenomenal. She’s taught kids, kids have come and learn art and painting. And Jess is good at showing, like, hobby painters that they’re good enough, and it could be more than a hobby.”
Zoerb and Zimmerman have not walked easy paths as artists, and both feel that art is as essential in their lives as breathing. They share a passion for the spirituality of art and its ability to reach past words and concepts to community in a way that is deeper than language.
“It’s not even about what you do with your art, it’s about giving yourself permission to find your creative gifts, and how important that is for our own healing,” Zoerb said.
“In 2016, a good friend of mine and her family were killed in a car accident. That was the first big, close loss that I had had. It triggered this awakening. My grief journey just shifted the way I approach life.”
Zoerb found herself restlessly waking during the night to sketch ideas that felt irresistible. She began painting as another way to express that inspiration.
In 2017, her sister, also a prolific, talented artist, committed suicide, adding layers of trauma to Zoerb’s experience.
“That amplified [how I was changing],” she explained. “And her being an artist and receiving all her artwork. She would just paint and paint and paint, and they were very fantastical. And everything was unreferenced. I don’t know, I think at some level there’s an inspiration that came from that, and a wanting to honour our relationship through my creative process.”
Zimmerman’s journey has not been marked so much by tragedy, but by distressing, bewildering personal illness.
Four years ago, she woke with extreme double vision. She soon lost her peripheral vision as well, and eventually began to go blind.
“I went through lots of neurologists and was misdiagnosed a few times. … Before they even knew what was really wrong, painting was the only thing I had, because I felt like I couldn’t go out. At the grocery store, I was bumping into things and falling over.”
Zimmerman was eventually diagnosed with intracranial hypertension. Fluid pressure in her brain was affecting her vision, and could have had other, even more dangerous health effects if left untreated. She’s doing much better now, but the ordeal permanently changed her relationship with light and colour.
“My paintings are very blockish, they look almost Cubist, or soft Cubist. The glasses I had, I couldn’t see detail. Everything was blocked in colour, and I’d get lots of bright, reflected light.”
Zimmerman and Zoerb met during this period and immediately clicked. Last year, they organized “Bloom” at the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre. The exhibition brought 13 local female artists together — for many, it was the first time they’d displayed or sold their work.
That was the kind of adventure they want to keep having together. Zimmerman works for the Department of Defence, but in the meanwhile she pours as much of her considerable energy into art as she can. She teaches art — she loves teaching — and takes classes, as well as creating her own work.
Zoerb is a fulltime professional artist with a growing reputation. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and was a portrait photographer for 10 years, influencing the captivating, colourful style with which she interprets face and form.
Meet Erin Zimmerman and Jess Zoerb on October 15, when Zoerb will open the Art House to visitors for the annual Moostletoe tour.
More information on the tour can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/moostletoeartistsstudiotour.
(This article is part of MooseJawToday.com’s coverage of local artists for the Moostletoe tour. Watch for further articles as the date approaches.)