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Goodbye, Elmaks

Maks and Oboe

Maks and Oboe

Elmaks, local street artist, inventor of The Swap Box, and all-round nice guy and gentle soul, died on Thursday. I’m told that his body was found in the forest on Friday, and that he had committed suicide.

I’m shaken and saddened by this news. I didn’t even realize he was depressed.

He came over just a few weeks ago and visited for a couple of hours. He and Oboe took a shine to one another and became instant friends. I remember saying to GC later that if I ever needed to find a new home for Oboe, Maks would be perfect.

I gave him two boxes and a wooden mannequin as he was leaving, and within days he had turned one of the boxes into a swap box/mail box down in the Glebe. He left writing paper and note cards and envelopes in it so people could write letters and notes, so GC and I did that. (Ironically, mine said “Goodbye cruel world!” and then “Just kidding. It’s a wonderful world.”)

I wonder if he left a note.

I know he was going through a rough time with some personal health challenges. He said he was going to have to change his plans and dreams accordingly. He was in his second year of a Masters in Urban Planning at McGill. He had a strong sense of social justice and wanted to work in disaster relief, re-building devastated cities. But he said he was coming to terms with the fact that his health issues weren’t going to allow him to work in third world countries.

He mentioned a couple of other things that weren’t going his way either. A job he was counting on fell through. Stuff like that. Nothing that suggested suicide, at least not to me.

We talked about Jack Layton’s death. One of his last pieces of art was a tribute to Jack.

I took several pictures of him that day. As he was leaving, he said I could post them on my blog if I wanted. He said I could use his real name if I wanted. He said he was no longer as private about his identity as he used to be.

The service will be held on Thursday. I don’t know what time yet. I’ll post details when available.

Rest in peace, Maks. The world is a better place because you were in it. You made a difference. I’m just sorry you couldn’t stay longer.

“Love each other and the city we live in.” Elmaks

“”A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions.” – Nietzsche (Maks’ last words on his Facebook page)

36 comments to Goodbye, Elmaks.

  • deb

    I am so sorry…this is just too sad.

  • redfraggle

    thank you.

  • Eric

    That’s really sad. For me, he’s been one of the most upbeat things about living in this city the last six or so years. I still remember the first of his pieces that I came across.

    • Me too Eric. Those swap boxes really brightened my life. I loved everything about them, from the concept to the boxes themselves to the actual art of swapping. I loved the way swap boxes created random connections between strangers.

      The first piece of art I ever saw by Elmaks was Life is Everywhere, back in April, 2007.

  • Mo

    I am so sad and sorry that Maks is no longer with us. His swap boxes and artistic talents always made me smile and THINK. Maks will be sorely missed!

    My thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, Zoom but thank you for this post of your visit with Maks.

    • I loved the way his art was based on values of generosity and sharing. GC and I were just talking today about how he said that the transience of street art didn’t bother him. He was okay with making a piece of art, putting it up, and having someone come along and remove or destroy it a few days later. He said transience was just the nature of street art. He didn’t need it to last forever. Maybe he felt the same way about life.

  • I am in shock…

    Just about 10 minutes ago, I was telling my nephew,Daniel, all about Elmaks. Daniel was impressed by the swapbox of Elmaks’ that I have in my house, and he traded a colourful little turtle out of it and put a lucky Chinese coin in it in exchange.

    I am broken hearted… Elmaks, you tickled our fancies with your fabulous street art. We will miss you…

    • I hope the concept of swap boxes outlives Elmaks. He would have loved for us all to continue the tradition.

      I have one of his swap boxes too, and I went through it after he died. I think I’m going to give it more prominence in my house now. It’s been tucked away on a bookshelf – I think it’s time to bring it into active duty.

      I’ll see you Wednesday.

  • Em

    Wow. That’s awful. I hope he’s at peace now.

    • It is awful. Suicide leaves so many questions. Especially “Why??” and “What if??” I think a lot of us are wondering what was going through his head, what was missing in his life, what was so wrong that death was preferable to living his life.

      It sounds like he went peacefully. He was lying on his back in the forest with his head on his knapsack and no signs of trauma or injury.

  • Thank you for sharing your friendship and story of Elmaks. I wish I had known him. Sometimes it is the build of events, sad events that tips someone over the edge. I couldn’t help but dwell on the job that did not materialize.

    • I know what you mean, how there can be a cumulative effect. It’s not one big thing but a pile of little things that can be unnerving and depressing. Especially if you see a trend developing, like it’s all downhill from here, the good times are over, I’ve peaked and now I’m declining. But I wonder how much depression is caused by life events, and how much by biochemistry. Or if there’s an interplay between them.

      Are you okay now?

  • Bonnie

    so sorry to hear this sad news. He sounded like such a wonderful person, the kind you want the world to be full of.

    • I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments on his facebook page over the last few days. He had a lot of good friends who have been saying wonderful things about him. He was a special person.

  • I feel a hole in my heart and I’m sending love to everyone who he touched as an artist, a friend.

  • That’s just so terrible. I discovered Elmaks through your blog and have been reading his for a couple of years. He really made me feel as though this city had a spirit of its own. How very sad. He will be missed.

    • Lynn, I think he’d want us to find ways to keep making those connections without him. Keep making art and swap boxes, keep sharing, keep being kind to one another.

  • I don’t think it would have made a difference (when adults decide to commit suicide*, they are usually pretty at peace with the decision) but we should take a lesson from this, that we should always take the time to tell people what they mean to us. This jibes with the other thought I had recently, that we shouldn’t wait until someone’s funeral to say nice things about him. I am so glad that he spent that quality time with you and Oboe.

    *and by this I mean, after long contemplation, and because they feel they have real reasons to leave, and then when they do die, they are not doing it for the drama and hoping to be saved. I have suffered from depression and while thankfully, I never felt suicidal, I have empathy and understanding for the process. It is still a terrible loss.

    • I do hope he was at peace with his decision. And you’re right, we shouldn’t wait for funerals to tell people what they mean to us.

  • Nat

    I’m sorry for your loss. Sounds like we lost one of the good ones.

  • Awww. Nuts.

    This is so sad and bad in so many ways, I can’t even begin.

    I feel your pain, ma’am. And my own.

    Take good care of yourselves over there…

    • Thanks Coyote. He was a kind, gentle and generous soul. It’s sad to realize – too late – that he was so unhappy.

      You take good care of yourself too. Let’s do coffee again soon.

  • It was good seeing you and GC at ElMaks’ last swap box in the Glebe. I hope you’ll post a photo of the ‘RIP ElMaks’ note I binder-clipped to the box and the flower GC left in it.

    – RG>

  • What a lovely person and how very sad.

  • Mirigo

    Peace be with him, and us all. May his swap box movement live on.

  • AC


    My friend, Shona Sen, was Max’s cousin. Her father and Max’s mother did not get along and Shona’s family only learned about Elmak’s passing recently. Shona couldn’t find any info to contact Max’s brother Stuart since their families don’t keep in communication, so I told her I would search around and see what I could find. If you knew any leads that I could pass on to Shona to get in touch with Max’s brother I would appreciate it.

    Thank you.

  • David Farrell

    Suicide is the saddest part of being sad.