In a stark white concrete space within 1 Spadina Crescent, the first David Buller Memorial Scholarship was awarded to three Visual Studies Masters students on Wednesday, March 31.

What could have been a room full of dour artists was instead a warm celebration greeted by friends, family and admirers of Buller.

Fine Art department chair Marc Gotlibb opened the proceedings by describing how the award embodies a desire “to help [the students] bring to their own studies and values, what David brought to the program.” He thanked all those in attendance, including “those who did not know David, but who were profoundly moved by his story.”

David Buller was found dead Jan. 19, 2001 in his office at 1 Spadina Crescent as a result of multiple stab wounds.

The case remains unsolved. All those in attendance, including Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Pekka Sinervo, were present to “celebrate the artistic achievements of our students.”

Prior to the awarding of the scholarships, Karyn Sandlos, Buller’s niece, presented one of his paintings to the visual studies department for display at 1 Spadina. Entitled “Docking,” it is a piece from Buller’s “Cone of Light” series.

Choosing words from Buller’s journal, his niece encouraged the artists being honoured to “paint tough, don’t hesitate.” Betty-Lou Sandlos, Buller’s sister, offered a sincere thanks to the Department of Fine Arts and those in attendance for honouring the memory of her brother.

“The past two and a half years have been very painful. We miss him so very much.” She spoke of Buller’s dedication to his students and his love of seeing them excel. Through more of Buller’s journal entries, she related his thoughts on the highs and lows of being a young artist, offering an inspiring and extremely personal insight into his life.

One recipient of the award, Catherine Heard, offered words of appreciation to those gathered. “David is someone who all three of us would have enjoyed meeting; both in a classroom and social setting.”

According to video artist and award recipient Jean Paul Kelly, Buller’s work “challenged representation and notions of sexuality.” Referring to a series of collage works entitled “Strip,” Kelly noted that Buller chronicled the “history of the gay male body, and the liberation of that image in culture.” The scholarship represents a “gift of encouragement” for him.

The award was an “unexpected for honour” for Malcolm Craig Leonard: the installation/performance artist will put the scholarship money towards paying his tuition. Though none of the recipients knew David Buller personally, they have all clearly been affected by his legacy.