Work is Art – Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art

Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz

Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz
Part of Vancouver Biennale

As I walked over to the gallery I happened to pass a couple of the Vancouver Biennale installations that have been put up around the city (photos included just for interest). The Walking Figures are scattered down the main road of North Vancouver for about ten blocks, standing on corners where you would least expect them. I keep wondering what an unsuspecting person will do if they come around the corner in the dark and walk into one of these seven foot pair of legs! The Meeting installation is in the grounds of the Gordon Smith Gallery and it looks so friendly and reminds me of the previous bienalle’s installation: A-maze-ing Laughter by Yue Minjun, a few years ago.

This exhibition is curated by Gordon Smith, O.C. (local artist and after which the Gallery is named) in his appreciation for a local group of eleven artists and arts educators, namely Andrew Alvarez, Wing Chow, Warren Goodman, Dirk Heiss, Bill MacDonald, Frank Mayrs, Les McKinnon, Neil Prinsen, George Ramell, Richard Turner and Anne Watt. Mr Smith is the common thread in this exhibition and the artists’ statements all reflect what his mentorship has meant to their careers. I would have liked to see the artists’ statements about their work as well and thought that was rather sad it was not included. There were also a few more established artists’ works on display, like Rodney Graham, Douglas Coupland and Karin Bubaš. The majority of the works were paintings, a little photography and some installations. I will only touch on a few of the exhibits.

The Meeting by Wang Shugang

The Meeting by Wang Shugang
Part of Vancouver Biennale

Wing Chow had a few interesting and rather touching pieces: the first was a photograph of his immigration papers when he arrived from San Francisco to Vancouver as a young child, set in a light box, a photo of a young man with a citizenship card stuck to his forehead, entitled “Head tax” and a photograph of the railway station in Vancouver. Photos of the lightbox image and railway station can be seen here. His pieces spring from discovered memorabilia after the death of his mother.

There was an interesting photo by Douglas Coupland, who is such a talented artist, He paints, writes, sculpts, does photography and pretty much everything else artistically possible. The photo is of a still life entitled West Coast 2002 done in chiaroscuro style and unfortunately I am not able to find an image online for it. I did managed to sneak a photo of the upstairs gallery where the photo is hung, but it was with my little point and shoot and it is not very clear.

Work is Art - Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art

Work is Art – Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art

It has the most interesting array of objects displayed on a work bench, namely a stack of newspapers tied with string on top of which is a can of evaporated milk which is running out over the newspapers and down onto some clusters of coral or barnacles. In the centre of the photo is a young maple tree sapling and all the light is centred on this tree. To the side of the maple tree is a Chinese vase and to the front of that is a propeller atop an open bird book. Behind the maple tree is an unfolded map tacked to the wall with a branch of cherry blossom on the left of it and a couple of freshly caught salmon on the right of it. Pieces of driftwood fill the spaces on the right and left of the frames.

I think all the objects in the photo represent some aspect of West Coast life here in Canada. The highlighted maple tree and the placement of it in the frame depicts Canada and lays the ground for identity. The salmon pays homage to the fishing industry on the west coast and the abundance of wild salmon which is found off the west coast of British Columbia. The driftwood is representative of our logging industry. Logs are brought by tug boats from logging sites up coast and frequently logs will break away from their tether and wash up on the beaches around the coast. The bird book references the rich bird life found here, while the Chinese vase represents the large Chinese population we have in Vancouver – the third biggest Chinatown in North America, outside of San Francisco and New York. The cherry blossom branch refers to our large Japanese population as well as the abundance of cherry trees that line the main streets and parks of Vancouver, some of which were a donation from the Japanese government as a symbol of friendship between Canada and Japan. The propeller gives reference to the myriad of boats (sail boats, motors boats, fishing boats, etc) that hug the little harbours in and around the west coast as do the barnacles and/or coral. The bundle of newspapers suggests to me that they are an old collection, thereby possibly referring to the history of the West Coast. I’m at a bit of a loss as to the significance of the evaporated milk, unless it has reference to the major summer holiday activity that Canadians seem to like and that is camping.

The photo by Karin Bubaš, Late Winter Lynn Creek was taken just a short distance from where I live and I think it is either the same place or very close to where I did the exercise on shutter speeds. It is a panoramic photo of woman standing on a dry river bed in what seems to be mist. However, on closer inspection of the print it is clear that there is a small fire just in front of her and she is, in actual fact, standing in smoke. The pyramid pile of twigs is not clearly visible on the link provided, however, it is there about one metre from the woman. Knowing the area, it is obvious to me that the photo was probably taken between December and February as the river is almost dry as the snow pack has not yet melted. The photographer used a long exposure for this photo because the milky effect of the water cascading over the river rocks is visible. If I use my own set of photos from the shutter speed exercise as reference I would guess that it is about 1/5 second exposure. The muted colours are very true to form, as is the white winter sky that we have to contend with here in Vancouver. On the provided link, it is stated that the image of the woman in the smoke has reference to the Squamish Nation (one of the aboriginal tribes on the North Shore) and is reminiscent of a smoke spirit. When I viewed this photo in the gallery, there was no such accompanying text to the image, basically just the artist’s name, title of the work and medium were on the wall cards. I did, however, get the feeling, once I’d identified that the fog was in fact smoke and I discerned the wood pile, that it had a bit of a First Nations (what we call the aboriginal people in Canada) feel to it. I find it a very peaceful and reflective image.

There was one installation that I found quite fascinating though and that was George Ramell’s An Archer’s Paradox. It is a large installation with an archery target, painted with bright blue and yellow circles and contains about thirty red and green feathered arrows shot into the target. On top of this is an interesting addition of four rectangular boxes with hinged doors. Peeking out below the hinged doors are four painted partial wooden faces (from the tip of the nose to the base of the chin). The first three are painted blue, red and green and have no expression on their “face”. The last one is painted orange and bears a very toothy grin. Possibly the reaction of shooting a bull’s eye? George Ramell was initially inspired by Jasper Johns, artist and sculpture and there is a very interesting back story to this sculpture which can be read here.  As stated by Ramell:

The art … [is] in the meditative state that both archers and artists share; that unconscious zone of focus, and of the need to reach far beyond ourselves for something that doesn’t yet exist.

Reference List

AFKEditor (2014). New Exhibition highlights the power of mentorship [online]. Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art. Available from: http://www3.gordonsmithgallery.ca/Artists4Kids/AFKBlog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=38 [Accessed 4 October, 2014]

Bubas, Karin (2010). Late Winter, Lynn Creek [online]. Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art. Available from: http://www3.gordonsmithgallery.ca/Artists4Kids/PrintShop/Pages/galleryitem.aspx?ItemID=46 [Accessed 4 October, 2014]

Ramell, George (2008). An Archer’s Paradox – Art at the Center of Archery [online]. Archery Focus Vol 12, No. 2. Available from: http://www3.telus.net/4/rammell/archery_focus.pdf [Accessed 4 October, 2014]

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