Victor John Penner: Artists Depiction and Artist Talk by Ian Wallace

The Gordon Smith Gallery for Canadian Art is home to the Artists for Kids program which was established in 1989 through a partnership among some of Canada’s finest artists and the North Vancouver School District. Its mission, is to build an art education legacy for the children of British Columbia, through the sale of original prints created by its artist patrons. So when the Capture Photography Festival was announced the executive director of Artists for Kids, Astrid Heyerdahl approached Victor John Penner and asked him to make portraits of the artists who usually exhibit in the gallery, all of whom currently have pieces displayed in the gallery.

Artists Depiction by Victor John Penner

Artists Depiction by Victor John Penner

Penner took up the task and made a total of fifteen portraits, nine of which were on display at the exhibition. The artists depicted were:

I’m unfamiliar with some of the artists, but have come across the work of some of the others. A couple have featured in some of my earlier exhibition reviews. Penner’s portraits, as can be seen from the photo are quite large. Ian Wallace stated during an Artist Talk that he was a little angry about his portrait (third from the left) as it made him look quite intense, but he realises that it is probably a good reflection of him because he is quite intense. All of the photos bar one really are quite serious in expression. The portraits are done in deadpan style and shot with a large format camera. The lighting is from two strip lights on either side of the subject, which can be seen by looking at the catch lights in the eyes. The focus is sharp across the eyes and bridge of the nose but falls off quite quickly, so must have been shot with a very wide aperture. I found the facial blur below the nose line and above the brows was not as distracting as I thought it would be. Maybe that is due in part to the size of the prints and because the prints are in black and white. The photos are not your typical beauty type portraits. Instead every feature is amplified. The clarity has been boosted so pores and wrinkles are accentuated, rendering an almost gritty appearance to the images. “The sitter is revealed in a microscopic way, as flesh and blood, and not as their body of work that usually hangs on the gallery walls” (Capture Photography Festival Catalogue p. 44). And yet, they are so expressive – it is all about the eyes – the windows to the soul.

In explaining a bit about conceptual art and the language of photography during his Artist Talk, Ian Wallace stated that the wall on which the portraits are displayed is the field. The structure around them, i.e. the gallery is the support or frame, inside which are statements. The signifiers (portraits) are the authors of the (other) work hanging on the wall. I’ll probably understand this statement better once I’ve made a proper study of semiotics, but I think I get the gist of it.

Update to this posting

I just came across a short video on this exhibition which gives some more backstory context on the portraits were made.


Artists Depiction, Capture Photography Festival Exhibition [vidcast, online] The Gordon and Marion Smith Foundation for Young Artists. 28/03/2015. 3 min 42 secs. (accessed 30/03/2015).

Penner, Victor J. (2015). “Artists Depiction”. Capture Photography Festival Catalogue: Mitchell Press, Vancouver.


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  1. Pingback: Assignment 5: Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative | Lynda Kuit Photography

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