Tag Archives: Vancouver Art Gallery

Musings about the New VAG while on Retreat at Rivendell

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“Flowers at Rivendell” DS – Weeds or Wildflowers?

The proposal for the new gallery was not widely accepted. In fact contrary to the enthusiasm of the VAG, civic leaders and architectural critics, a local radio poll, in September last year showed “80% of the respondents voting ‘No’ to the design.”

Should an art gallery be ugly? The title of an article in art guide, Preview magazine, last year by M. De La Giroday was titled “We are Art: a new narrative for the Vancouver Art Gallery.” It read, the architects “aren’t obsessed with winning an architectural beauty contest.” They said, from an artist’s point of view, these would be the best galleries in the world. In fact, artists would want to be revived from the dead to show here…” These are strong words.

The design is of wood – “a nod to Vancouver’s history as a logging town but with modern internal structures. Although not stated in the article, it reminds me of the shape of the First Nations’ Inukshuk, a symbol of welcome.

Behind the scenes (barely), are concerns about the wood being able to stand up to the weather and the ugliness of it rotting over time. Although there are few cities as treed as Vancouver’s province, apparently there are concerns over whether the correct size and type of water repellent wood could be produced here (so much for using local materials and saving the environment). The other worries are of course, how to raise the funds for this expensive venture, but this would be necessary for any design. However, some say it would be better to renew the old gallery and open several new small ones as the funds are raised.

I find myself debating whether it is reasonable for a gallery to be ugly. Is that not an oxymoron? Why would people be attracted to an ugly gallery? Who would want to walk along the street and look at it? Tourist might even come, not to see what will be the tallest wooden structure in the world but the ugliest gallery in the world.

That said, I know that some think Antoni Gaudi’s “Sagrada Familia” church, Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Museum in Spain, and even the ‘new’ ultra modern Scottish Parliament building in old Edinburgh are ugly. I think now not of humankind’s great creations but of God’s – humankind. Let’s face it; all were not created with equal beauty. Not even God’s own Son, Jesus, in essence God himself, is not of any particular ‘comeliness’ as Scripture describes him. I feel confused now, how can that be? Surely God must be the most beautiful of all? It only makes sense. I am going to have to wrestle with this ugliness business a bit more.

Part Two

What must come into my thinking is that there are different kinds of beauty and various perceptions of ugliness. What comes to mind right now is the way that the appreciation of women’s beauty in art has changed over the centuries from the high foreheads of the Renaissance period to Rubenesque figures, to the anorexic look for today’s model for real women to emulate. There is also natural beauty, but that has a continuum of appreciation too.

Ugliness, I guess, can be about the way we value certain looks. We have standards. A gallery must be made of a certain material. A man must be close to a particular height. Even, my favourite: paintings must be of a realistic style to be beautiful.

Perhaps real beauty and real ugliness are intrinsic. Then I remember that humanity once created in the image of God has become tarnished and even tattered. Even real beauty can be diminished. The future state of the decaying wood of the gallery must be considered on the one hand yet what seems ugly now could become such a meeting place of meaning for Vancouverites and tourists that it becomes beautiful in its aging patina.

Some say of a baby, it is a face only a mother can love. Others are afraid of the onset of facial wrinkles and grey hair. Yet is any baby truly ugly? Is there real beauty in wrinkles? It comes to me now that picture of a dog with amazing wrinkles. You must have seen images of it somewhere. Many think that type of dog is absolutely adorable. So, is beauty in the eye of the beholder then? We can also gain beauty some say, by surgery, by body sculpting, by dressing a certain way. Are the celebrities caught by the camera without make-up genuinely ugly or if so just temporarily indisposed? What about redemption? Is there really something called a ‘bad seed’ making some people evil from birth? Are ugliness and evil, beauty and goodness correlated?

This may be an ongoing topic for thought. The Preview article ends with: “Art, the pursuit of art, and how we support it is a grand enterprise. In a sense, we are all art, and what is chosen will set the arts environment in Vancouver for the foreseeable future.” Do we find more meaning in beauty or in the reality of history and experiences, of love, of hate? But that is a topic for another day. Still exhausted, I am tiring myself more with trying to figure out both life and art. Which parts of this blog post are beautiful; which ugly? I cannot edit anymore.

The New Vancouver Art Gallery Design

Art Makes Me

I drove the cobbled street to find parallel parking, as I felt uncomfortable going to a parkade in the evening by myself. I spoke with the ticketer about the 2-hour limit. He said I could have 4 hours if I paid by phone. I read the sign but I needed an app and was in a rush although I was early. I walked to the Q.E. Theatre but had entered with the wrong line-up in the other part of the building. I slipped over next door and found myself amidst quiet chatter and tinkling glasses: a growing sound.

As we moved into the theatre space the ushers guided our way. It took a while then all the dignitaries were led down the aisle and up to the stage by a bagpiper. Acknowledgement was given of being on the Coast Salish Territories. The speeches began. This night had been 8 years in the making.

The architects from Herzog and de Meuron rose and went to the other mike as everyone else left the stage. History of the rectangular land next door was shown – always an open space, surrounded by two story wooden houses and often the land where the public met. The history of the land shown made the presentation worthwhile to me.

Slowly and gradually the stage was set for the big reveal. One of the architects said that it was coming ‘right now’ but the image did not appear to us for another half hour. Slides were shown of their other projects around the world – including the Bird’s Nest building in Beijing. Yet I was excited. I wondered what could top that. Our building surely would be even more special. The architects, one woman principal and one man, spoke of their 12 visits to Vancouver over the past 8 years. We saw their view of the city from an airplane – the forest and mountains.

We were told about the slope of the space at Cambie and West Georgia and how they would work with that. Previously we had heard of the need for double the gallery space. We saw the floor plans of the new space including the outdoor perimeter galleries. Then an image almost slipped by my eyes. It was wooden they said. It was raised. It allowed maximum sunlight. It looked like a wooden Inukshuk, the legs of which were to be forty feet high. The height of the stacked pods would be equal to that of the two commercial buildings built on the back 1/3 of the land. The perimeter galleries would be free for the public in order to ‘activate’ the street.

Before I could see much of the inside I had to leave in the dark to feed the parking meter. Two hours had gone by so slowly. Then I felt underwhelmed with the reveal. In a daze I stood at each crosswalk on the way to the car. Church bells were pealing in a celebratory way.

Back at the theatre I arrived for the last slides – streetscapes. It did look appealing. A cool looking man about my age asked me what I thought about the presentation. I quipped, “It was very slow but I am looking forward to the new gallery.” Before I could ask what he thought I was alone again. He must have been involved in the design somehow and was getting a feel for the reaction of the crowd.

The ensuing party on the new gallery land next door was white tented. Coloured lights shone up the tree trunks. B.C. Place in blue could be seen behind. The evening was pleasantly mild and the tall heaters by each table were glowing hot. Cool drinks were gratis and I chatted with another artist while a long lost gallery friend dropped by to get reacquainted. Greek food from the nearby food trucks attracted my attention. I waited amidst the coloured lights happy to be downtown in the evening of this historic event. After my goodbyes I saw Landon Mackenzie, my former art professor but could not catch her eye. These were the beautiful people of Vancouver – the art glitterati. Always on the periphery I was yet with them.

On the drive home I got to see the bridge lit up at night – the pearl necklace. The ridge of the mountains was lit by the full moon. I heard that the design that we had waited for throughout the evening was in fact viewed on the early news by all. I felt annoyed that we who were physically present were the last to know. I also felt elated that I had been on the land where it would happen.

This next morning waves of images come and go in my mind: stacked wooden pods that if made of metal could look like containers from a ship, a raised restaurant from which to view the city with friends, a unique structure that will be talked about for years to come. I find myself thinking about the controversy that surround the ‘new’ Scottish parliament building design I saw in Edinburgh. I find myself remembering that it was said sometime this evening that this plan was not set in stone. Would this building ever come to be started in 2017?

I look forward to the regular monthly artist meeting at the Ferry Building Gallery this morning to the reactions of others. It truly is wonderful to be involved in the arts. God uses art to make me.

Contradictions and Paradoxes

iPad photo of my studio between exhibitions

“July Studio” iPad photo of my studio between exhibitions

The term ‘Christian artist’ seems to be a contradiction in terms and in lived experience. Christians are meant to be humble. Artists have to be self-promoting. One is to be self-less, the other survives by ego.

Sometimes we proceed in quietness and confidence in the secluded studio, but we also shout from the rooftops when we open an exhibition. Art, it is said, is a right brain activity in creating yet also left-brain in planning and execution.

We hope to be all things to all people but settle for being something to someone – to at least have a niche market, a loyal following. Art is a gift, an act of freedom, yet it can be an addiction. How else can one explain the costly need to produce beauty and meaning with so little financial gain? But not all – we are called to create. Only some are chosen for success in the commercial sense. Others are juried and viewed, feted, promoted; yet our sustenance comes from elsewhere. Our studios flow and run over. It can feel like the sound of one hand clapping. It is however, for the clapping of only One.

One of my professors, Landon Mackenzie, explained to us that our culture has not figured out what to do with the products of art. She has work in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, yet storage of her unsold works is an ongoing challenge.  In the face of paradox, nothing stops her from getting her message out there. The works of beauty and meaning are awesome. The first time I came across her rich work at the Vancouver Art Gallery I prayed that I could get into her class. At first I tried and failed by breaking an ankle to which she prescribed some ‘Chardonnay therapy’. Next term I got in and produced my own best, unsold, work in her class.

I wonder this early morning, as I overlook the backyard mountains, if my work is a lavish gift to me, if not to the world. All of these ideas, the ongoing backbreaking work, and all of this education and promotion in God’s economy – is it just for me? It gives me the richest of lifestyles, a never-ending parade of life-giving images. I awake each morning brimming with creation and – donate my work. Only God would plan this paradox. I create my own visual world and live within its Louvre-like walls. I am covered with feathers but thankfully no tar.

In Proverbs 31 we read: “Her children rise up and call her blessed… and let her own works praise her at the gates”. I work hard for the future in whatever form the praise comes. Yet I do not work. I merely allow it to flow and overflow surrounding and permeating every fiber of my being. I pray that I will not become like the Dead Sea, so full of minerals that nothing can live in the waters. I need to give more workshops to keep the coloured water of my life moving forward. No stagnation for me.

My work is only a by-product of my abundant life. My mind goes off in a dozen directions yet stays on one track: paint – then get the work out there in whatever way you can. Its what you do. It consoles and desolates simultaneously.

Spontaneous Storytelling

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“Apple Woman” DS collage book

Spontaneous Storytelling

Yesterday during the workshop one story after another came up as I presented the contemplation and collage material.  I got to tell quite a bit about Kurt Schwitters, the one whose philosophy of recycled collage I follow.  I even told the part of his story where a Scottish connection comes in.  In brief: he was in a prisoner of war camp in Scotland and created collages there out of found papers as was his habit.  When he was moved down to England the guards threw out his collages thinking they were garbage.  Millions of dollars in collages were lost to the arts community.  A few years ago I was privileged to see some of his small collages in the Vancouver Art Gallery – each one valued at over a million dollars.

Things went on from there to a partial history of collage going from a craft (Valentine’s cards) to an art form largely due to Schwitters work.  Into the conversation came “Spiral Jetty” an example of earth art in Utah by Robert Smithson.  Questions were asked about art, especially contemporary art and on it went.

As I continued to give direction in starting their recycled collage books I passed around my own book – one of several that tell the story of my life in coded/collaged form.  When I came to the page “Apple Woman” I relayed briefly about the time of spiritual encouragement when I broke my ankle and had a long recovery.

In these groups we contemplate many things about ourselves, about God and about our lives that are art-infused.  I think of the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Matthew 25).  We need to be ready; to be familiar with our stories – relayed as hope to others.  Sometimes it is only a few words about our own experience.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I Peter 3:5