The latest exhibition to open at the Vancouver Art Gallery doesn’t demand hard academic analysis or difficult interpretations from its audience.
Instead, the curator of PAINT — an exhibition of more than 100 paintings by B.C. artists working since the 1960s — says it’s more about hedonism than critical analysis.
“The whole show is about the pleasure of viewing pictures,” Neil Campbell said earlier this week as he walked around the second floor of the VAG, where most of the paintings were still leaning against walls, waiting to be hung in time for today’s opening.
“The audience here, the public here, is very ready for painting and the fact that we’re looking at pictures for pleasure rather than just for importance is a different approach.
“It’s acknowledging the importance of pleasure.”
Campbell, who is a painter himself and an instructor at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, says he selected the works for the exhibition according to what he likes — what he takes pleasure in. He has chosen to shine the spotlight on seven of British Columbia’s newer, younger painters, but the exhibition also features the work of established, better-known B.C. artists such as Attila Richard Lukacs, Vicky Marshall, Charles Rea and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.
The seven younger artists featured in the show are virtual unknowns here at home, but Campbell says they’ve all had significant critical and commercial success on the international scene.
A large part of the reason for their relative anonymity in B.C. – - compared to Vancouver’s younger generation of conceptual artists such as Damian Moppett, Brian Jungen, Tim Lee, Althea Thauberger and a host of others — is because, Campbell says, Vancouver has built its art world reputation over the past few decades on artists who take a conceptualist approach, rather than a painterly approach.
But he believes that’s changing and that both types of art- making can peacefully co-exist in Vancouver.
“The city is changing and there’s an opportunity for there to be more than one thing on the menu,” Campbell says.
Besides, our painters are being lauded and sought after in London and New York, so it’s about time they received the same recognition here at home.
Tim Gardner — a Victoria-based artist who paints realistic watercolours of landscapes, his friends and himself — has been selling out shows in New York City for a few years, has been praised by The New York Times, New Yorker magazine and Art Forum and has a solo show opening in January at the National Gallery in London. Yet he’s still virtually unknown here in B.C.
Charlie Roberts — who references art history as well as hip-hop culture in his fantastical paintings — is a former Emily Carr student who now lives in Norway. Campbell describes Roberts’s career as “very hot” and says a recent New York show of his work sold out in advance.
Matthew Brown was recently awarded $15,000 for being one of the finalists in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, while Etienne Zack — another one of the seven painters featured in the VAG show – - was the competition’s national winner last year, earning a $25,000 award.
Works by Arabella Campbell, Holger Kalberg and Elizabeth McIntosh are also showcased in the exhibition.
In addition to the work of the seven younger painters, PAINT also features major works by Peter Schuyff and Jessica Stockholder, who have also had remarkable international success, yet whose work has never been shown at the VAG.
Stockholder now teaches at Yale University and is known for her large installations, many of which incorporate paint, and has exhibited her work around the world.
Campbell likens Stockholder and Schuyff to basketball superstar Steve Nash, in that their careers are not based here in B.C., but they will always have ties to this place.
“Like Steve Nash can play for the L.A. Lakers and still be a cover boy in Canada and still be considered Canadian,” he says.
Judging from the large numbers of students wanting to sign up for his painting classes at Emily Carr and the number of local artists choosing to work with paint, Campbell says there is a vibrant revival of appreciation for the medium. It’s a medium he says is unique because of its ability to convey emotions and personality traits through brush strokes and style.
“It’s just like handwriting. There are those things about you that are immediately registered,” he says.
“Your sense of humour or how conservative you are. It may be genetic, I don’t know, but you’ll see it. It won’t be intended, but it can’t be avoided.”