02 November 2016

Vancouver Blues...and Reds.

Community garden at sunset, watercolor

Well. it's been a good five months already since I arrived in beautiful British Columbia. Yet another country to where our constant search for work has led us. No use pretending, it wasn't easy. Facebook might show us as 'jet setters' and moving about with ease but we've cropped a lot of grief away from those Facebook posts. 

Kitsilano Beach sunset. watercolor sketch
Many artists know that art is a solitary endeavor. Adding immigration (three times!) to it makes the whole endeavor quite a hurdle. The times of 'art martyrs' might be gone and we have paint tubes today  but that doesn't mean making art has become a breeze. Renting apartments and moving frequently makes finding a suitable  and affordable studio space almost impossible -if only because easels don't fit in planes and security deposits are hefty. Distance makes family matters take second place. Despite the price of art supplies you can't afford to buy cheap materials and every place has its quirks when it comes to shipping (Canada Post is a total headache, they've lost more mail in five months than all my US mail in twenty years). And when your family is sick and tired of hearing you moan, try  rationalizing the risks involved in becoming a full time painter  and just 'quit your job and paint'. 

"Cypress Street"

Vancouver is a city that has grown and is still growing at a breakneck pace. Real estate is pricey and construction is pervasive. Foreign and local investment are frantic. I like to compare it to a "mining town on hormones", still provincial in many aspects but bursting with technology, film and food  ventures. People that have lived here for a while have a totally different perception of it than newcomers. Surrounded by a truly beautiful landscape but close to commodities  like oil, timber and minerals, add its sensible  (albeit bland) metal-and-teal-glass urban newness, layer some decidedly favorable lip service towards "First nations", animal welfare , gays  and pot and you get quite an attractive place to retreat in a middle class bubble ...if you have the means and the marketable skills necessary. You'll get bored to hear it was "voted the city with best quality of life" x years in a row and so on. That might be but that "vote"  comes from biased sources so caution to navigators.

Granville Bridge, Watercolor sketch
As an urban plein air painter, the city itself is a little lackluster. Sure,  there are some quaint neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant and Point Grey.  The abundance of water and majestic trees is truly a sight to behold. If one manages to buy or rent a car, I am sure there are plenty of locations deserving attention.
Here are some of the problems I've found as I started painting:

"Capilano Fishermen" 9"x12"
a) Rain. It rains, for days, heavily, soggily, darkly. Days are dark and short in winter. It hasn't been too cold yet but water can get to you. Most people here wear yoga pants to the supermarket or hiking equipment to the office so there is a massive assortment of shops where you can find waterproof and hiking  clothing.

b) A high tolerance for alternative lifestyles means most of the 'tolerating' will be done by you, not the politicians,  as  you try to  avoid the  masses of panhandlers and addicts in the downtown area permanently engulfed in a cannabis fog and shouting matches while you paint.

Jericho beach 8"x10"
c) A serious lack of cultural options on the visual arts front. The city prides itself in its  public art  which falls into two categories: 90% is absolute bollocks and 10% is great. The City Gallery offerings are quite dismal. Photo exhibits of black and white photos of sad children in alleys are great, once. How many "dialogues" and "conversations" and "engagements" before someone comes up with a painting worth hanging that is not by Emily Again Carr? Don't get me started on the totems either.  I love Haida arts and motives but it's like living on a diet of truffles, truffles and truffles.

d) Not much of an art scene. Curiously, however,  I found a lot of urban sketchers and graffiti artists, some life drawing studios that are quite nice and a few plein air artists.  And by any standards there IS a lot of art done in Vancouver,  it is just done inside film studios. Commercial art galleries are a better bet  than museums. South Granville has a few  interesting galleries. My favorites so far have to be Pousette  (Francophone artists)  and Heffel  (group of seven, classic canadiana).

Mt Pleasant, watercolor sketch
e) A less than adequate public transport. Vancouver's public transport is good in relation to most American cities. Certainly it pummels Los Angeles sorry excuse for  a public transport into the ground. But I could go for hours on why it still sucks. As a painter, I find it difficult to find means to get to the places I want to go in a quick uncomplicated manner. (I have no car and car rentals are a problem when lugging lots of dirty paints).  On top of that, it seems Translink is not keeping pace with the growing urban growth and its needs. From the awful design of the buses to the constant delays I could go on but  this blog and the reader's patience would be exhausted.

f)  Art supplies. Two main chains with brick and mortar stores, Opus and De Serres. Not enough inventory of quality stuff. No linen canvases for example. No quality ready-made frames. Limited spectrum of brands in general. Mostly oriented towards the crafts market.

P.S.  Not that I care much for peoples comments but "Nice day to be painting outside" is the most common by a looong stretch. I don't know why. I rarely bump into another painter.  Its innocuous enough and sweet to hear. May be someone said it once during a school trip and now that's what you say.  Am I reading too much into this?

"Wreck beach" sold
In conclusion, painting in Vancouver has been, well, different. But not all is negative. Here are some of the GREAT things:

-Canada's great landscapes are awe inspiring even if they are hard to get to without a car or means  of transportation.  I must try a bit harder. Rain and weather pose a problem but they DO create plenty of subject matter. The colours of summer flowers, or the flaming reds of autumn are simply fantastic so you can expect changes and shifts aplenty.The sky is everything.

Monet's Heart Attack, vanDusen gardens.
-New artists I've met. Danny Ferland, Leslie Gould, Angela Muellers, MJ Sarmiento, Shawn Vandekerkhove, Marcus Wild and many others. Always great to make new friends.

-The same way that London forced my hand and I added  Emerald Green and  Black -or Payne Grey-  to my palette, I find myself squeezing a lot more Cobalt blue and mixing alizarin  in more places (always use permanent) . A definite cooling of the palette. Raw umber seems to be more appropriate  that brown oxide for deep shadows here. It has that oily color of dirty moss. Indian yellow bright spark has given way to lemon yellow.

Snug Cove, Bowen Island
-Water. Lots of it. Lots of boats on the water.

I have quite enjoyed using "Meetup" to gather with urban sketchers and discovering new places to draw inspiration from. I also enjoy attending life drawing sessions at Basic Inquiry. So I haven't lost hope that eventually, one day, may be soon, we can settle somewhere and really have a go at this thing called art. In the meantime, may be I should just buy a laptop and get serious about digital art. This place  might be the right place for that (as the 28th day of uninterrupted rain draws to close outside my window) 



Leslie Bennett said...

Jose, I'm sorry that this has been such a tough transition for you guys. I hope it will get better. It sounds like you are making the most of what Vancouver has to offer. I would also say that your blog is very interesting and you have talent as a writer, too! I love your art and really appreciate your openness and sharing on your blog. I look at one of your paintings all the time as one is hung in the living room and one in the bedroom.

Judy P. said...

You always write honestly about your tough times Jose, but man your paintings have a vivid rawness with the clarity. You make me want to try harder, and stop being a weenie about plein air- I'm so darn CAREFUL, must get gutsier. I can tell you face stuff head-on!

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the tough times getting dragged all over the globe, but your Vancouver paintings just sparkle!! Hugs, Ruth