This holiday season, say it with giant blocks of wood. Got a mantra? A motto? A favourite expletive? French-born Jérémie Laguette, sign maker and owner of Woodtype, is your guy. He can carve it, paint it, and outfit it with low-voltage bulbs faster than you can say “fromage.” And for my fellow anxiety-havers, not to worry: he is very cognizant of fire safety. How does he do it all? Read on as we talk woodwork, typography, and electrical wiring with the man himself.
SAD Mag: So, how does one become a sign maker?
Jérémie Laguette: I love typography and have always been a fan of old signage. The first sign I designed was for myself and read ‘CHEESE’. It was for a cheese and wine party that I was hosting. My guests seemed to really like it. Some even requested variations for their own home decor and events. This inspired me to make signs accessible to other sign-lovers like myself.
SM: Tell me a bit about your creative process. Do you have any particular rituals when you’re working?
JL: My process is simple. First we have to choose a word. Sometimes I make signs for fun because I like a certain word but most of the time, my client’s have a word in mind. Next we have to select a font. I do this collaboratively with my clients, and together we find the best match in terms of font style, shape and colour that will tie together the word and it’s meaning. Once the mock-ups are approved, it’s time to go to the workshop! I don’t have any particular rituals, though I do collect a lot of flyers and papers with typography that inspires me.
SM: What would you say is the most technically difficult aspect of sign making?
JL: Most people would think building and painting the sign is the most difficult part. Though this is time-consuming, choosing the right font is actually more challenging. There are so many things to take into consideration. Does the font suit the word, does the font size and shape work with the client’s size requirements, etc.
SM: Art and electrical wiring are two very different things. Are you more drawn to the technical or the artistic elements of your work?
JL: The lights are simply a vehicle to bring my word into the spotlight and give it a cosy and warm feeling. I am definitely more drawn to the artistic aspect of sign making, though the technical part is integral to achieving the right feeling. For me it is two different stages: first I dream about it, and then I find a way to make it.
SM: How do you prevent your signs from catching fire?
JL: All my signs are low voltage so the bulbs do not emit any heat. They are warm to the touch and that’s as hot as they get. They are very safe. We’ve had the same sign in our living room as our main source of lighting for the past two years. We haven’t even had to replace a bulb.
SM: The maximum number of words I’ve seen you use on a sign is about five. Would you say you’re drawn to simplicity?
JL: I do love simplicity! Four or five letters give a bigger impact than long words or sentences do. But overall it is more a matter of space. The longer the word is, the bigger the sign will be.
SM: What’s the strangest word anyone has ever asked you to put on a sign?
JL: Nothing too crazy, but a funny one was the word “FETCH” that I did for someone who wanted their dog to have a reminder of what it loves the most. As far as I know dogs cannot read. “DUDE” was an awesome one, as it was for a nursery for a newborn baby boy.
SM: When and how did you wind up moving to Vancouver? What do you think is distinctive about Vancouver’s creative scene?
JL: I moved to Vancouver to 3 years ago. My girlfriend wanted to be closer to the mountains and the ocean. I’ve grown to love it. People are very open and supportive in Vancouver. Everyone I’ve met, especially at my studio space with MakerLabs, has offered tips and advice on how to better my work and make more sales.
SM: Tell me something unexpected about yourself.
JL: Well, I’m a pretty traditional guy in a lot of ways. I make the bed every morning. My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy, but I cannot bear the idea of leaving the house in a mess. I’m also French, from France and have only been speaking English for a few years. I only know how to cook one meal, and that’s a tartiflette. It’s a potato casserole from France with lots of fat and calories. Perfect for a Canadian winter.
CATCHING UP WITH ANGELA GROSSMANN AND DREW SHAFFER – SEPTEMBER 2015
An artist interview by Sunshine Frère
It is a stunning September afternoon at the Thierry Cafe on Alberni Street in Vancouver. The melancholy music that Yan Tiersen created for the French film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulin is wistfully resonating throughout the sunny patio where I have just sat down with artist Angela Grossmann. Her longtime friend and fellow artist, Drew Shaffer, has arrived from inside the cafe. Shaffer gently places a beautiful piece of cake, with luscious raspberries adorning the top, on the table for us all to share, and off we go, tumbling into the jiggery pokery world of Angela and Drew.
Angela Grossmann and Drew Schaffer recently exhited their work together in a duo exhibition called Jiggery Pokery at Winsor Gallery. The exhibition ran from October 15 – November 14th. This interview was conducted a couple of weeks prior to the exhibition opening. Grossman, who is represented by Winsor, was very much looking forward to showing alongside her longtime friend. The joining of these two sets of works in the same space, provided Grossmann and Shaffer an opportunity for their ever evolving conversation about art, language, game-play, memory and life to be experienced anew.
Angela: How I met Drew was that I rented my studio, which I am still in–it was above the Salmagundy shop store on Cordova. I would go by and it’s a friendly neighbourhood, but its really changed. Drew was the proprietor of the shop and we got to chatting. Though, we were never never allowed to just chat were we?
A: I’d walk by and I’d see a face through the window and he’d give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down if the owner was in.
D: So Ang would come in looking for photos instead.
A: And you!
D: Yes, she was looking for me, and images of stuff to do her work with. When I was first at Emily Carr we would do one of those class field trip type things, and once we went to Diane Farris Gallery and I saw her work there and was just amazed. So it was quite exciting because I knew who she was. She would come up and buy photos and things like that, and I thought, oh yeah, this is really cool! I don’t just have a shitty job right? It was a very interesting place in those days. Those types of shops are great places for people like us to find the raw materials to make the work that we make.
A: It was.
D: So, yeah, we both start from a similar place, we go and find something that inspires us that already exists and then talk to it, bringing it into being somehow. For me, generally it will become a 3D object and nine times out of ten for Angela its going to be something two dimensional. We use these found objects as a starting place, to start the dialogue. And sometimes it’ll be something very humble, I ask myself, why does this grab me the way that it does, and what is it about this particular object that is so inspiring? Is it the functionality of it? What is it saying to me?
Sunshine: Do you decide instantly always what you are going to do with the found object or do you sometimes hold onto it not knowing what it will be for?
D: Yes, sometimes its instantaneous, but more often than not things have to stick around for a while. I have this massive collection of old suitcases full of things like that…. I have this recall memory in my head of what all the suitcases hold. Suitcase encyclopedias.
A: You know, when I was in school, it was a going thing, you had to have an image bank. A bank of things, photos and images things you liked, images that made you think of things, whatever it was. And there used to be this incredible image bank at the Vancouver art gallery, that had been kept over a hundred years, but they got rid of it–I couldn’t believe it. Anyway, I’ve got my own image bank, but its not just images. It is full of things that I like, things that I respond to, my materials. But I don’t like to collect things for the sake of collection, I only collect to use them. Because I don’t like stuff hanging around. Sorry, I just thought I’d differentiate myself there. (chuckles)
D: I on the other hand do have a lot of stuff hanging around that I may or may not use at one point.
A: Exactly, I get very anxious about things hanging around…
D: Yeah, you’re more purist than me.
S: Do you purge more often Angela?
A: Yes, but not of things you would think, for example, I’d never throw out my old buttons, but I would throw out a pair of old gucci loafers, no problem. But my old buttons, bits and swatches of materials are all stuff I keep, but only for collage purposes. Because I think materials make me associate and associate is what I do. It’s the very nub of what I do as an artist. I’m an associate. (chuckles) When something is happening for me it is because I am able to make to make associations that day or in that work and can clearly see when it’s a great one or when it’s a forced one. You really learn how to associate. When you’re trying to go down those paths but it’s forced, you can tell when it is good or no good or when it’s great.
D: And, I as well as Angela do that with language. I’ll phone her up and say, I’ve got a pun, it seems to be a current that runs through my work and everything in my life. Like I call my brother up on Fridays and we trade spoonerisms back and forth. Sometimes their just sonorous, and they don’t really mean anything. But the best ones are the ones that can be read both ways and mean something, like the The Taming of the Shrew or The Shaming of the Trew. You know like that kinda stuff. And I see objects very much the same way.
A: Turn them upside down, turn them inside out, put them back to front, see what happens, see where it goes.
D: Yeah, because there is something there. Whenever you pick something up, there’s something there–you know, you know that it’s loaded somehow. You know that, that object or image has something for you. It’s the weirdest thing.
A: I love that. It’s loaded with possibilities.
D: It’s loaded with possibilities, you see that thing and you know right away that you gotta have that because there is something there for you.
A: I think that’s true for everybody that ever collects anything, not just with art.
D: Oh yes!
S: But all the potentials that are and were there for the object disappear once you connect with it as you are taking it in one particular direction.
D: Yes, its a fork in the road I think.
A: As visual artists all we do is associate and make these connections. Poets also, because all they do is use language to open stuff up and make connections and refer to things, its always referring to things, it’s never as it is.
D: Ang and I are not exchanging images and seeing each other’s work until we install the exhibition. We’ve been wanting to do something together for quite some time and now we are.
A: We first thought of doing something together that was theme based. Where we would both do work on the same subject. But this show has morphed and it is us both doing work at the same time instead. I’m not looking at Drew’s work and he isn’t looking at mine.
D: Those are the rules, that is the game plan.
A: That was the game because, I can’t do work about you, and you can’t do work about me. We’re just going to hope that in the show there is some kind of relationship there, as there is with us.
D: I am sure there will be.
S: How did the title for the exhibition, Jiggery Pokery, come about?
D: Ang came up with this name…
A: It’s not a word that I came up with, it exists…it’s sort of a bit higgledypiggledy, hocus pocus, jiggery pokery. I mean it’s all word play. The reason why I think it’s nice wordplay besides the fact that it actually means something, but also because it’s also associating sound with what we like. We like these associations… and that the sound, it …it tumbles out.
D: Yeah, it feels good on the mouth to say it. It’s really interesting because it dates back to the mid to late nineteenth century and it was a word initially used for subterfuge.
A: Like, “he’s up to some jiggery pokery over there!”
D: Yeah, its a little bit sneaky, I think it is a great word. But then that’s the first meaning and then there’s a secondary meaning that they started using in around nineteen twenty, where it started meaning to cobble things together. Like, it’s a bit of jiggerypokery that got the engine started. And you can also spoonerize it piggeryjokery. It was also really interesting, I discovered this American poet who used these archaic words and phrases and wrote these really cool poems, purely for the fact that they had great rhyming capabilities and their sonorousness. Once again, yet another level of what we are doing. I discovered this poet Anthony Hecht who uses phrases like jiggery pokery, he did some work with another guy called John Hollander. I was pretty happy when I discovered him. Anyways, one of the lines in one of his poems describes what jiggery pokery is and he explains it as: “using whatever you’ve got around to get the job done.”
A: Absolutely! We could quote that!
D: Yeah, its great stuff! A lot of the stuff that I’m dealing with is the seduction and abandonment of inanimate objects. I find that really interesting. You come across these things and they look so helpless and you can see a vestige of what they were to somebody at one time, but they’re no longer that anymore. In the fact that they’ve been discarded, they become, to me at least, so much more interesting.
D: I’m also really interested in how we choose to define ourselves by what we own. The general view of the object when desired is that it is hip. My general view is that it becomes more interesting when its not hip anymore or when its discarded. It’s not trying to prove itself anymore. I often turn the use of a functional object into more of a narrative or metaphor rather than a practical perspective. It’s a different kind of practicality I would say.
A: If I may interject here for everything that you’ve just said, I would reiterate that my own work uses likenesses of people who are long gone. So, they’ve got that echo of being familiar, but at the same time not existing anymore. I think I like to play between that which is still current and that which is gone, but what is it, that remains, that we have a connection to. What is the humanity that crosses over from then to now. So it’s all about that bridge.
S: The way you’re approaching the installation of the work is very much attached to the notion of game play, just like how you two approach your friendship. Drew’s objects will arrive at the gallery, Angela’s will arrive at the gallery and then the two of you will connect the dots on site.
A: It will be very fun, the thing is I have absolute respect for what Drew does, so I have total trust in whatever he does. I’m excited to show with Drew.
D: This is a great opportunity, and I’m excited too.
A: Drew and I have a lot of echoing in what we talk about and what we think about.
D: Both Ang and I are interested in fashion, people’s clothes and the items that they choose to wear to express their identities. On a small scale from a personal perspective and on a large scale. Because fashion moves at such a fast pace, the whole seduction and abandonment rate happens so much quicker. Things that are beautiful become almost instantly ugly. Because art has this hallowed niche, people are like ‘oh it’s art, its sitting on a plinth hanging on a wall and blah blah blah’, you give yourself more time to contemplate it, or to reflect on your relationship with it in a much more sort of hallowed way. Because that process happens much more quickly in fashion it doesn’t have that chance to be self-reflexive and because of that it is very interesting in retrospect. Certainly with Angela’s work when you look at the old photographs of people and the types of clothing that they’re wearing what they thought was really great at the time and of course these things come full circle and they become great again.
A: Yes, we’re interested in that sort of stuff. But who isn’t!?
S: Who isn’t indeed!
Special Thanks to Angela and Drew for the interview. The exhibition was a great one!
If you would like to see works in person, you can visit Winsor Gallery, they can pull out any remaining works from the show.
Bizarre Love Triangle is an arts and literary festival happening November 27th and 28th at 552 Clark in Vancouver. The festival is a collaborative effort between Sad Mag, Real Vancouver, and Obscurior, and is shaping up to be the year end party we’ve been dreaming of. The festival is 100% totally free, but capacity is limited, so reserve your tickets here in advance to ensure you get through the door and in on the fun.
On the 27th, the festival is kicking off with Obscurior x Sad’s Point of Inflection exhibition–thirteen writers created short pieces prompted by a Point of Inflection, and Obscurior created cinemagraphs and original music to accompany each piece. There’ll be live readings, and live performances, and a DJ set by City of Glass, so bring your eyeballs and your ears for 13 generally spooky takes on a tipping point. See the trailer here.
The 28th is an open gallery for you to peruse, plus artist talks throughout the day. Then, that evening, is THAT FINAL MOMENT–Sad’s and Real Vancouver’s Year End Party to end all Year End Parties! We’ve got Beer by Driftwood and Phillips, and live performances by Gay Sha and Vixen Von Flex (the beauty our Movement issue cover)!
Hosted by the lovely Sean Cranbury and Dina Del Bucchia, an evening of cheesy jokes, live readings, live performance, sweet music, and boozy drinks. Celebrate a year well destroyed, issues created, and art dispersed. This is our bizarre love triangle send-off. Party with us.
Matt Muldoon is the owner of Knuckles Industries: a rapidly ascending design company that just released (to much publicity) their new 60/61 furniture series.
Based on vintage Americana and old-school airplanes – the pieces were built with 6061 aircraft grade aluminum – the collection marries craftsmanship and not-quite-functionalism. Does a shoe rack really require speed holes? Of course not, but then, it doesn’t not need them.
Things are going well so far at Knuckles Industries: the 60/61 series was recently featured at Vancouver’s IDS West show, and has been lauded in publications from The Globe and Mail to Montecristo Magazine.
But back to Matt – what kind of person is it that comes up with this stuff?
A Total Hick
Matt was born in Nanton, Alberta, and describes himself as a hillbilly. He grew up going to scrap yards and buying materials on the Bargain Finder, and at fourteen, he built his first piece: a go-kart repurposed from a smashed-up motorcycle.
As an adult, Matt divides his time between Alberta and B.C., and runs his business a bit like a farmer coming to market. He works mostly out of his shop in Calgary, but wheels and deals in Vancouver. While on the west coast, he lives in an enviable loft space on Main and 2nd, but still misses Alberta’s Wild West vibes.
“The part that was hard for me in Vancouver was it sort of separated me from being a hillbilly,” he says.
“It’s a very different scene in Vancouver. Even if I could build a go-kart out of a motorcycle in Van, someone’s going to arrest me if I drive it down 2nd the way that I drive it at home.”
A Serial Killer
Not really, of course. But Matt admits that he looks like one – a little bit – when he’s staying up all night in his shop, alternately listening to classical music and Nine Inch Nails.
“I just fall back to Trent Reznor at eleven or twelve o’clock at night,” he says.
And then there’s his love of machining and clean lines.
“I prefer that surgical look.”
An Awesome Boyfriend
Recently, Matt’s girlfriend needed a new countertop. So Matt built her one, out of some 90-year-old barn wood that was presumably lying around her apartment.
I think there was very little planning that went into it,” he says.
Sounds like a fun date!
A Real Straight Shooter
More than anything else, Matt deals in authenticity. He describes himself as a half-designer, half-fabricator, and is capable of building any piece that he comes up with. He takes pride in his work; loves quality, well-built materials; and believes in completing a project in its entirety.
“I have an obsession with the 1930s and the 1940s, and everything that was made then. Sort of that Americana manufacturing days, when people went to work and made what they did and they were proud of it, and it turned out really well,” he says.
“I have this thing with the work pride of days gone by.”
IDS West is the Pacific platform for all things design. From the IDS West website:
“During this annual event, occurring in September, Vancouver welcomes individual designers, artists, makers and design-centric brands to showcase their current works, concepts and products. In addition to experiencing installations and features, there were opportunities to hear from some of the design world’s most notable and talented personalities and to connect with a long list of world-class designers that either call Vancouver home, or call on Vancouver for inspiration.
“The Pacific Northwest has experienced a major designboom that has been especially embraced in Vancouver, where the design community has become vast and mighty. Now in its eleventh year, IDS West has had the utmost privilege of seeing it grow, supporting its members and championing it the world over. Below is a recap of some event highlights.”
Hinterland Design’s booth stood out for it’s nature-inspired style, dramatic lighting, and bright wall colour.
A crowd favourite, the Tidal Flux ottoman by Hinterland Design is a whimsical interpretation of crab traps.
The L.A. Exchange booth, curated by Design Milk, brought some to star designers from Southern California to Vancouver.
The colourful geometric offerings from Bendgoods at the L.A. Exchange booth.
The show was replete with high end style and luxurious materials. A great place for guests to find inspiration for their own homes.
Open Studio invited a selected group of designers to participate in a curated installation that entertains the theme of Workspace, providing each participant with 10′ x 10’ of raw space as a blank canvas. Below is a selection of the beautiful work that were on display. Alda Pereira Designs’ workspace is reminiscent of the International style movement, playing with clean lines, simple shapes and primary colours.
This statue was damaged during the IDSWest opening party. Poor guy.
Interior designer, Gaile Guevara, brings together a collective of makers and artisans to represent her workspace as a culmination of the community and relationships that are integral to her work.
A chic yet relaxed workspace by Gillian Segal Design.
Marie Joy Designs created a workspace inspired by Our Little Flower Company.
Jonathan Adler draws a full crowd for his talk on design, branding, his philosophy of “irreverant luxury” and his progression in the industry from a pottery teacher in New York to becoming the founder of one of the world’s most sought-after lifestyle brands.
Canadian and international designers present one-off and custom lighting, glass, ceramics, textiles and surface design in a gallery-like setting in the Studio North presentation area.
The Portland Design Exchange featured designers and makers from it’s region.
Port + Quarter set up a cozy firepit for anyone looking to sit down and relax. Sadly, marshmallows not included.
Barter Co.’s line-up combines practicality with modern forms and fine natural textures.
A stately Dinner x Design set by 212 Design Inc. is inspired by the book 50 shades of Grey and features a show-stopping pendant light fixture.
This Dinner x Design set by Live Edge Design recalls our inner child with a beautiful tablescape under the treehouse.
Medina Design House was inspired by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi for a “night of enchanted opulence”. Guests were mesmerized by the built-in pond and water fountain in the middle of the table.
Find more of Robert’s work here, and check out the IDS West website here.
Hot Art Wet City proves determined not to bore exhibition-goers: they could not see wordy artwork descriptions there even if they wanted to. At the 12th annual Hot One Inch Action last weekend, organizers Chris Bentzen and Jim Hoehnle proved yet again that art can be interactive, fun, and “buttonized”.
The show took place on a busy night full of events spread all over the city. The gallery’s iconic pink furry draw box stood in a corner of the main room, containing mysterious plastic bags of buttons. Inside each bag were five buttons—each printed with work by one of fifty local artists—ready to be mingled and adored.
I got to the event at its end. The smokers sat outside on the bench, while just under a dozen people remained inside the gallery—the last ones standing at what must have been a bustling party. The buttons hung on the walls, single-file: paintings and illustrations hemmed in tiny, circular borders. The curators had not attempted to make the works appear larger or more sophisticated than what they were, and this unconventional setup encouraged artists to fully express their creativity. The gallery looked comically empty by then, a stark contrast to the typical grandiose aesthetic of larger art exhibitions. I often put my face close to paintings at other galleries, to get a closer look at the details, the brush strokes, or the texture of the paint. This time, however, I did so simply to look at the illustrations printed on the buttons at face value. By reducing the physical distance between art and viewer, Hot One Inch Action made me question traditional art practices of display and possession.
When I came across Chelsea O’Byrne’s piece, I regretted not having purchased any buttons, or attending the show earlier when the trading happened. Her emphasis on eyes, so present in her illustrations, transferred powerfully onto this white button: above thin black outlines of a nose and a mouth, without a frame of a face, a pair of hands covered the spaces where two eyes would have been. Instead, two circles of iridescence shone through the hands, the celebrated focal point of the minuscule presentation.
I felt even more remorse in not having obtained a set of buttons when I discovered that this might be the last Hot One Inch Action. Thankfully, some remaining buttons may be sold at the gallery in the weeks to come. And, if we’re lucky, there may even be another round of hot action next year.
Vancouver Fashion Week just wrapped up its 26th season on Sunday at the Chinese Cultural Centre in Chinatown. Throughout the week, more than one hundred local and international designers showcased their Spring and Summer 2016 collections. In a whirlwind of colour, texture, and flare, models paraded down the runway, bringing to life the work of the featured designers. The superior level of craftsmanship made this Vancouver Fashion Week a standout.
Friday night featured the Silent Rainforest line from GREEN EMBASSY, an Australian based, eco avant-garde company that believes that “sustainability should be at the heart of the fashion and textile industry.” Certified by Global Organics Textile Standards, GREEN EMBASSY is devoted to challenging the fast-fashion, throw-away mentality of so many consumers. The brand uses only 100% organic materials and is working towards zero waste at its production studios. This was the second year GREEN EMBASSY presented at Vancouver Fashion Week, and it made its presence felt in a big way.
The show began with a short film which highlighted the destructive impact humans are making on Earth. Two models graced the stage in ethereal matching sets and opened the show with tribute to Mother Nature. From there the show flourished. Female and male models of different ages and sizes danced and glided down the runway, something not often seen in the fashion world. The diversity of the models made the whole experience a lot more authentic.
The delicate and airy textiles displayed in the Silent Rainforest line brought the clothes to life. In conjunction with the pops of colour and abstract prints seen throughout the collection, the flouncy silhouettes added to the serene, free-spirited mood of the show. Every item was meticulously constructed; together, the entire collection flowed to form one coherent story. It was a true fashion spectacle that celebrated diversity, the human body, and Mother Earth.
Architects from the Swiss design firm Herzog & de Meuron unveiled their concept for a new Vancouver Art Gallery to a sold-out audience at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre last night. The presentation started with statements from individuals invested in the project. The lieutenant governor of British Columbia Judith Guichon spoke about Canada’s emerging national identity, a “coming of age” that will require a respect for Canadian artists and a desire to see them flourish. The aspiration to do justice to Vancouver’s contemporary art scene was a recurring theme among the speakers. Jeff Wall took the stage to voice what he claimed was “a point of view typical of artists in Vancouver.” Wall praised the new building’s capacity to host exhibitions that would be impossible at the gallery’s current site, as well as applauding the decision to overlay the building with wood, something he saw as a nod to Vancouver’s vanishing cityscape.
By the time the architects began their slide show presentation, there was little doubt that Vancouver is in desperate need of a new art gallery, somewhere for a new generation of artists to glean inspiration and for people from every strata of the city to gather. Gallery Director Kathleen Bartels described the current building as “literally bursting at the seams.” The proposed new structure will double the exhibition space of the gallery.
Herzog & de Meuron senior partner Christine Binswanger and project director Simon Demeuse, who are both based in Switzerland, provided an outsider’s perspective of Vancouver. It was lovely to be reminded of the things that make our cityscape unique, as Vancouver often fades to grey for those of us who live here. But Binswanger and Demeuse did not sugarcoat the problems with our city’s urban landscape, addressing such issues as underutilized public space and homogeneous glass towers in the downtown core. Before unveiling the concept design for the new art gallery, every facet of the project was explained, often in response to the perceived issues with Vancouver’s urban planning. A publicly accessible courtyard protected from rain, stacked floors that maximize natural light, and a flexible exhibition space that can used by curators in a variety of layouts.
The presenters leaned heavily on the idea of accessibility, citing free exhibition galleries and a courtyard that can be entered from all the surrounding streets. The new gallery’s role as a public space is rooted in the history of the site. Larwill Park, now a somewhat derelict parking lot, has a long history as a sporting field and gathering place, often for political demonstrations.
Although many in the audience had already seen images of the proposed building online that morning, applause broke out when Binswanger and Demeuse revealed the design; a wooden, stacked building, like a West Coast pagoda. The architects praised the softness and luminosity of the material, especially in contrast with the concrete and glass of the surrounding buildings.
After the presentation, the audience was invited to the nearby building site to have a drink and mingle. Discussions ranged from the gap between the secured funds and what is required to actualize the building to the high-maintenance reputation of wooden structures. The courtyard and sunken garden were the most talked about aspects of the building; most people were impressed with the design’s commitment to green spaces in and around the structure. The distinctive shape of the design caused many to reflect on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s increasing commitment to showcasing Asian art. In her opening remarks, VAG director Kathleen Bartels called Vancouver “a gateway to and from Asia,” something that seemed to inform the design of the new building. Not everyone I spoke to loved the design, although I personally did. One thing everyone could agree on, however, was that there is nothing like it in Vancouver today.
Katie So is bent over her iPad when I meet her for coffee on a rainy Monday morning. So is answering emails (“like always,” she sighs) which doesn’t surprise me, because the illustrator-cum-tattoo artist has already inked two of my friends and seems to be fielding more tattoo requests than she can handle. “I’m just learning about the tattoo business,” she says, “And I can’t say no to anybody, which I think I have to start doing soon!”
So helped open Black Medicine Tattoo last May with owners Joel Rich and Daniel Giantomaso, in exchange for mentorship from Rich. Vancouver born and bred, So has been practicing art since she can remember. “I always grew up in a really creative home,” she recalls, “So it was always like, everything, all creative materials were at my disposal.” Her move to tattoo work was motivated by her desire to progress her career as an illustrator. “I guess I was in a spot where I was just doing art and I wanted to…get it out there any way I could, and make money doing it,” So explains. “I met Joel [Rich] and he tattooed me. I asked if he wanted and apprentice but he [said] ‘Not really, but I’ll help you!’”
So says that attending an arts high school put her off the idea of pursuing visual art, but that she rediscovered her love of drawing during a gap year. She then registered in the Capilano IDEA Program where she realized that illustration, rather than graphic design, was what she was passionate about practicing. So was attracted to comics because they allowed her to combine her habit of creative writing with her drawings. She has since put out three print compilations of her work: Destined for Misery, Bad Boyfriend, and Attempts at Positivity. So’s work––narrative driven and punchline-heavy––is both hilarious and honest, and her ability to capture awkward moments, pathetic self-pity, and heartbreak is so accurate, it’s uncanny.“The comics kind of started almost as a way to laugh off my problems,” she says.
The magic of So’s work is that she manages to create scenes that are deeply personal but touchingly universal. Panels from Destined for Misery show a tired girl hunched over in identical positions eating dinner, sitting on a toilet, at a drawing table, and laying in bed. The cheeky caption reads “Slouch Life.” “I hated autobio comics, like: ‘I feel that way, too, but it’s just making me feel worse,’” she says, “So I guess I just wanted to approach it with an air of humour, and that was my reaction to the way I was feeling, and thats how I worked [my feelings] out. The problems are real but you should be able to step back and laugh at it a little bit and realize how ridiculous things are sometimes.” (See her panels in Bad Boyfriend to laugh out loud, and cry internally).
What makes So’s tattoo work so interesting is the dark edge that is present in her illustrations and comics. Shaggy vampire bats and dark haired ladies with cold eyes dominate her online portfolio. She can be both cutesy and gruesome in one drawing. Her somber aesthetic translates beautifully to blackwork tattoo. “I wanted to keep drawing for illustration rather than drawing for tattooing,” she explains. “It took me a while to get the effect that I’ve got in my illustration and bring it across tattooing. I definitely had to learn how to adapt designs for tattoos, because sometimes shapes of things aren’t going to work on somebody’s body. I still really wanna maintain my illustration style throughout tattooing.”
“Tattooing was one of those things I was like ‘I want to learn how to do this,’ and I just did it every day. I still have so much to learn but if you wanna get shit done you just gotta do it,” she says of her learning process. The transition to tattooing was creatively and financially necessary; it allowed So the freedom to pursue her art and make ends meet. “I’m proud that this last year was kind of when I took the plunge, like ‘Ok I’m gonna be an artist full time.’ I think I could have done it a long time ago if I had just done it but I was too scared that I wouldn’t have any money or anything. If you just do it, you figure it out and you force yourself to make money.”
I ask So what it feels like to put her hard work on someone else’s body. “I’m always scared when I finish a tattoo and I’m letting it go,” she laughs, “I hope they take care of it and I hope it heals well because it’s my art walking around. It’s nerve wracking, but also super exciting [to] see someone walking on the street…I’m like, ‘Oh I did that!’”
So’s wisdom to artists looking to take the leap into self-employment is to “just go hang out with people you think are cool and talk to them and tell them that you think they’re cool. Chances are they already think you’re cool, too.” Her final nugget of knowledge before we bundle ourselves up against the relentless downpour: “Please, get tattooed on a full stomach!”
Find out more about Katie So from her website, or find her on Tumblr.
On Thursday, June 18, the front page of the Vancouver Sun illustrated the results of a recent Angus Reid poll of Vancouverites with four bright yellow emojis. One with the beaming smile represented “happy”; another, less enthused smiley stood for “comfortable,” another for “uncomfortable,” and finally, one for “miserable.” The poll focused on how Vancouver residents felt about their current housing and transportation situations. Someone with my demographics (a renter aged 18-34 with a university education) was apparently inclined to be thoroughly miserable. The “happy” category described my parents: retired with no daily commute and living in a mortgage free home purchased before 2000. Would I only achieve happiness in some kind of Freaky Friday scenario where I assumed the lives of the people who raised me?
As luck would have it, I was headed to the Museum of Vancouver that night for a Happy Hour talk on Money and Happiness. Researcher Ashley Whillans, who works out of UBC Department of Psychology’s “Happy Lab”, presented her findings on the relationship between money, time and happiness in a twenty minute lecture. Her first core finding was that those who use money to outsource tasks they dread experience a boost in happiness. Technology has made it possible for those with the time and inclination to connect with those who are willing to pay for comfort. Whillans’ conclusion seems especially relevant given the rise of Uber and the sharing economy.
Maybe money can buy happiness after all? Whillans’ research certainly seems to suggest it does; she presented data from another study in which study participants demonstrated a greater increase in happiness when they spent money on others rather than on themselves. Interestingly, these participants were horrible at predicting what would make them happy. Given the choice between spending their money on themselves or on others, the majority predicted that spending the designated cash on themselves would yield the greatest boost in well-being, when just the opposite proved true. Perhaps I need to stop looking to Hollywood for happiness; the answer might be as simple as hiring someone to scrub my toilet next weekend while I treat my nearest and dearest to mimosas.
Ms. Whillans also referenced Vancouver’s last place ranking in a nationwide poll of happy cities, along with The Economist’s recent pronouncement that our city is “mind-numbingly boring”. Part of the mandate of the MOV’s Happy Hour talks is to foster dialogue and mingling amongst our citizens. The palatable length of the presentation and the presence of a bar created an informal vibe. But the true inspiration for the Happy Hour concept comes from the Museum’s current exhibit, Stefan Sagmeister: The Happy Show, curated by Claudia Gould. The exhibit, which opened on April 23 and runs until September 7, displays the award-winning Austrian designer’s decade long exploration of what happiness is and his own quest to attain it. With a giant inflatable monkey, walls covered in academic study results and clips from Sagmeister’s upcoming documentary The Happy Film, the multi-media show engages visitors in a myriad of ways. Museum-goers are invited to experience a personal journey towards happiness, filled with memories and musings unique to Sagmeister, but end up recognizing his yearning as their own. The exhibit taps into a universal struggle: it seems that as long as there have been people, people have had a problem being happy.
I may not have exited the museum that evening with a prescription for happiness, but I did have many new ideas to consider. My friend and I stood in a surprising summer rain shower and contemplated what bus route to take back to our rented apartments. A yellow taxi approached and without much deliberation, we hailed it. For a few dollars each we got to forgo a long damp ride on transit. As I watched our wet, boring city glide past from the back seat, I was happy. For a while, anyway.