BACKGROUND / VANCOUVER : AN ARTIST'S VIEW OF THE CITY, OCTOBER 30, 1972
The VANCOUVER SUN; March 8, 1974 - Leisure p. 13, 14-31 (centerfold)
Joan Lowndes says . . . City By Mural
Background – Vancouver is the portrait of a city: a mosaic of 360 photos of signs, people, buildings, still life, scenery, roads, cafes, totems, harbor, interfaced to provide a host of unexpected connotations.
It is being blown up into a mural 9 1/2-feet by 12 1/2-feet in halftone photo-silkscreen. Two copies have been ordered by Art Bank, another by the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the city archives is striving to raise the necessary $2400.00 from private sources in order to acquire it.
It should be in a location where it can be on permanent view. Not only is it a poetic, often surrealistic overview of the city challenging the psyche like a Rorschach test: it is also a historic record of Vancouver in the early '70s.
Background – Vancouver was conceived largely by Michael de Courcy, who will print eight or nine copies of it – the first mural, to my knowledge, edited as a multiple. Collaborating with him on the original photos were Gerry Gilbert, and Glenn Lewis and Taki Bluesinger working as a team. Taki is a Japanese photographer and video artist whose name is so difficult to pronounce that he has become known by his affectionate nickname.
Using a map of the city, they plotted three routes which began and ended at Victory Square. Each route passed through the city core and out to the perimeters in far-flung overlapping loops.
The four friends made a dry-run the day before, taking notes. Thus there was no over-shooting: close-up medium and long-shot slipped easily one into the other, deliberate but unpretentious. The sun shone for the rehearsal; on the day of the actual "take" it was cloudy much more Vancouver.
Departing from the agreed upon "ground zero" Gilbert, Lewis, Bluesinger and de Courcy spent about ten hours documenting their respective routes. The resulting mural (see pages 14 and 31) is presented like a map, each section identified by numbers 1 to 20 running along the top and letters A to R down the sides.
At the bottom Gerry Gilbert, who is also a poet, has written captions. Some of which are factual: Kitsilano beach, Oak St. Bridge, 300 Block Powell. Others are playful. The Pacific Press Building, for example, is designated as the Ministry of Truth while the photo beside it of Jamie Craig and myself becomes the Pacific Press Gang. A house in suburbia is Popular Silence. On the other hand the Vancouver School of Art is scathingly put down with the slogan Art is Dead.
Scattered throughout the mural are personalities of interest to the art community like Doris Shadbolt, Michael Morris, Al Neil and Dr. Brute. But Background – Vancouver is by no means an "in" thing: everyone will recognize Chief Dan George.
The routes in brief, starting at (A1)top left with Gerry Gilbert's, are as follows: Victory Square, Georgia, over the Lion's Gate Bridge and along the Lower Levels Highway to Horseshoe Bay. Then back along the Upper Levels Highway to Deep Cove, over the Second Narrows Bridge, past the PNE, down Renfrew to Commissioner and Centennial Pier and so by Hastings back to "Victory" where it is now night. (F10).
"Victory" in daylight (F11) is the photo immediately to the right as Glenn Lewis and Taki Bluesinger start there run. They head to Simon Fraser University by way of Hastings and Sperling, then return on the Lougheed Highway. They pass through Gastown, drive south on Theater Row and across the Granville Bridge.
After their surprise visit to the Ministry of Truth, they circle back under the Granville Bridge, proceed along Fourth, South on Dunbar, east along Forty-first and back by Kingsway and the Georgia Viaduct. They photograph each other at dusk standing pensively in front of the Cenotaph (K15 and 16) like a signature.
(K17) is yet another view of the Cenotaph as Michael de Courcy sets out (all photos were taken on the same day.) His route leads up Cambie to Robson, then Denman to Beach, over the Burrard Bridge and along Point Grey Road, past Spanish Banks to UBC. then follows S.W. Marine Drive to New Westminster, which is his turnabout point.
He comes back to town along Columbia and the 401, takes Terminal to Main, Main to Second, over the Cambie Bridge to Beatty and so arrives once more at the memorial.
At first you read Background – Vancouver like type. They you obey Gerry Gilbert's injunction in the first photo, a sign which says Do Enter. you make your own compositions, putting segments together like building blocks in columns, in oblongs; moving up and down, backwards and forwards.
Close-ups of footprints in the sand are like those of some monster who is about to trample down West End towers in a late night movie. A frill or wave could be a detail from the adjoining Japanese flowering cherry in the Nitobe Garden. The sign at the entrance of the PNE at night is an Art Deco parody.
The poles supporting the vines in front of Mrs Arntzen's house Echo the columns in the diagonally related photo of the CPR station. The totem near the Maritime Museum rests on nothing but leaves.
At the same time, if you imagine your self in a helicopter hovering over this whole panorama, you realize it renders the structure of Vancouver. Montreal would be much more compact. Sequences of beach, scenic highways, woods. sea make this a typically open Pacific Rim growth.
As in de Courcy's murals commissioned by the department of public works, which he called Regional Land Impressions of British Columbia, the mural for all its seeming randomness is a faithful urban impression.
Take it out and pin it up on your wall: your preview of a $2,400 mural, a print bonus to the readers of Leisure.
Close up look at your own Vancouver, 14-31 (centerfold) . . .