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April 1969


The Varneys are moving their kitchen into the Art Gallery


Ed Varney got this crazy idea about a month ago, to move his wife's kitchen into the Vancouver Art Gallery. It was such a crazy idea he loved it. So did his wife Bonny. But his fellow artists at Intermedia said "ixnay".

Varney, a young artist, poet, philosopher, essayist, wanted to do something really big as his own personal project when Intermedia takes over the Art Gallery during Easter week. It came to him one night.

If most men had suggested this to their wives, coupled with the dim prospect of dining on cold-cuts a week or more, the chances of meeting with approval would be slim.

But Bonnie Varney is as cool as her hip husband. She thought it was about the grooviest idea she had heard and she had visions of moving right into the gallery with her kitchen. But this idea was partially shelved later as impractical.

While Varney had his wife's approval, he had yet to win over his friends at Intermedia. He was getting now where with friendly persuasion and was about to give-up and recharge his creative juices to generate another project.

He decided to give it one last try, and at the next round table conference gave it a good rap. He rapped so well he not only sold the others but sparked their enthusiasm.

Actually, it wasn't the kitchen that first flashed Varney's mind. Initially he had considered moving a small corner of Intermedia to the gallery.

But even though he could pick a corner familiar to his presence, the project was not personalized to the degree that he wanted it. He would only be moving a part of Intermedia to the gallery and very little of himself.

That's when the idea of moving the kitchen struck him. The Varney kitchen in the decaying house perched high above West Pender is life to Ed and Bonnie.

They do everything but sleep there, leaving that pleasure to crashing friends.

They eat there, talk, think, have a meeting of the minds, visit friends and work there. Varney does all his painting, drawing poetry and essay writing at the old unpainted wooden table in the corner near the living room arch way.

That kitchen table is part of him. It lives and trembles with his vibrations. It is, he says, the most important piece in the room and it could stand alone in the gallery.

The table, half buried under a clutter of papers with both drawings and poetry on them, ink bottles and tubes of the glue for colleges, pens, pencils, and brushes, and a very much alive white cat, will be the hub of his exhibit. I don't know if the white cat goes with the table, but the 25 year old artist does. The young artist- poet plans to spend several hours each day working at his table in the gallery as he would at home.

It's a long climb up the concrete steps from the street to the dilapidated front porch of the wheezing house, half of which the Varneys call home, up the porch stairs through the unlocked door and then up the inside stairs to the top floor.

The aging decaying exterior of the building has a somewhat sensuous appeal. It is as if the structure were cloaked with the vibrations of the people living inside and if you relate well, the vibrations are a good feeling.

The light at the top beckons and the door opens directly on to the Varney's kitchen. Immediately inside you plunge into a pool of pulsating electrons that grip you. The kitchen is warm and living, partially because of the old and blackened oil stove that hums near the doorway, and mostly because of the two people inside.

Ed, his, long, rusty hair— with matching beard and mustache that curls down over his upper lip — held in place by an indian band, is working at the table on a drawing similar to a television test pattern.

It is another Intermedia project for the gallery show he is working on with other artists, when finished it will slip inside of an empty TV set.

Bonnie with long black hair framing a delicate face embraced by large circular, unframed glasses, is working at the back of the room , stirring the mix of a loaf of banana bread.

She will slice and serve the freshly-baked bread later while it is still warm, with cups of hot light colored spicy tea.

They are two of the beautiful people. A burning joss stick wafts its tangy fragrance into the whole. If Varney can transform this warmth to the gallery, he will have succeeded. But as he can't shift the six walls with the furniture, the unanswered question is whether or not the furniture can hold enough vibrations to offset those strange surroundings.

Almost everything in the room is going— all that is but the kitchen sink. And did I detect a trace of disappointment in his reply to my question about the sink? The oil stove and the tomato-red water heater are going to Bonnie's surprise, if he can move them. Shelves cramped with book sand papers are going,along with the paintings, drawings, colleges and calendar hanging on the walls.

The cupboards , doors and windows can't go, but he has considered replacing them with full scale drawings if he has time.

Although the gallery room given to Varney to set up his exhibit is slightly different in shape, the Varney kitchen will be as close as possible to the way it is now.

The table goes as it is complete with personal papers and things. Ed isn't worried about losing anything. The stacks and piles grow higher daily, and he says one has to cut down one way or another.

The prospect of eating cold dinners out of cans doesn't faze the Varneys. They plan to meet each problem as it comes and not worry about it beforehand.

A rigid budget won't allow them to eat out in cafes or restaurants. They depend solely on Ed's creative energies and have learned to get by on about $1200 a year.

This past winter was a little rough for them, but fortunately the spring season and a few sales have brightened there situation a little and Intermedia provides a lot of the art materials Ed needs for his work.

Ed once worked at a variety of jobs, earning $500 a week in construction and $300 a week counting fish for an alaskan cannery.

He studied art in his native New York state but has a masters degree in English.

He feels that he should be a writer more than an artist and like so many creative people, says university did more harm than good.

The Varney's joke about moving their kitchen to the gallery and laugh the extra room they will have then for crashing friends. Bonnie smiles and says they may send their friends to the gallery to crash out there.

Moving will be a big chore, but it helps to have friends and an old truck. Ed even hopes to move the refrigerator and use it in the gallery.

Bonnie and Ed look upon their kitchen exhibit as being living theater as much as being sculptural. That is why they plan on spending as much time there during the week as possible.

Photo Caption: ED VARNEY . . . everything but the kitchen sink to produce living theater.


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