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Archive for the ‘Susan Point’ Category

This weekend, I scouted the Northwest Coast galleries around the south end of the Granville Bridge. Here are my impressions:

  • Eagle Spirit Gallery: Located on the edge of Granville Island, this gallery is one of the pleasanter viewing areas that I’ve seen, with lots of natural light and indirect sun. It seems aimed at the corporate or public buyer rather than the individual, with many larger-than-life plaques, masks, and sculptures. Its selection includes some of Robert Davidson’s recent sculptures (which you don’t see much of), as well as works by Lyle Campbell, but, for me, Francis Horne, Sr.’s “Spirit Raven” was the only really exceptional piece. Even browsing casually, I saw a surprising lack of finishing detail on some pieces, including some by artists whose work is usually more polished. In general, the selection seemed a little too safe for my taste.
  • Edzerza Gallery: I discovered this gallery by accident, occupying the space that used to be occupied by the Bentbox Gallery, a block from Granville Island. Owned by the young artist Alano Edzerza, it displays mostly his prints and jewelry, but includes selected pieces from up and coming artists. For a young artist, running your own gallery seems a daring move, but, I’m proof that it pays off, since it means that I noticed Edzerza’s work for the first time, and he’s now on my list of artists whose work I want to buy. While I was there, I also met another artist whose work I admire. The selection is relatively small, but I am sure that I’ll be coming back, both to support the venture and to buy.
  • Latimer Gallery: A block from the Edzerza Gallery, the Latimer features moderately priced limited edition prints, masks, and jewelry I remember this gallery as being more touristy than it was today, so either my memory is faulty or else its stock has gone upscale a little. I had no trouble finding some small treasures, including some old Bill Reid prints, and some very affordable crayon sketches by Beau Dick. I don’t think I’ll be a frequent visitor at the Latimer Gallery, but I will be dropping by now and then to check what they have.
  • Douglas Reynolds Gallery: Located in gallery row a block up from the south end of the bridge, this shop is aimed at the high end of the market. Besides the inevitable Robert Davidson and Susan Point prints, it includes a number of masks by Beau Dick, and at least two striking wall plaques by Don Yeomans. It also includes a selection of gold and silver bracelets, rings, and earrings, including a few small pieces by Gwaai Edenshaw. The stock seemed a little safe to me, but was adventurous enough here and there to make me want to return occasionally.
  • There are still Northwest Coast galleries I haven’t visited in Vancouver, but these four, together with the ones I visited last week in Gastown, are some of the better known ones. Besides finding which galleries seemed right for my own art buying, visiting a number of them has helped me to understand the market a bit better, including such as who are the established and upcoming artists, and what are the going prices for each artists’ work. This knowledge makes my visits well worth the effort, especially since you can easily see a number of galleries in an afternoon without doing much travelling.

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Years ago, when we were buying Northwest Coast limited edition prints, our main criteria was often whether our budget could stretch to buying one. That is still a consideration, since although we have more spare cash than we did then, we are still far from wealthy. Besides, I’m born of Depression-era parents, so getting value for my money is as reflexive as breathing to me. But, the limited budget aside, I am starting to articulate my philosophy for buying art.

To begin with, I will buy nothing that I don’t like. I am not buying for an investment, even if it is at the back of my mind that in four or five decades I might be glad to be able to sell a few pieces so that I can buy the necessities of life. I am buying to bring a new strain of enjoyment into my daily life, something that can catch my straying glance or surprise me with its line or color or concept when I rediscover it in passing. I suppose you could say that I am more of an aficionado than a collector.

Second, I am not much interested in safe art that does what I have seen before. Some people want safe art as a kind of wallpaper, and there is no shortage of artists to provide it. But I want art that challenges or provokes me in some way. For example, one mask by Norman Tait has long eyelashes of hair that cover the eyes, giving a disturbing sense of blindness, or, perhaps more accurately, the sense of someone peering out from behind the illusion of blindness. The mask unsettles me, to say the least. If I can ever afford the mask, I’ll probably buy it, just so I can wrestle with why it makes me uneasy – and I’m guessing that understanding my reaction will take years. I’m fascinated with the surrealism of Ron Telek’s sculptures for much the same reason.

These two principles lead naturally to a third: I will not buy a piece simply because of the artist’s reputation. For one thing, buying work by artists like Robert Davidson or Susan Point, as talented as they are, is like buying Sony hardware – you are paying a premium for the name (or perhaps I should say brand).

More importantly, buying for the name means that you are letting someone else do your thinking for you, that you are becoming a consumer. Seduced by the name, you could just as easily buy a good piece as a bad, and third rate art by a first rate artist is still third rate. I consider art the antithesis of consumerism, so I refuse to hunt for art by brand.

That’s not to say that I reject buying anything by well-established artists. Currently, I have my eye on half a dozen well-known artists whose work intrigues me enough that I might buy one of their pieces if I find the right one. But I would rather wait for that right piece than buy something that pleases me less – even if I never find that right piece.

As a corollary to that third principle, I would rather find small masterpieces by lesser known artists than buy a piece from someone with an existing reputation. In the same way that I would rather discover a small, ethnic cafe with superlative food than eat at the latest trendy restaurant, I would rather find a largely unknown carver with superb finishing details or a quirky piece outside what a famous artist is known for than buy something safe and famous.

It’s not that I want a bargain, because I could just as easily wind up overpaying as finding a strong investment. Rather, half the fun of strolling the galleries for me is to find the unusual and go beyond the commonplace. Northwest Coast is an especially appropriate field for this habit, because it is full of newcomers, all determined to make their names – and many of them are succeeding. The discovery of such artists and their works is one of the pleasures of appreciating it.

Looking back, I’m afraid that these principles sound hopelessly unaesthetic, to say nothing of overly-suspicious and in the worst middle-class traditions. Tell you what, though: I bet that they give me more pleasure than buying from the exhibit book does for a dozen wealthier connoisseurs.

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