When John Ferrie paints, he finds a stillness and satisfaction that appeases his inner rebel. His passionate approach and effortless charisma have made him an icon in the Vancouver art scene. Hundreds of shows, more than a thousand works sold or given to charity, and, still, he can't draw a straight line.
“I can't draw straight lines, so I don't,” says the 52-year-old artist. “If you let go of those conventional ideas of what things are supposed to be like and let your own voice come through—which takes a while—it's then that you start to shine.”
While three or four solo shows a year is enough for Ferrie these days, he's got a huge weekend coming up, with two big shows opening. It's been a busy spring of preparation, but since painting doesn't feel like work, he appears nothing short of rejuvenated in the small Mount Pleasant studio loft that he shares with his architect partner.
I ask him why he paints.
“I get asked that a lot, it's like asking a comedian why he tells jokes,” he says. “There's an ease to it and I work hard. There's something unbelievably exhilarating about getting a whole collection together.”
Ferrie's collections have ranged from tulips and local drag queens (separate and together) to West End character homes. His pieces usually come with a twist, either a hint of surrealism or some obvious quirk, like an entire series of houses with red skies. Always a touch cheeky, after an interior designer arrived at one of his shows with a design colour palette, Ferrie entitled his next show “Art Doesn't have to Match the Couch”.
These days, it's not unusual for Ferrie to open a show and have little red “sold” dots next to the majority of paintings by the end of opening night. It is a hard-fought and well-earned success story.
“It feels like I've shown work in every hair salon and coffee shop in town,” he says. “People used to say, 'John Ferrie, I see you everywhere!'”
He compared himself to a “deer in the headlights”, as he described his search to find a gallery to represent him after graduating from Emily Carr in 1988. He quickly realized that his success was in his own hands, and he rose to the self-marketing challenge: “For the longest time, I was waiting for when it was all going to happen. Then I realized... I'm going to make it happen!”
Now, Ferrie is in his zone, and it's a zone with a large helping of pride, sarcasm, and spirit.
“As an artist, you're treated the way you tell people to treat you. Having your own voice as an artist means having some gumption,” he says. “I won't associate with any gallery or person who doesn't have the same respect for my work that I do.”
Since Ferrie was a kid, he was always collecting pictures and images. His sketchbook, he says, “looks like I'm making anthrax.” When he sits down with his paints to work on a piece, he's already thought through the details and all that's left to do is to whip up the masterpiece from the model in his mind's eye.
“It's gotta have colour. I've painted every flower on the face of the earth. You start to make up what is your world,” he reflects.
Ferrie's “West End Living” exhibition is opening at Volume Studios (on the corner of Bute and Davie) on August 1, during Pride, and will continue to the end of the month. At the same time, he'll be showing a dozen paintings in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel on Georgia Street in downtown Vancouver.
See more of Ferrie's paintings at www.johnferrie.com/.