Artist Joshua Van Dyke offers up a new kind of trophy hunt
At nearly six feet from tip to tip, the antlers of Joshua Van Dyke’s The Hunt dominate Provide, the popular housewares boutique at 529 Beatty Street. High above stark white shelves tastefully laden with lacquered tea trays, cashmere throws, and resin bowls, only their shocking yellow colour hints at their true origins. What appears at first glance to be a hunting trophy reveals itself, upon closer inspection, to be wood and metal. They weren’t carved by nature, but nurtured from the unlikeliest of sources: an old, used skateboard.
At a time when taxidermy as an interior-design element is a hot trend—Craig Stanghetta’s whimsical plaster Kodiak heads at the cocktail lounge Clough Club and the feature wall of antique animal skulls at the hip new restaurant House Guest being two recent Gastown examples—Van Dyke has upped the ante from merely artful to full-blown art. His hunting-trophy series is a marriage of old and new, a distillation of hundreds of years of West Coast tradition re-imagined using remnants of modern life.
Unfortunately, Van Dyke’s first encounter with a skateboard wasn’t nearly as graceful as the delicate curves in his sculptures. “I was about five years old in Calgary,” the artist remembers, speaking in his Bowen Island studio, “and I tried to launch a ramp in the alley with my big brother. I fell and broke my wrist and had this massive cast on my arm.”
While Van Dyke continued to skate up into his teens, he had pretty much stopped by the time he enrolled at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 2004. There he was given an assignment to draw on his personal history for a particular project.
“That’s when I rediscovered skateboards. I began to look at traditions and rites of passage,” he says. “We don’t really have those rites of passage anymore, but we have this abundance of nostalgia and mostly for our teenaged years. There’s so much emotion in that time, and I began to see how each person left their own imprint on these reclaimed skate decks [the wooden base of a skateboard]. All the marks, all the scrapes, they were all unique. It’s such an important, personal, everyday object, and then it just gets discarded.”
The link he formed between ancient rites of passage and a sanitized modern adolescence saw Van Dyke create a series of African-style tribal masks out of repurposed skate decks while completing his studies at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. But he credits his return to Canada and a 10-day solo kayak trip to Haida Gwaii with focusing his vision. “It all fell into place somewhere on that trip,” he remembers. “The idea of a hunting trophy was so Canadiana and it fit so perfectly with what I was trying to express.”
Along the way, Van Dyke discovered he could carve antlers out of the thicker, curved decks of unused longboards. “It’s like they were already in there,” he says of the finely carved elk and moose crowns. “It just took someone to see them.”
The virgin-wood antlers seem almost out of place on a handful of unfinished pieces lining his studio walls. They seem naked when juxtaposed against the brightly coloured graphics of the old, scarred skate decks on which they are mounted (using skateboard tracks and hardware). “I’ve been using automotive paint on them. It’s kind of like Pimp My Ride,” Van Dyke explains, laughing. “It has to have that pop-art sheen, the street element to it to play off the traditional form. It’s all about that contradiction.”
Whether or not fans of his work pick up on the dichotomy, they certainly agree that Van Dyke’s work is nothing short of cool. His pieces (which run from $3,500 to $4,500) can be found in commercial spaces such as Chambar, the Crosstown restaurant where he exhibited his work during the 2010 Winter Games, and the headquarters of Landyachtz Longboards (not coincidentally, where Van Dyke gets the curved decks he turns into antlers). His work can also be found in an increasingly impressive list of private residences. His voice becomes reverent when he mentions an art-collector couple who have hung one of his trophies opposite a painting by Gordon Smith.
“Josh’s pieces hang in several of our clients’ homes, including a local island retreat designed by [architectural design team] Battersby Howat,” says Provide co-owner David Keeler at the store. Asked what attracts people to Van Dyke’s sculptures, Keeler credits them with giving the modern, minimal spaces favoured in B.C. design “a bit of West Coast street edge”.
“When people buy my pieces, they already know exactly where they’re going to put them,” Van Dyke says. “Usually, it’s over a hearth or over an entry or in a space with very high ceilings—they truly need their space.”