Approaching Tiko Kerr and Jay Senetchko’s massive new mural at 1873 West 4th Avenue, the first things you take in are the playfully colourful abstract forms collaged across the wall.
Draw closer, though, and tilt your head from side to side, and you’ll start to recognize fragments of familiar forms—one of B.C. Binning’s stylized boats, upended; the red and green stripes of a famous Jack Shadbolt painting; the round shape of a locomotive engine from a vintage Pacific Railway ad illustration; Alex Colville’s iconic racing black steed from Horse and Train, turned upside down, its head morphing into the ethereal island of a Lawren Harris landscape.
The work, titled The Gift of the Given and commissioned by the West 4th Avenue Business Improvement Association, evokes the history of the place where it sits. At the site where it will debut during the West 4th Khatsahlano Street Party on Saturday (July 7), Kerr points to the “spine” of the work—a richly painted brown column that at first looks like a log or the trunk of a tree. “But it also has the element of the man-made, of a totem, or of a building material,” the veteran Vancouver artist says. “It’s this great mix of familiarity and abstraction—a kind of trickster imagery.
“I’ve always believed that a successful piece of art is one that keeps your eye moving,” he adds.
“We wanted to get the idea of history informing the present and that in turn informing the future,” explains Senetchko in a separate phone conversation. “So art-history paintings are reoriented to flow into each other, and that requires reorientation on the viewer’s part.
“It’s almost like a Where’s Waldo?,” he adds with a laugh, referring to the deeper consideration the work invites. “We didn’t want to go entirely representational or entirely abstract. It’s something that’s going to have such a significant public discourse for such a long time.”
That discussion will have a high-tech new power. The artwork will have touch points, or QR codes, that viewers can scan with their smartphones to get further understanding of the puzzlelike picture they’re looking at. Local augmented-reality students are helping develop the platform.
“We will keep adding to that,” enthuses Kerr of his first foray into interactive murals. “For example, you might scan something and you see the original Lawren Harris painting, or you scan another thing and you see a slide show of Kitsilano. That way, people can keep discovering it.” Beyond that, he says, the augmented reality will allow for some surprising ways to add to your selfies with the mural.
The two artists giving West 4th its colourful new landmark have, at first glance, vastly different styles and art practices. Though both are accomplished painters, Kerr made his name with his warped and wobbly local landscapes, while Senetchko is known for his figurative work, populated by expressive human forms. The duo have bonded over their love of brushwork—Kerr jokes that they both love to get messy mixing their paints at the West 4th site. But their immediate common ground is collage, a technique both use individually, often as inspiration for their canvases.
“In my case, I use it to create a juxtaposition of time and space and scale, and Tiko is doing the same with his art-historical pieces,” explains Senetchko, who’s known Kerr for years but has never gotten the chance to collaborate with him.
For Kerr, collaging has marked an abrupt shift in his work, one that came after he successfully battled cancer a few years ago. “I had been doing my wobbly landscapes for a long time,” he says. “I saw that it was either now or never.”
Inspired in part by the vast collection of art books he’d inherited from the estate of his friends Jack and Doris Shadbolt, he started cutting and pasting imagery of masterworks by the likes of Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso—“not appropriating but recontextualizing it,” as he says. “This was working intuitively rather than working with a fixed goal in my mind. All my paintings begin as collage now.”
You can expect to see the mural studies on canvas, as well as the actual collages, at some of his upcoming exhibits—including one at the Pendulum Gallery, opening July 30, and a major show at the Gordon Smith Gallery from May to September 2019.
For now, though, you can celebrate The Gift of the Given at the parking lot beside Romer’s Burger Bar, which the BIA will turn into a West Coast Wine Bar. New to Khatsahlano this year to show off the mural, the space will be transformed into a green garden space with some décor, tables, chairs, lounges, and a wine bar from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Hosts will be on hand to demonstrate the high-tech interactive features of the new mural.
For Kits residents and Khatsahlano-goers alike, the mural, true to its name, will be a major gift of art. The BIA is aiming to add a technologically interactive mural annually to the Kitsilano neighbourhood.
And while the first mural avoids paying tribute to its setting in a literal way (other than referencing several artists who have a West Coast connection), Kerr is happy the bright new collage-painting captures the spirit of Kitsilano. “It shows we’re gathered in a place that’s healthy and open and accepting—and out of that, art can happen,” he says.
The West 4th Khatsahlano Street Party takes place on Saturday (July 7).