One of Vancouver's most internationally adored art icons, Rodney Graham has passed at age 73
Known as one of Canada’s greatest multi-discipline art stars, Rodney Graham has died at the age of 73. News of his passing was announced by Lisson Gallery in London, England.
Surrounded by family and loved ones, Graham passed on October 22 following a year-long battle with cancer.
Lisson Gallery owner Nicholas Logsdail wrote: “We’ve lost our dear Rodney, a genius artist, dear friend, master of disguise, snappy dresser, supplier of dry humour, an amazing songwriter, always modest, an understated intellectual, gifted amateur, professional connoisseur, Sunday painter who seldom worked Sundays, ultimately a true professional in every sense of what it means to be an artist.”
Graham was born in Abbotsford and launched his career in Vancouver, where he began making immediate waves for his photograpic and film work after graduating from art school.
Logsdail praised him as “a radical pioneer of lens-based media, albeit with the added ability to skewer and further the conceptual and minimal art practices prevalent in New York at the time.”
Famous works included 2005’s Torqued Chandelier Release (which generated no shortage of conversation when installed in Vancouver in 2019), as well as 2001’s Phonokinetoscope (which created an Albert Hoffman’s bicycle ride around Berlin’s Tiergarten taken after ingesting LSD).
Often considered a work that cemented his international stardom, Graham's 1997 video Vexation Island, depicts the artist in classic seafarer's clothing-including puffy shirt and buckled shoes-asleep on a sunbaked tropical beach for almost 9 minutes, with a noisy blue macaw keeping watch. After waking up, a falling coconut lands on Graham, putting him right back where he started, the pre-existing gash on his head suggesting that life is often something of an endless, repetitive loop.
Graham was celebrated for large-format cibachromes where he playfully assumed the roles of various characters: ageing ’70s rocker, ’30s photo-booth owner, ’50s abstract painter, and disgruntled sous chef.
Commenting on casting himself in a reinterpretation of Cary Grant’s cat buglar in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Graham once said, “This role spoke uncannily to me of my own life”.
Logsdail elaborated on that with, “The artist is, of course, hiding in plain sight throughout – camouflaged beneath a cavalcade of historical, comical or fictional characters and details, which amounts to a collective portrayal of the existential everyman. In truth, each reference or setting was meticulously researched and choreographed, often with a Hollywood-style set built at his studio for each cinematic scene.”
While most famous for his lens-based works, Graham later in life refashioned himelf as an accomplished painter. He was also a multi-talented musician comfortable in an array of genres.
Always up for a challenge, Graham remixed no less than Richard Wagner’s score for Parsifal in 1990. During the late’70s and early ’80s he was a founding member of iconic art-wavers U-J3RK5, a band that also included future international art stars Ian Wallace and Jeff Wall.
Graham is survived by his mother Janet Graham; sister Lindsay Graham; brother Alan Graham; partner Jill Orsten; Shannon Oksanen; Scott Livingstone and children Ray and Coco Livingstone.
Here's how Graham's fans and peers are remembering him on Twitter.