A creative vision for West Vancouver
Gordon Smith has painted landscapes of most of West Vancouver over the 58 years that he’s called it home.
“I painted near the Ferry Building,” the prominent Canadian artist says. “All over.”
Minutes ago, Smith was putting the finishing touches on a snowy wilderness scene in his bright, white studio. The giant canvas stood prominently against a vast wall. It loomed over Smith as he placed a few twigs in the painting’s corner.
West Vancouver has a long history of artists and architects coming to its shores, Smith continues, listing some of them off – “Brian Hemingway, Graham Gillmore and Douglas Coupland.”
He taps his finger on the dining room table in his West Van home, a building designed by celebrated architect Arthur Erickson. Its open concept offers views of the tall cedars and the ocean, “a magical place,” Smith says gesturing to Howe Sound.
At one time, West Vancouver was known as a cultural hub, Smith says, returning the conversation back to the original track. The soon to be 92-year-old starts listing off more names of famous Canadian painters, writers and architects who call or called the district home.
“And it’s amazing right now. Jeff Wall, these are the artists today that are making it and they all have some ties to the North Shore,” he says.
Smith moved to West Van in 1953 with his wife Marion Fleming. He had ended his service with the Canadian Air Force, seriously wounding his leg in Sicily, and was pursing his love of art. As a young boy, he watched his father paint watercolour landscapes. When Smith, his brother and his mother moved to Winnipeg, he enrolled in the Winnipeg School of Art. In 1946, Smith graduated from the Vancouver School of Art, eventually teaching graphics and design there.
Today, Smith’s work can be found in more than 50 collections around the world, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He’s received numerous awards, such as the Order of Canada, for his contribution to Canadian culture.
On the North Shore, Smith has become an art activist, so to speak. He is a founding patron of the Artist For Kids Trust — an organization that provides a variety of art programs to elementary and high school students paid for by the sale of original prints by artists such as Smith. Smith has also been at the forefront of making sure art runs parallel to West Vancouver’s development. Recently he’s turned his attention to Ambleside.
“We need an art centre here,” Smith says.
West Vancouver is full of patrons and collectors of art, including Michael Audian, chairman of the National Gallery of Canada’s board of trustees, he notes. If the district were to construct a building which could house a gallery and possibly spaces for classes and workshops, artists would be able to display such collections, Smith says, noting a lot of the West Vancouver Museum’s work is in storage due to lack of space.
“West Vancouver Museum has some of the best art in Canada and it cannot be seen.”
As the district forges forward with its revitalization of Ambleside and the redevelopment of the 1300-block on Marine Drive, Smith hopes it keeps the art world in mind. Smith envisions a kind of one-stop art hub in the heart of that community. Such a facility would have the capability of becoming a world-class destination, he adds.
Smith and his work have already placed the North Shore on the map. His legacy is developing on different fronts, from his work with Artists for Kids to the art print he donated to West Vancouver Community Centre, entitled Tangle Beach.
From today, June 9, until Aug. 27, selected works from the Gordon and Marion Smith collection will be on display at the West Vancouver Museum. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information call 604-925-7295 or visit www.westvancouvermuseum.ca.