Object(ing): The Art/Design of Tobias Wong

If you live in the Vancouver area and are the least bit into art — especially the dark humour/pop art type rife with social and cultural commentary, a la Banksy or Warhol — I’d highly recommend checking out the Tobias Wong exhibition, running now through Feb. 24 at the Museum of Vancouver.

A brief bio: Wong was born in Vancouver and attended the University of Toronto before moving to New York in 1997 to study art and architecture. There, he flourished, becoming widely respected in NY art circles. His parents were from Hong Kong. “He often would tell his mom that he had to work three times as hard as people here to get recognized,” friend Aric Chen told the New York Times. Wong was also a chronic sleepwalker, able to accomplish elaborate tasks while asleep. It is believed he was asleep when he hanged himself in his Manhattan apartment in May 2010. For more on him, read the linked NYT story, as well as Marsha Lederman’s piece on the exhibition.

About 50 pieces of his work are on display at the exhibition. Below, a few of my favourites.

This is a Lamp, 2001.

Wong stuck a light inside a Philippe Starck Bubble chair and dubbed it a lamp. This piece debuted the night before the actual Starck chair was presented to the public.  Lederman writes: ” By putting a lamp in French designer Philippe Starck’s much-anticipated Bubble Club Chair – just before the chair’s North American debut – and giving it a new function and name, Wong created an entirely new work. Or did he? Was this theft? Inspiration? Before you answer, consider Starck’s own design: essentially a sleek plastic version of the art deco club chair. In any case, it earned Starck – and, yes, Wong – a great deal of attention.”

Coke Spoons, 2005.

Urban legend has it that McDonald’s stopped using these stir sticks — which were popular among cocaine users — after Tobias Wong dipped one in gold and it landed in magazines and web sites everywhere. Artist Douglas Coupland says this is the piece that “broke him wide open.”

New York I love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, 2010

From artist Josee Lepage: “Based on LCD Sound System’s song ‘New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,’ the idea was to create a pendant made of a set of wooden beads of different lengths and shapes to form the title’s words in Morse code. The ‘bringing me down’ of the title would become, literally, the drop of the beads as they fell from ceiling to floor. … When he was planning the work, we talked back and forth about how it should look. He showed me a few pieces of wooden samples, and a few days later, he called and said, ‘It’s finished. I made it…but don’t remember doing it.’ I knew Tobi was a sleepwalker and often did things he didn’t remember. Still, when I saw this gigantic wooden pendant with its stunning message hung from floor to ceiling, I couldn’t help but wonder: How in the world did he manage to do this while asleep?”

Unauthorized Burberry Buttons, 1999

In a common jab at the big guys, Wong reduced a luxury brand into a cheap, everyday item by using the patented Burberry plaid design to make buttons. He handed out hundreds of these at New York Fashion Week events. While many big companies get up in arms over stuff like this, Burberry saw the traction it was getting and, in 2000, incorporated them into their advertising. They were visible in magazines, billboards and catalogues:

Burberry advertisement, spring 2000

Money Pad, 2000

From designer and culture writer Lauren Leon Boym: “Money Pad = $99.00 artist’s joke. To all innocent appearances at first glance, it was an iconic stack of money. The $100 worth of $1 bills were conveniently glued together in a peel-off, post-it note type format. Cool, right? When an unsuspecting (how could they otherwise be in on the joke?) design consumer bought the piece for $199 as a gift, there was a 100% profit immediately at retail. The overflow of cash was profit split by the artist, distributor, and retailer after sale.”

Anus Sign, 1998-2003

Not really a favourite, but let me tell you: It’s a neat moment watching arty types ponder the meaning of a neon “anus” sign.

So head on over to the Museum of Vancouver! $12 for an adult if you’re not a member.

Ken Foster

Very happy to have finally copped a Ken Foster painting this weekend.

For those who don’t know him: Foster is a well-known artist from the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. According to his daughter, he has been diagnosed as having schizophrenia and turns to drugs, including crack cocaine, to self-medicate. He has produced roughly three paintings a day for the last 20-odd years.

Foster’s known for painting (latex, acrylic, oils, charcoal, spray paint, etc.) on found objects: street signs, posters, discarded pieces of wood and plastic. Such items are free, of course, but I like his explanation for choosing them better. From Megaphone Magazine:

It’s more interactive and has more life this way, more character. It’s not just a static canvas. I don’t like interacting with stores where they give you a receipt. A brand new canvas is strange to work with, whereas the things I use have a lot of life to them. For example, if you use an old kitchen cabinet door, then, someone for like 30 years has been opening and closing this door with their dinner plates behind it. Now you’ve got it and you’re holding it against your chest trying to make some kind of image on it. I think it affects how you create and what you do. I like it, but some people don’t. Many times people have said to me that they would have bought my art if it were on a canvas.

Paintings of DTES alleys have become his signature, their buildings and utility poles stark against soft light streaming in. He does a lot of hip-hop stuff too. He often sells his work on the street for $20, $30. People commission him to do plenty of work, sometimes for hundreds a piece. His hustle is admirable. He’s often found hawking his paintings in front of The Cambie in Gastown, east to Maple Tree Square where the statue of Gassy Jack stands.

I had meant to commission three works from Foster last year — with an idea to hang them side by side above my couch, as the focal point in my shoebox apartment — but things got in the way, as life usually goes, and it never happened. Which is why I was happy to see him heading in my direction, painting in hand, in Maple Tree Square.

I asked how much he was selling this particular piece for and he said between $20 and $2,500. (We settled on $30.) I asked which alley this was in particular, and he said Blood Alley, with the building on the right being the back of the Lamplighter pub. He said the buildings might not be geometrically accurate, but he painted that alley at that moment because he liked the way the light hit it. I like that bits of the original material, a McDonald’s ad, show through, helping colour this kind of bittersweet sunset.

A few other Ken Foster works, via a Google search:

2011 Photo Throwdown: Day 319

(iPhone - Nov. 15, 2011)

I had been thinking about painting for a while, and one day after several whiskeys I decided it would be an excellent idea to spend almost $200 on paints, canvases and supplies. (This, after nearly a decade of not having drawn or painted anything. I think the last thing I created might have been a charcoal sketch of 2Pac, so that gives you an idea of how long it’s been.) And so I’ve started painting.

I meant to just get a base layer down last night, but ended up working on it maniacally until 4:30 a.m. Earlier, I had visions of being one of those dainty painters in the white smocks, with the odd rogue smudge of paint on my hands and face, but in reality the whole thing look liked a disaster zone. There was pink, black, silver, purple paint on my arms, face and legs, streaks of blue in my hair from trying to push stray strands back. I looked like Lady Gaga had exploded on me. I also stepped in a blob of paint then proceeded to stamp it around my apartment as I went to get another drink. Oh, and there were spilt drinks.

Anyway, this is where I left off at 4:30 a.m. Not sure where I’m going to go from here yet, but I’m thinking I’ll be working away at it for at least another week or two.

Real artists: Any ideas?

2011 Photo Throwdown: Day 176

I went to the Cheaper Show for the first time tonight. Shortly after arriving, I realized some of the people attending were just as fun to look at as the amazing artwork available. Great style. I decided to take their photos.

Cheaper Show attendees. Click to enlarge. (iPhone – June 25, 2011)

Friend and colleague Erin Loxam and I have pledged to take and upload one photo every day for all of 2011. See how she’s doing here.