Who is David Thauberger and Why is He Painting Pictures of Prince George?

June 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured, Articles, Local Matters

The closest thing I could find to an official biography has this to say about David Thauberger: He was born in Holdfast, Saskatchewan, in 1948. He studied ceramics at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus, where ceramic sculptor David Gilhooly served as an early mentor, inspiring Thauberger and others to create art that was rooted in their own life experience and their own geographical region. He earned his BFA in 1971 and his MA in 1972 from California State University (Sacramento). He then studied with Rudy Autio at the University of Montana in Missoula, earning his MFA in 1973. Thauberger has become internationally known for his paintings of the vernacular architecture and cultural icons of Saskatchewan. His achievements were recognized recently when he was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. He was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2008, is a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Medal in 2012, the Lieutenant Governor’s Saskatchewan Artist Award in 2009 and is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.”

So there you have it: David Thauberger is a very good painter, a relatively famous and suitably patriotic Canadian, but he’s not icy and rich and he hasn’t moved to Las Vegas. He lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, which is just under 100 kilometres from Holdfast, and he’s been there, except for two years of university in the U.S., his entire adult life. He isn’t leaving anytime soon, either, except maybe to visit places like Prince George, B.C, or other Canadian locations.

Where Thauberger comes from and now lives matters to understanding him and his work. Holdfast, Saskatchewan is a small farming community off Highway 2. Its population in 2011 was 169, and that is likely smaller than when Thauberger was growing up, given the way that small towns across the prairies have lost population to the cities. But unlike many other small prairie towns, Holdfast, true to its name, is still there. It has a post office, café and grocery store, a gas station, a school, and its grain elevator was still operating in 2011. According to Wikipedia, Holdfast even has a “famous family”: the McLellans, who might be famous for nothing more than having written the Wikipedia entry—typical prairie humour. Thauberger himself modestly confirms that nobody famous ever came from Holdfast, and one suspects he’d say the same of Regina.

You can’t, in other words, get more Prairie Canadian than David Thauberger . Thauberger’s attitude toward his home town as he was growing up probably wasn’t too different than mine was toward Prince George, B.C.. He loved the place and most of the people, and he paid close attention to the unique elements of his hometown—and he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.

Then there’s the story of David Thauberger as an evolving visual artist, which is quite different. Over the last half century Canadian art history has consisted of a mostly arid struggle between monolithic concepts of what art is supposed to be and do in and for itself and within the wider societies that generate its energies and accept—or don’t—its productive commodities. On one side are “high” (or academic) art, and the cosmopolitan tropes and communities of artists, usually pursuing formalisms of one sort or another—modernism, abstract expressionism or various technologized forms of “realism” like photorealism or cibachrome Jeff Wallism. A cynical view of these movements has them circling endlessly around issues of whether visual artists in, say, Vancouver or Regina—or Quito, Equador—can successfully imitate what artists in New York and London are doing. On the other side are the tropes associated with folk and the graphic arts of popular culture, and at a more sophisticated level, at least in Canada, with the various movements loosely adapted from the American “regionalism” of the 1930s. The basic tenets of these Canadian movements propose (in the words of art historian Terrance Heath) “that art can only be made out of the specifics of life, place and time.”

Most often, David Thauberger has been identified with folk art and regionalism. He has been, in fact, both an enthusiastic supporter and collector of Saskatchewan’s folk artists, but he is hardly a folk artist himself: there is, quite simply, no “artlessness” in his work. His relationship with regionalism has similar ambiguities, most of them built into the regionalist strain that came out of Saskatchewan in the 1970s as a reaction to the pronouncements of New York-based art critic Clement Greenberg. Saskatchewan’s regionalism has a powerful affiliation with landscape painting and architecture, and thus, sharp differences with the Ontario regionalist movement that grew up around southern Ontario artists like Greg Curnoe and Jack Chambers, whose regionalism has been inherently more literary, leaning toward kitsch and popular culture.

What I’ve liked about Thauberger’s paintings from the first moment is their approachability. But as I’ve learned more about his methods, I’ve developed a serious respect for his sanguine willingness to transgress the boundaries of painting styles and technologies and the movements they are part of—photorealism, folk and funk art, even kitsch—without getting trapped by their limits or becoming cognitively addicted to the implicit conceptual absolutes.

Sure, the polarities of modern artistic controversy are present: low culture/high culture, regionalism/ cosmopolitanism, abstraction/realism. But Thauberger’s natural attentions and his technical gifts take him naturally toward the specific and particular, always without reaching the point of shouting partisanship or the banality of literal representation. You get the sense that there is always the possibility—and sometimes the reality—that he will turn painterly expectations on their head. He’s alive and alert, in other words, in every picture he creates, and that makes his work unusually dynamic. And fun, the importance of which shouldn’t be taken lightly.

People seem reluctant to say this about David Thauberger, but what seems to me to authenticate what he does is the palpable affection he has for the things he makes pictures about, whether what has caught his eye is a gas station in his native Southern Saskatchewan, an isolated bay on the British Columbia coast, or a small hotel tucked behind a modern office building in Prince George, B.C.. He’s genuinely interested in what he sees and paints, and while his viewpoint is often profoundly ironic, it is without cynicism or contempt. It is that openness and affection that draws in those who look at his paintings. Certainly it has drawn me in: when I look at the paintings he’s made of Prince George, I’m instantly curious to see what nuances he has discovered that I and others have missed or ignored. He doesn’t disappoint, either: the more time I’ve spent with the paintings, the more I’ve found that’s interesting. He is a story-teller first, a technical painter second, and a social critic only tertiarily—until, of course, you expect him to stay in that box.

It helps that much of Thauberger’s base work, which primarily depicts Saskatchewan’s rural and suburban vernacular architecture, resonates easily with Prince George’s landscapes and built forms. The two locales share a similar modesty of scale and a provisionality: human constructions filled with the flaws and impermanence typical of our uncertain journey toward, well, whatever it is we’re creating in Canada. It is a project that, in both geographies, remains far from full definition, and further still from anything complete.

 

 

I came to David Thauberger’s work through a seemingly random phone call from a man I hadn’t heard from in 35 years. I was outside Hope, B.C. on my way to Vancouver after a family reunion in Kamloops in the summer of 2013, when my cellphone rang. It was George Killy on the other end. I’ve known George since we were in the same Little League in Prince George well over 50 years ago. He didn’t say how he’d gotten my number, or how he knew I was on my way to Vancouver. He simply asked if I’d have lunch with him while I was in town. I said sure, he gave me the details of when and where, and we hung up.

George, I’ve since learned, is a man who doesn’t spend much energy telling you how he knows what he knows, and still less about why he’s talking to you. He leaves it to you to figure that out, and whether it matters. He just tells you what he wants, and lets you decide what to do with it. I agreed to the lunch because George is from Prince George, and I’ll listen to virtually anyone from there. There’s nothing profound or mysterious about this. Most people who’ve grown up in small towns are the same way.

So, a few days after that cellphone call, I spent an afternoon talking to George Killy in an expensive Vancouver restaurant, during which I did more listening than talking—appropriately, since he’d called the meeting. It was an interesting afternoon, although when I left the restaurant I was still fuzzy about exactly why George had called me. He’d talked about art, mentioned that he’d served on the board of the Vancouver Art Gallery, mentioned a number of artists he’s collected, among them a Saskatchewan artist named David Thauberger. George assured me I’d “get” Thauberger, and that maybe we could cooperate on a show, some commissions—I wasn’t sure what. I decided, eventually, that it was mostly just talk, two not-quite-old-men from the same small town flexing their memory muscles in the face of the Grim Reaper’s distant approach. I’d liked George while we were kids and I liked him now, I realized, for the same reason: the slight diffidence in his manner, and the sense that he didn’t give a crap what you thought of him. Back then he was a 10 year old Dean Martin. Today, he’s all George Killy. I also had the sense that I’d agreed to do something, and decided that when the time came, if it ever did, he’d tell me what it was, and I’d do it. QED.

It took just under two years to find out. In February, 2015, I got another call from George, this time while I was at home in Toronto. “It’s on,” he said.

I didn’t ask what was on. I waited, figuring George would tell me when he was ready, and quite quickly and efficiently, he did. David Thauberger was on, an exhibit of his paintings of Prince George in early May. I’d agreed to write the catalogue copy during that lunch in Vancouver, and now I had about 5 weeks to produce it.

I said sure, I’d be happy to, made a couple of quick calculations and said that given the short time-frame, I’d need some help getting up to speed on Thauberger’. No problem. We chatted for a few more seconds—George is about as chatty on telephones as I am—and we hung up.

I was on the Internet within seconds. The subject? David Thauberger. What I found was all good, including his personal website, where I found two paintings easily identifiable as set in Prince George. The next day, e-mails began to arrive from George’s executive assistant Denise Farewell with attachments of scanned past catalogues, and a day after that, couriers began to arrive with hard copies of more. Peter Thompson, the head of the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George sent more information, as did the gallery curator, George Harris, including jpeg files of other Thauberger Prince George paintings. All the catalogues were beautifully produced and their texts, notwithstanding some “artspeak”, were useful.

Writing about art wasn’t new to me. One of my ex-wives, Nancy Boyd, is a prominent West Coast visual artist, and I learned the critical vocabulary—and an aversion to “art-speak”—from her and from the community of artists she was part of. I own four Gordon Payne works, another four of Pierre Coupey’s and a bunch of my ex-wife’s work.

After a couple of weeks research, I couldn’t see any point in producing another critical commentary on what I thought Thauberger intends with his art. He’s well known enough that a number of thoroughly competent critiques have been written about him. Moreover, Thauberger strikes me, more than most visual artists, as a guy exercising a highly trained curiosity and that this curiosity is as important to him as the exercise of artistic skills. Such minds, first of all, aren’t to be presumed upon or confidently predicted at the best of times, and I was quickly more interested in the targets of his curiosity than in explaining the technical mechanics of how he paints. Better still, there are very specific things going on in every one of his painting, and they do not lend themselves to generalities. My obvious choice, therefore, was to try to locate and reveal what I could about the sources of the paintings he has made of Prince George, of which there are now more than two dozen.

Why has David Thauberger been making pictures about Prince George? The short-version answer is that George Killy, who has kept a powerful loyalty to his home town, commissioned most of them. But the short-version doesn’t tell the story.

First of all, there’s George Killy—like I said, an interesting man in his own right. His father, Ivor Killy, had been among the few independent mill-owners who survived the initial inroads of multinational forestry corporations into Northern B.C. George eventually took over the operations, put his family holdings together with those of several other surviving locals, and made it into a major industry force before he was bought out by CanFor in 1995. George left the North, settling in Vancouver with his North Bay, Ontario-born wife Karen and kids, and turned himself into a force in Vancouver’s art scene. He hadn’t merely “served on the board” of the Vancouver Art Gallery, he was its chairman long and influentially enough to be declared its “Chairman Emeritus”. He and Karen—their marriage clearly is a rare and remarkably equal partnership—are a very big deal in the fractious Vancouver art scene. As far as I understand it, a major part of George’s agenda is to transform the Vancouver Art Gallery into the de facto British Columbia Art Gallery, with independent satellite galleries across the province accessing and broadening the reach of the VAG’s extensive collection. He’s doing, in other words, exactly what a guy from Prince George ought to be doing if he’s interested in visual art: he’s finding ways to bring it home.

When I asked George why he’d been interested enough in David Thauberger’s work to commission so many paintings, he protested, saying that he wanted the exhibition to be about Prince George and David Thauberger, not about him. I persisted, and he confessed to a longstanding interest in Thauberger’s depictions of rural Saskatchewan, noting that they’d rung true to his own experience of Prince George. Then he paused, unhappy with the abstraction, and related an anecdote about returning to the city in the late 1960s with a friend who’d grown up in Vancouver. His friend had belittled Prince George, it’s less-than-lush landscapes, and the modest scale and “provisionality” of its buildings—as if they were no more than lean-tos in the wilderness slapped together on the way to a more Vancouver-like future. George, like most of us who’ve grown up in the north, has a deep respect for those who survived the hardscrabble difficulties of making a life in the North, argued with his friend for the authenticity of his city and for the dignity of those who built it out of the forbidding sub-boreal forest. He has, in his way, never stopped arguing for the city’s authenticity. His Thauberger commissions are among the substantive proofs.

In the mid 1990s, Killy took David Thauberger up to Prince George. The two men drove around the city and its outskirts, visited the local museum and university, where Thauberger went through both the museum’s photographic archive and the at UNBC. He talked to people around town, and of course, he and George talked. A few months later, Thauberger returned to Prince George, this time alone, and made his own investigations.In a remarkable way, Thauberger heard and saw far more than anyone told him or showed him. Between 1997 and 1998 he produced about twenty paintings of recognized local landmarks, and in these paintings he transformed each and every landmark, along the way telling vivid stories about the city, its people, and the way life is lived in this landscape. Then, a few years ago, George commissioned several more paintings. In all, fourteen paintings made it to Prince George for the exhibitions, all commissioned by George Killy, thirteen of them eventually to become part of the Two Rivers Gallery permanent collection, joining Last Load (Grand Trunk Pacific), which he donated to the gallery in 1998. Three of the paintings are new.

Then there’s my role in the exhibition. George, I think, brought me into the project at keast partly because I’m reasonably well-known in Northern B.C. as a writer—which is to say, not very well known, since writers don’t get the air-time they once did, here or anywhere else. But I’m pretty sure George brought me in not just because of my reputation, but because he thought I’d “get” Thauberger and thus would put the energy engendered by that together with what I knew of the subjects of the paintings. There’s no way to provide an “authoritative” overview of Thauberger’s Prince George paintings. First of all, they aren’t thematic. They’re snapshots in time and in space, each with its own unique lens and filter. To this, I was able to bring an association with Prince George as long and as passionate as George Killy’s. I’ve written at least eight books about the city—some about its early history, others about more recent events—and all of the books take liberties with commonly accepted local reality as great as those David Thauberger has taken in his paintings of city landmarks.

And for me, this is where it got interesting. As I looked at the different paintings, it became clear to me how much I didn’t know about their different subjects, and how unacceptable that was. Like most writers, my interests lie in narrative and character—how things and events are tied together (or aren’t) and what motivates human beings to act or resist action. What instantly began to ferment in my brain when I looked at the different paintings wasn’t so much visions of form and physical structure as the stories each painting contained. A few of the stories I had been told parts of, usually with a lot of vagueness, and more than one or two of the paintings unpacked completely private memories from my childhood and adolescence. I began to research the painting subjects, one after another, and as I did, the stories grew richer in depth and detail. I found myself doing a crash course on my native environment, being instructed by the paintings as much as I was investigating them and their subjects. Part of what I was gaining was architectural knowledge but much of what I learned went well beyond. In the seemingly-simple particularities of seemingly-modest buildings rested a new and evocative kind of history of Prince George.

To explain what I mean by this, I’ll take four of the fourteen paintings in the Prince George exhibition and explain what I found in them, and hopefully, something of what they evoke. I offer it with the knowledge that every citizen of Prince George might see things differently again, and that this is a good thing. Some of the differences will be subtle, others substantial, depending on how the viewer’s private and/or educated understanding enjoins the paintings. Thauberger’s paintings aren’t just sentimental relics of the city’s past, but a major contribution to the active imagination of Prince George, and a new way of authenticating the specificity and uniqueness of life as it has been lived, and continues to be lived, in this area.

London Hotel 50" x 40" 1997

London Hotel
50″ x 40″
1997

For at least seventy years the London Hotel served as a haven for the city’s unemployed or down-on-their luck, and, because it has never had a bar, a respite for on-a-bender loggers. It also served, at times, an unofficial employment depot for mill-owners needing skilled—or simply willing—workers. After the Croft Hotel, it was the city’s oldest hotel, and because many of its tenants were long-term, it was the repository for a sizeable portion of the city’s secret history. It closed sometime after 2011, but few people noticed, just as few noticed it while it was a working hotel.

Thauberger paints it with its contemporary environment—a modern office building with blank, deep blue windows—is its backdrop. The windows of the London hotel, by contrast are anything but blank. Each one is a riot of conflicting expression, almost as if each pane of glass contained an autonomous narrative.

 

Snowbound 43" x 43" 1998

Snowbound
43″ x 43″
1998

 

This painting will be, for older Prince George residents, the most easily recognizable Thauberger’s renderings of city landmarks. Its subject is the old city hall that was built in 1918 by Henry Wilson, and torn down in 1966. For its first few years access was via a foot bridge that crossed the slough that originally ran along the North foot of Connaught hill and the Millar Addition from the Fraser to beyond Victoria Street, and which wasn’t completely landfilled until the late 1950s. I rafted on the last section of that slough while I was a child, which by then had been reduced to a stretch that began not much more than a block from city hall below Patricia Boulevard and ran eastward nearly all the way to the Fraser river.

In Thauberger’s imagining of city hall, it is deepest winter. Behind and above the building on Connaught Hill stands the city’s water tower that preceded the City Hall into history in 1958. This painting, which appears in Thauberger’s professional website under the category of “Ideal City”, is indeed an idealization, but not quite the expected kind. The building’s roof is snow-covered, and atop it is the air-raid siren that sounded an (unofficial) curfew each night at 10:00 PM until 1968. The siren was set atop city hall in the late 1930s and remained until it was moved to the new firehall in the mid-1950s. The trees behind the truncated hill are weighted down by snow, the air around the tower and further west along the hillside still misted, the snowbanks in the foreground are deep and perfectly crisp and white, as if a snowstorm has ceased only moments before. But the sky is blue at the horizons, a darker twilight blue above, with several small scuds of high cloud as if the Aurora Borealis were scheduled to appear any moment. And yet—and how did Thauberger know this?—the meeting chamber windows on the west side of city hall are lighted, council is in session, and the government is operational despite the snowstorm. For the north, that’s the embodiment of an ideal city.

06 Thauberger David Last Load Grand Trunk Pacific 1998 acrylic on canvas 808KB[1]

This painting, which was recently voted by Two Rivers Gallery visitors as the gallery’s most admired painting in an exhibit of the gallery’s signature paintings, is, with “Snowbound”, the most interpretative of the Prince George paintings, and the painting that perhaps best illustrates Thauberger’s uncannily perceptiveness. It brings four of Prince George’s icons together: the railway bridge across the Fraser River that was completed in 1914. and the cutbanks rest as the painting’s background, and in the foreground, boom logs and a sternwheeler easily identified as the Robert C. Hammond, which was among the last river steamers built to ply the Fraser and Nechako rivers and the only one built and launched at Central Fort George.

Hyper-realism this painting is definitely not. The perspective presented of the Fraser River bridge is from the north and east—a real-world perspective that is physically difficult to attain, and from which the cutbanks wouldn’t be visible—they would be to the west, and well out of sight-lines. The settlement of Prince George, meanwhile, is supplanted by a series of forested islands and promontories—a vision, perhaps, of the city’s landscape two and three hundred years ago, when it was the delta of the two rivers, a chaos of exposed sand and gravel bars and islands of spruce and cottonwoods, all of it intercut by fetid sloughs and long-orphaned oxbows. (An alternate perspective is that Thauberger is looking toward the north and east from old South Fort George, and has shifted the lift span on the bridge from the east to the west side of the bridge. That makes what appears to be the cutbanks beyond the bridge the huge piles of wood-chips from the pulp mills—something that he would have seen during his initial visits to the city.

Either perspective tells an imagination-unleashing story without letting it be suborned to the painting’s more dramatic foreground images of the sternwheeler and the logs that are about to become its “last load”. And here is where you note that the logs are blackened, as if they were fire-kill. They’re also not exactly noble in size, and many are twisted. You might miss altogether the three shadowy human figures aboard the sternwheeler—rare occurrences in Thauberger’s canon.

Even though I was able to track down the Jacob Simonson photographs from 1914 that Thauberger almost certainly used as models for the painting, I still found myself marveling at the composition he has made from them, and wondered how he could penetrate the city’s history so accurately with such seemingly simple and nostalgic images. He captures the ironic history—past and present—of Northern B.C. in a single composition: the grandiosity of its ambitions, its tragic misuse of the timber resource, its simultaneous trust in technology and its misunderstanding of technology’s temporary but immense power to effect change—most of it unexpected. He understands that the sternwheelers were instantly rendered obsolete by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, even though the lift span of the bridge above the east channel of the Fraser was a contractual obligation designed to enable the sternwheelers upstream transit to both the Nechako and Fraser systems. The lift span was last used in 1923—when the last sternwheeler passed beneath it, but the mechanism wasn’t secured shut until 1954. The Robert C. Hammond wasn’t the last boat to use the lift section, either. Its run lasted only from June 1913 through late September in 1914, a month before the bridge over the Fraser was completed.

Thauberger completed this painting in 1997, a point at which the railway—now part of the Canadian National Railway system—was losing ground to highway truck transport and a seismic shift in the lumber industry from cutting structure wood—“spaghetti”, as its called locally—to pulpwood and fiber harvest (soon to become salvage logging of the pine forests killed by the massive pine bark beetle infestation.) The painting reminds us that our history has more than linear industrial progress in it, and product.

Nearly all the Prince George paintings were competed before the millennium. But several years ago, Killy and Thauberger reengaged, and Killy commissioned three more paintings. One of them, titled “Northern Hardware”, is of a Prince George economic institution, and it has been, arguably, the city’s only stable one since the Moffat family that has owned and operated it since 1921. As such it has been able to withstand everything the big box franchises have throw at it, by being, quite simply, the best hardware store in the country. It has survived because the Moffat family ran it as a public service, going well out of their way to satisfy the needs of their customers. You didn’t—and still don’t—“go shopping” at the Northern, you go there because you need or want something, and for close to a century, customers have been pretty sure the Northern would have whatever it is they want or need—or if not, that the staff will find a way to get it for you.

Northern Hardware 42" x 66" 2014

Northern Hardware
42″ x 66″
2014

Thauberger’s treatment of the Northern Hardware building makes it seem more monolith than icon, elevating the building’s colour, and subjugating its surroundings, distorting the perspective so that the parkade on Second Avenue—built during the time when the Northern’s owner, Harold Moffat, was also the mayor of Prince George—appears to be attached to it. The “Northern”, as it’s called, also dwarfs—or disappears—the surrounding businesses, the way big box retail businesses do. It’s as if Thauberger was drawing attention to the fact that the Northern Hardware’s relationship has been and remains functionally the opposite to that of big box retailers: it is the beating heart of downtown Prince George, without which the rest of the downtown would almost certainly wither.

 

The exhibition of the Prince George paintings runs from May 7th 2015 through July 19 at the Two Rivers Gallery in downtown Prince George. Several hundred people showed up for the official launch on May 8th, including, I was told, the mayor, an MP or MLA, and several members of city council. George Killy spoke for a surprisingly long time, using the occasion and the presence of politicians to make an articulate pitch for turning the Vancouver Art Gallery into a real world B.C. Art Gallery. After that, David Thauberger and I, having agreed earlier that the formal “lecture” the gallery people seemed to expect would be both a mistake and a wasted opportunity, performed a dog & pony show with Thauberger talking about how the paintings were made and me providing colour commentary on the local history behind the painting and trying to draw more local history from the knowledgeable locals attending. That seemed to succeed, and generally all of it went over well with the audience.

I’ve believed from the beginning of the process that Thauberger’s Prince George paintings, individually and together, offer Prince George a new and unique window into both its past and its present. No, it won’t by itself permit the city and its people to see themselves and their city as they “really” are. Nothing by itself can do that. But in a way, what these paintings do is better than that. What they have to say is less portentous and more playful, with their implicit demand that we look for meaning to the particularities of our surroundings, and that we see both what is there to see, and what artistic imagination—despite its often-forced exile from daily life—make it possible to envision.

Which brings me to the fundamental reason I’ve written this piece, which is based on what I wrote for the Two Rivers Gallery exhibition catalogue. That catalogue, by the way, is available for purchase, with elegant colour reproductions of all the paintings in the exhibit. (see the end of this essay for details) First, I thought, and continue to, that David Thauberger’s paintings of Prince George constitute an important cultural event for Northern B.C. Equally important, it may constitute a genuine cultural opportunity that, if the city takes advantage of it, might help to restore to Northern B.C. a kind of cultural self-respect it has either never quite had, or has lost in the self-inflicted pine beetle catastrophe, the economic fiasco of overcutting the forests and the chronic vacuuming out of development capital by the multinational corporations that has gone on for forty years. Then there’s Marilyn Star, the city being declared the most dangerous place in Canada two of the last three years, and, well, life in the hinterlands in the 21st century.

No, the cultural opportunity isn’t about a famous painter coming to town and painting up some pictures of local architectural icons, or that (thereby) Northern B.C. has the possibility of a small degree of celebrity. The opportunity lies in the accessibility of what David Thauberger has done, and the nature of his paintings’ accessibility. All of Thauberger’s paintings of Prince George draw attention not to the simplicity or generality of the city’s architecture and landscape, but to its specificity and originality. That specificity and originality draws both the public imagination and the individual experience of viewers into in a matrix that is at once unique and cultural nutritive because it conjoins private experience, public history and civic imagination. The paintings, properly framed and deployed, could constitute a digestible and accurate basis for educational courses on local history and culture from elementary school through university, drawing in the various parameters of experience and knowledge that make up civic reality—or should: bullshit- and ego-free politics, economics, history, and productive culture.

I’m hoping that Prince George grabs the opportunity, and uses it against all the forces of the generic that make it feel small and mediocre and helpless. Because Prince George is, as David Thauberger’s paintings show us, none of those things.

 

 

The Prince George paintings: David Thauberger, curated by George Harris; essay by Brian Fawcett; introduction by George Harris, (ISBN 978-1-927638-08-8) HB, $30.00

IMG_1274[1]

 

 

 

You can contact the gallery at shop@tworiversgallery.ca or by snailmail at Two Rivers Gallery • 725 Canada Games Way, Prince George, BC • V2L 5T1 The gallery website is here

 

 

5446 Words, June 9th, 2015

 

 

 

 

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Brian Fawcett is a Toronto-based writer.