Griffin Art Projects explores connections between art and poetry in Vancouver since 1960

North Vancouver gallery hosting weekly reading events as part of exhibit

Griffin Art Projects presents the poets have always preceded. 1174 Welch St., North Vancouver. Open Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment (

Lisa Baldissera got her feet wet at the art gallery in Victoria.

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In the late 1990s, Baldissera was a first-time curator immersed in an old-mansion-turned-art-gallery brimming with more than 18,000 influential works, including collections from Emily Carr and the Group of Seven.

“It was an exciting time,” says Baldissera, of her role as contemporary curator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria for 10 years.

Afterwards, Baldissera spent some time on the Prairies, as the chief curator of the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. In 2016, she took the job of senior curator for the public art gallery, Contemporary Calgary.

Wanting to make a move back to the West Coast, Baldissera was thrilled when she learned of a job opening at a private art gallery in North Vancouver.

In September, Baldissera was installed as the director of Griffin Art Projects.

The gallery opened in an airy, 3,000-square-foot commercial space in the lower Pemberton area in 2015, with a mandate to make private art collections publicly accessible and to contribute to North Vancouver’s cultural landscape.

Founded by Brigitte and Henning Freybe, who began collecting art in the early 1970s, Griffin Art Projects puts on curated exhibitions of contemporary art from private collections – free to the public.

“Our vision is to engage with the public – those who live right nearby us here in North Vancouver, who are looking for places to consider contemporary culture and life, and those that live on the North Shore and Vancouver proper,” explains Baldissera.

In setting itself apart from other art galleries, Baldissera says Griffin examines the ways in which local, domestic and international collections inform contemporary art.

Griffin is also home to a residency program – for both a local and international artist, the latter of which is accommodated in a live-work space at the gallery.

“And that’s really unusual for an art gallery to have that capacity,” says Baldissera. “It’s a really incredible combination – the residency, the exhibition space, the access to collections.”

Those taking part in the residency program are inherently connected to audiences through scheduled visits and public presentations at the gallery.

The aim of the Griffin gallery is to build on the strength of contemporary collecting in the region through scholarly exhibitions and events which expose these artworks to the broader public. To achieve this goal, Griffin works with established cultural producers, artists and art educators.

Lee Plested is one such expert. He is the guest curator behind Griffin’s latest exhibition, the poets have always preceded, which runs until April 27.

The show explores and celebrates the connections since 1960 between artists and poets in Vancouver and the influences the San Francisco Renaissance Poets had on local wordsmiths. Many of the exhibiting artists are known for both their images and their literary output.

Among the featured artists in the poets have always preceded are Marian Penner Bancroft, bill bissett, Robin Blaser, Judy Chartrand, Jess, Judith Copithorne, Pierre Coupey, Christos Dikeakos, Stan Douglas, Beau Dick, Geoffrey Farmer, Fran Herndon, Carole Itter, Roy Kiyooka, Tiziana La Melia, Al Neil, Judy Radul, Rhoda Rosenfeld, Trudy Rubenfeld and Nancy Shaw.

On deciding which artists to feature, Plested said early on he decided to take a strong feminist method as his approach.

“There are many women artists who have not had as much exposure in their careers as their contemporaries,” explains Plested. “Other people were simply essential, Roy Kiyooka being such a central voice in this history or the great writer/curator/artist Nancy Shaw who embodied all the elements. Many of the artists write and poets make images, so they were naturals. But mostly I worked to let the story tell itself to me and find out from the community who they thought were essential.”

Roy Kiyooka's Fontaine Bleu Dream Machine, 1977, and several pieces from Al Neil and Carole Itter are among the works featured in the current exhibit at Griffin Art Projects. - Supplied, Byron Dauncey


Curating this exhibition has deepened Plested’s understanding of the merging of poetry and artistic expression.

“I have learnt that it continues to evolve, in style and content, and change,” says Plested, who is an instructor of art history and curator at Western Washington University. “I hope that my show presents diversity over a singular narrative or interpretation – that artists innovate and that is what keeps us interested.”

The show features the library from the Kootenay School of Writing in a public reading room space which will host a series of readings and discussion groups with local poets, and a poet theatre workshop.

The literary works will be performed in the voice of the poet and digested and dissected through group discussion and review.

Programs will include a reading by founding editors of TISH (a highly influential student journal which emerged from UBC in 1960) and a Poet Theatre Workshop with Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy presented in collaboration with The Capilano Review.

Happening at the gallery alongside the poets show are public programs featuring current residency artists Mahdyar Jamshidi from Iran and Zoe Kreye from Vancouver. Jamshidi is a conceptual artist, while Kreye creates interdisciplinary art projects that explore transformation, collective experience and negotiations of public space.

Baldissera is currently curating the gallery’s next exhibition, Person/ne, which takes place from May 11 to Sept. 1. This project, explains Baldissera, will examine the way in which artists consider contemporary ideas of citizenship, agency and compassion in an era of Big Data and reputational economies including new technologies for surveillance and migration.

Contemporary and archival works will be featured, including moving image, photo-based projects, painting and sculpture from Vancouver-based and international artists.

Also in May, London-based curator Lorenzo Fusi will arrive at Griffin for his residency. Fusi will undertake a research residency on international photographic practices in relation to the work of Italian artist Jimmy de Sana, and HIV-AIDS in North America.


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