Illustrated Vancouver, a view on the city

By Chris Yee
[senior culture writer]

Jason Vanderhill, self-described “eclectic collector,” is the curator of the image blog Illustrated Vancouver. He started the blog in 2010 to “document 1,000 works of art depicting Vancouver, British Columbia — past, present, and future.”

This painting of Nelson and Granville Street is just one of 1,000 images that Vanderhill will share with followers of Illustrated Vancouver. Painting of Nelson & Granville 2009, by Taralee Guild. (Used with permission)

Over the past year and a half, Vanderhill has collected a diverse array of images: paintings, political cartoons, architectural drawings of buildings both built and unbuilt, and illustrations on brochures. But Vanderhill does more than simply collect pictures, he describes where each piece comes from with a curator’s sense of detail — sometimes being on the verge of a miniature local history lessons.

The Runner‘s Chris Yee chatted with the creator of Illustrated Vancouver:

Chris Yee: Who are you?

Jason Vanderhill: I am a relatively new resident of B.C.; I’ve been here for about six years, and I’ve always been somewhat of an eclectic collector. [It] started with matchbooks, business cards, Hot Wheels, comic books and now fine art.

CY: Where were you from originally?

JV: I’m a Canadian; born in London, Ontario. Both my parents are Dutch, so I feel a bit patriotic to the Netherlands, even though I’ve only been there for one week.

CY: What sort of art do you collect?

JV: Actually, I should clarify. It’s not so much fine art that I’m interested in or compelled by. I like a lot of commercial art, comic art — street art as well. Essentially, work that is done by the hand of the artist. And, in fact, most of the work that I do appreciate is fairly representational … so it might be described as nostalgic, or old fashioned. However, I think that’s short sighted, as classical representation is in my mind, timeless.

CY: I guess you also have something of an interest in place, too, and how it is represented?

JV: Absolutely. I find the psychology of place fascinating, and it can really be rendered magnificently in art, as opposed to a conventional photograph.

CY: What is your background in art?

JV: Ironically, I have a background in photography, but a new-found respect for traditional techniques, from sketching, drawing, [and] painting. I am not really formally taught in art but for a few university-level classes; most of my training came first from browsing auction catalogs in second-hand stores, later to browsing those same catalogs online.

I should also add: I made the Eastside Culture Crawl one of my annual pilgrimages, so that had a big influence on my local-centric interest in art.

CY: So, the meat of the matter: what is your image blog project, Illustrated Vancouver about?

JV: As the bio says, it’s “an online project to document 1,000 works of art depicting Vancouver, British Columbia — past, present, and future.” At least, that was the original goal I set for myself. I’ve already surpassed 500 posts, so I’m well on my way. Last year was a big year, with Vancouver125 celebrations all around, and I wanted to participate in some small way. I figured I could make this my own personal Vancouver125 project, and so I aimed to post an image a day. It was pretty rigorous to keep up the pace, so I’ve slowed down somewhat, depending on how much time I have in a given week, or how much art I come across …

CY: How did it get started? Was it just on an internet-fuelled whim, or is there a story behind it?

JV: There are a lot of influences converging, but I think the real mechanism that makes it happen is the Internet itself. I make a point to include as much attribution I can find for a given work, from title, artist, year, medium and subject matter. That’s where doing background research on the web can lead to a  snowballing amount of fascinating anecdotes, often leading me to more and more future posts.

I also think the local landscape is under-appreciated in its hometown, so I took it upon myself to take on this challenge as my own personal Internet meme.

CY: Yeah, I’ve noticed more and more historical posts on the Illustrated Vancouver blog, and not just images — just lots of stuff from Past Tense Vancouver [a Vancouver history blog] and such. What’s your connection to the Vancouver historical community?

JV: Past Tense Vancouver is a real inspiration. I’m constantly amazed at his work, and I’m really proud we’ve been able to share a few stories back and forth. I’ve not yet met him in person, but I’m sure I will get that opportunity one day. I am closely connected to the Vancouver Historical Society, and when I first came to Vancouver, I went on all the JohnAtkin.com walking tours [as] I possibly could. It was an amazing education of the city. I also had the opportunity to work on the City Reflections film project in 2007, so I got to work alongside [the late] Chuck Davis [a Vancouver historian, known for The Greater Vancouver Book (1997)], among all the other great committee members!

CY: What do you plan to do with the 1,000 works of art once you’ve got them all up on the blog? Make a book? And while we’re on it, what do you think of your work (and others’) in terms of Chuck Davis’s legacy?

JV: I’m quite proud that I was able to show Chuck the very beginnings of my site before he passed away, as he was indeed one of the early inspirations.

To answer your question: I plan to leave the 1,000 works online, for the most part. Actually, quite often, I don’t even see the original work; either I come across an artist’s website, or a picture in a magazine. My goal was to create a visual archive of this genre, partly as historical research for my own interests and projects, but also to inspire the artists today to see their work in a historical context.

I do try and feature vintage work alongside contemporary, as well as commercial art alongside fine art.

That was also one of the goals of the project: to collect art without actually collecting the artifact, and to break down barriers that exist within traditional art galleries themselves. Digital curation is somewhat of an emerging hobby, and I was impressed by Chuck’s own ability to embrace the Internet. From the site he created, to crowdsourcing the history from your own community and the world beyond. He was really enthusiastic about the web. I agree. The Internet is an amazing place for historical research.

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