Fab 40: Douglas Coupland's Art
It’s impossible to refer to Generation X without thinking of Douglas Coupland, who popularized the coinage with a book of the same name in 1991. His written work often acts as a weathervane for popular culture, serving largely as an observational tool while offering a bit of aesthetic zing.
Coupland, 47, reverses this ratio with his visual art which offers impact first and invites commentary second. Only lately has the longtime Vancouver resident been gaining recognition as an artist, despite years as a sculpture and design student in Vancouver, Milan and Tokyo.
His ongoing fascination with Andy Warhol informs much of his work; more recently, Matricide features a series of silk-screened Marilyn Monroe portraits plastered in decals and stickers while Talking Sticks uses children’s blocks to incongruously spell out adult conceits such as “Fubar” and “Hot Shit.”
He employs a delicious sense of self-referencing in his use of books as a frequent medium, whether applying chain letter-esque text atop old Penguin book covers or crafting a faux hornet’s nest out of chewed up pages from the Gideon Bible. But it is Coupland’s public art that allows Canadians to experience his creative vision within a patriotic context.
Last year, he unveiled the Monument to the War of 1812 which shows two oversized toy-like soldiers – one defeated on its back, the other victorious – marking the historic site of Fort York in Toronto. A clock tower in an outdoor shopping complex bursts with generic whitewashed house sculptures, a not-so-subtle reminder of the time-warped suburban neighbourhood in which it is situated.
New sculptures will also punctuate a forthcoming eight-acre park in downtown Toronto that faces a giant condo complex. Coupland, who is represented by Clark & Faria in Toronto and Vancouver, insists he is not out to make art that speaks to a specific moment in time.
“If you try to do any work as a zeitgeist exercise, it can only fail,” he says. “The lesson is to simply do what you're going to do in any medium.” Does being Canadian shape the way he is perceived as an artist, for better or for worse? “It makes people more curious about me, I think.” Not that they needed another reason.