Riffing on van murals

Exhibition offers over 30 takes on van murals of the ’70s and ’80s

Think van murals and what do you see?

You might think of blocky ’70s-era vehicles bedecked with lush fantastic imagery possibly created with the assistance of certain illegal substances. And while that’s the starting point (the art that is not the substances) for House Gallery’s latest show Vanageddon the 30 contributing artists have taken the theme in directions you might not expect.

A little context: House Gallery which has been around for three years describes itself as “an independent art gallery that showcases pop and low-brow art in Calgary” but founder and curator Derek Bisbing says that focusing on ‘low-brow’ art is more about being open to any and all art forms rather than adhering to a category of its own. “The low-brow thing it’s just a mix of different media; it could be contemporary art it could be all kinds of things” he explains. “There’s a surprise when you walk into the show — you really don’t know what you’re walking into — versus maybe a contemporary art show or a modern art show where you might know what to expect.”

Considering that the theme explicitly names its medium Vanageddon is a surprisingly mixed-media show. It offers paintings photographs and sculptures but also needlework vehicle hoods and windows video and more. You’ll see a crew of archetypical monsters joyriding in a blue van and a sculpture of a four-wheeled skull paleontologically labelled ‘Vanodon.’ There’s a video collage of van-centric clips from the ’70s and ’80s overlaid with spoken word with a few lyrics transposed to bumper stickers. And if you happen to want a keepsake from the exhibition you’re in luck: the bumper stickers will be for sale and you can bid on the artwork in a silent auction from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 20.

“People take the show title as the core theme and take it in other directions — so far I don’t have anything that I would’ve predicted” says Bisbing. For example? “I had a tattoo artist who’s an amazing painter do a sculpture — I was expecting to have her to do a wall piece” he says. He still hadn’t received all of the pieces yet at the time of interview and so surely there are more surprises in store — for himself and the viewers.

Granted Vanageddon encompasses a wide spectrum of art you can be sure that in some of the pieces you’ll get an aesthetic you might associate more with tattoo shops and comic books than museums or artist-run centres which makes for an accessible engaging summer show. “Very few people didn’t just smile when I told them the idea” says Bisbing. “It’s a goofy kind of theme… straight-up fun and ridiculous.”

So drive up to Vanageddon and park your expectations at the door; bring a sense of humour and an open mind. You might just discover a style of art you’ll fall in love with a Calgary artist whose work merits further investigation or a particular piece destined for your living room or car bumper.