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Ian Wallace: The artist as teacher, mentor, instigator Add to ...

“He has a way of speaking about his work with a kind of intellectual rigour and precision, and art historical rigour as well,” says Ritter. “He understands how his work functions in the context of a longer history of art. And I think through his presence as an artist, then, it has created this particular environment and this scene that we have in Vancouver, where artists are very rigorous about the way that they talk about their work. They really look to contemporary and art historical references and they talk about it unapologetically in intellectual terms. And I think that’s what Vancouver has become known for. And I think that’s what Ian’s work has been recognized for internationally.”


In 1955, a young Ian Wallace – he would have been 12 years old – encounters and is struck by a Gordon Smith abstraction in the window of West Vancouver’s pioneering New Design Gallery.

Wallace later studies art history at UBC; teachers include Iain Baxter and B.C. Binning.

Binning is a reader on Wallace’s Master’s thesis on Piet Mondrian, and later hires Wallace to teach modern art history at UBC.

Wallace’s students at UBC include Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham; his classes were audited by Dennis Wheeler. While Wallace was influential as a teacher, he was also strongly influenced by his students. The cross-pollination will help create a vibrant and internationally influential Vancouver art scene.

Wallace is the principal reader of Wall’s thesis, on Berlin Dada.

Wall goes on to teach at SFU. Ken Lum, studying biological sciences, takes an art history course with Wall and changes career paths.

Wallace squats for some time in artist Tom Burrows’s shack on the mudflats in North Vancouver. An image of the house will later appear in Wallace’s seminal triptych La Mélancolie de la rue.

At the Vancouver School of Art (today the Emily Carr University of Art + Design), Wallace’s students include Roy Arden and Stan Douglas.

Wallace hires Wall to organize a series of lunchtime film screenings at VSA.

At VSA, Wallace, as part of his Art Now classes, creates what will become a highly influential program bringing in visiting artists such as Laurie Anderson and Dan Graham. Douglas audits the class.

One-time students, now collaborators and friends, pop up in many of Wallace’s works, including the My Heroes in the Street series and Lookout.

At the 49th Parallel Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art in New York in 1985, Wallace curates an exhibition of work by Graham, Lum, Wall and himself. The group will later be identified as the original members of the so-called Vancouver School. In 1992, they exhibit together again at the Centre d’art Santa Monica in Barcelona.

In fromshangri-la to shangri-la, a site-specific 2010 installation in downtown Vancouver, Lum references Burrows’s mudflats shack. The work was re-installed this year in North Vancouver.

By the time he retires from Emily Carr in 1998, Wallace has taught and mentored a long list of emerging artists, including Damian Moppett, Ron Terada and Steven Shearer. Geoffrey Farmer and Brian Jungen also studied at the school during that period, “when Ian’s presence was deeply felt there,” offers Catriona Jeffries, the Vancouver gallerist who represents Wallace, Farmer, Jungen, Moppett and Terada.

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