Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Girl and Fish, 2001 5.5 X 8" acrylic on paper

I stopped painting neon signs in or around 2001. My interest in the subject was killed by the ‘Hooray for neon!’ feelings engendered in viewers. In its place, I was tempted for a time by the graffiti I was encountering in Victoria and Vancouver. I took a lot of pictures and made a few paintings.

For years I had been aware of a graffiti artist in Victoria who tagged his work ‘Ghost’ or less frequently ‘Pawz’. His odd elf-like portraits appeared everywhere. Over the course of a year I painted three paintings in which his work featured prominently.

In the comment book for my show ‘Relic’ at Bau-Xi gallery in Toronto in early 2001, someone wrote in a strange script taking up an entire page: “Victoria... a sleepy little town to perfect a skill. And spooky stories of Beacon Hill Park. Nice Ghost shots, Hans would appreciate it.”

I assumed Hans was ‘Ghost’. I did one more painting of Victoria graffiti before I moved on to other subjects and thought nothing more of ‘Ghost’. I’d stopped taking photos of graffiti altogether.

(Bomb, 2002 18 X 12" acrylic on paper)

In 2002 a small article in a local Victoria paper caught my attention. It described a fundraiser being held in memoriam for Hans Fear. A year earlier, not long after my Bau-Xi show, ‘Ghost’ had hanged himself.

The article explained that Hans had been schizophrenic and had made a conscious decision to stay off his medication because it affected his art.

The story marked a bit of a change in how I saw the graffiti paintings I’d been doing. I was unintentionally celebrating the work of another artist in these paintings. Not that he didn’t deserve the recognition but I began to get a similar feeling of the artist hiding behind a subject as I’d had with the neon signs.

I was haunted by the belated news of Ghost’s death for months and found myself compelled to write a poem:


You signed
spray-can portraits
on plywood windows –
an impish girl turned
by workmen.

Holding the serrated blade of art
over medication’s flaccid flesh –
a black and hollow face
on a hoarding.

You hanged yourself
on a hilltop
in view of
floating mountains
the canvas of the city
receding below -
your spray lines
fading slowly
or abruptly covered.

Graffiti Creatures, 2000 12 X 18" acrylic on paper