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the story behind the paintings
I arrived in Vancouver in September 1981, just turned twenty and about to live away from home for the first time. I remember the ride from the airport, feeling scared and hopeful, the smell of wet green, the sight of fruit and flowers on the sidewalk in front of corner markets. The cab dropped me at 10th and Commercial, a basement suite I’d share with a roommate I’d never met. The next morning I caught the 21 Victoria bus to my new life. I got off at Main and Hastings where I’d been told to walk north towards the mountains; but it was pouring rain and foggy, not a mountain in sight. I set down my belongings, got out my map and studied it. Suddenly a man stood over me.
“You need a job?”
“No. I’m looking for the acting school in the firehall. Do you know where that is?”
“Nope.” He was looking at me in a strange all over way. “But I can give you a job.”
I repeated that I was looking for the firehall, not a job. This went back and forth for a few minutes until finally he waved in a direction and huffed off.
I found my way to Gore and Cordova where I’d spend most of my waking hours for the next two years. Gone was everything secure and familiar, any sense of home, even the delight I’d always found in the larger world around me. My world became two rehearsal rooms at the top of an old firehall where I was called to inner exploration in uncomfortable ways. Bus rides in the dark and rain. The basement suite where my friendly but depressed roommate lay with curtains drawn, watching one of two channels on our black and white tv, chugging coke and potato chips. Lunch hours at school I’d escape into Chinatown, buy a thirty-five cent cocktail bun. I got a job making popcorn and lattes at an art cinema, occasionally dashing upstairs to wake the projectionist when a reel ran out. Four months into my new life I’d gained ten pounds and still hadn’t seen the ocean.
Sometimes I’d step to the window overlooking Gore and Cordova and stare into the street. Mostly the rain poured down and everything looked grey but there’d be flashes of color, a surprise event, an interaction, a rush of life. I began to write down what I’d seen when I got back to the basement suite….a woman urging an invisible dog along on a bouncing leash, a man selling paintings on torn cardboard, a huddle of identically dressed women bent over with bags of vegetables racing the light, a brightly and scantily clad prostitute standing firm in the rain. And for some reason, in taking note of these things, my experience began to shift.
I found the career as an actor I’d set out to get and each time I’ve returned to work at the Firehall there’s been a moment of measure: how much have I learned since I was last here? Perhaps we all have these places — mine is the rehearsal hall window overlooking Gore and Cordova. In 2008 during rehearsals of a play about torrential rain at the end of the world, I brought a camera and took pictures of goings-on in the street. It was twenty seven years since I first stepped to that window and began taking snapshots in my mind — a moment I’ve realized was no less than my spirit finding anchor in a new life. I came back with my camera in 2016 when I began this series. The paintings in “Gore and Cordova” derive from these two sets of photographs, a circular celebration of the intersection.
Karin Konoval, July 2016