Biden man of his times who pushed envelope

Doug Biden was a Kelowna-based artist for the last several years of his life (he died in 2007), having grown up and studied art in Vancouver. He was a well-loved instructor in the fine art area at the Okanagan University College, which moved to the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus.

Doug Biden

Doug Biden was a Kelowna-based artist for the last several years of his life (he died in 2007), having grown up and studied art in Vancouver. He was a well-loved instructor in the fine art area at the Okanagan University College, which moved to the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus.

This posthumous survey show now at the Kelowna Art Gallery was conceived of in collaboration with the artist by curator Darrin Martens, and circulated by the Burnaby Art Gallery, where Martens is director/curator.

Comprising some 75 pieces, the show is a rich sampling of the artist’s mature work, exploring mixed media, etching and lithography.

Biden appears to have been a restless and indefatigable “working artist,” always pushing the envelope of his chosen medium, and striving to incorporate his thoughts and feelings about socio-political issues and news stories of the moment.

The show is installed as a chronological sweep at the Kelowna Art Gallery, beginning with a suite of works on paper from 1989 and ending with a series of various human faces downloaded from news sources and altered by the artist, from 2005.

Viewers can trace Biden’s path from a rather personal, idiosyncratic repertoire of expressive abstract forms and shapes in his earliest work, through to hard-hitting representational images of things like skulls and skeletons, airplanes relating to 9/11, and groups of fragile, delicate tulips.

Biden is an exemplar of the artist engagé, that is an artist as a political citizen, bearing witness, and giving commentary on the issues that he felt were the pressing ones of the day. He truly dug in, both to his thinking and emotions, and his imagery and technical processes in order to bring home his reactions and ruminations to a viewer.

Biden has sources and inspirations in the developments of printmaking in the modern era, both in technical terms and in his creation of his compositions. For example, the method of collaging images and pieces of text in one work may be in homage to the screenprints of the late American artist Robert Rauschenberg from the 1960s in which he montaged images from newspapers and magazines, creating a kind of mangled and jangling mash up, similar to what we may feel in facing the day-to-day barrage of media images we are exposed to as we go about our lives.

The show is accompanied by a full-length catalogue in which the majority of works in the exhibition are reproduced in colour. A lengthy and detailed essay by curator Martens is included, and copies of the catalogue are available in the gallery for browsers to sit and dip into should their interest be piqued.

The exhibition runs at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Sunday, Jan. 30, so there are only a few days remaining for visitors to check it out before a new exhibition opens, and Doug Biden: Visceral Allegories continues on tour to other cities.

Liz Wylie is the curator at the Kelowna Art Gallery.

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