Author/artist Douglas Coupland is in town Thursday at the Monte Clark Gallery for the opening of a new exhibition of collages, The Penguins. The promo material says, “This is one of several shows he has prepared (and is preparing) looking at the relationship between books and visual culture.”
We could argue that almost all of his work walks that line, and even while we wildly applaud, it’s the reason why he doesn’t garner props from peers working in any single art form. Neither the art world nor the literati quite know what to do with him (though he was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy last month). About Coupland’s gift for border blur, Shaun Smith of Montage wrote:
Douglas Coupland communicates in objects. His mind latches onto things, polishing them into concise observations—essential, beautiful, ironic, and humourous—then returns them to you like sculptures.
We’ll go further: Coupland is more a designer of language than a writer. Maybe he thinks in Helvetica? He makes observations about people through the objects they hold most dear, and designs novels, plays, screenplays, essays, illustrated non-fiction books, and art shows.
This is not to say he is a hack attempting to shove ideas and agendas into inappropriate forms—not at all. He designs his projects. Coupland is a visual writer who excels at many arts; the myth says that he hasn’t mastered any one form. Bollocks! Artist/poet William Blake had the same image problem back in the eighteenth century.
The new show takes moldy, dusty and yellowed mass-produced Penguin paperbacks, and attempts to imbue them with the sense of vitality and energy that they once possessed. In 1935, The Penguins were famously successful on all levels: they were academically revered and founder Allen Lane wanted the books sold alongside cigarettes, at the same price.
Seventy years later, we’re all for the notion of easily purchased novels enlightening the masses and transforming the social fabric. We haven’t seen the show yet, but we’re wondering if this particular exhibition might be a perfect metaphor for Coupland’s own body of work. Stay tuned.
If you go: The Penguins and a new wall sculpture titled, “Luxury Factory” by Douglas Coupland at the Monte Clark Gallery, The Distillery Historic District, 55 Mill Street, Building #2. Opening Reception: Thursday, July 26, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Artist in attendance. The show runs until September 16, 2007.
Photo of Douglas Coupland’s “Jet Boy Jet Girl” courtesy of Monte Clark Gallery.