When Doug Biden succumbed to the perils of cancer in the spring of 2007 he left behind a large body of work that warrants continued attention and engagement. His art reflects his passionate interest in mankind's struggle to find a balance with nature, a yearning to understand our place within the spiritual world from birth to death, and his fascination with the reflection of society through media; all important timeless universal themes.
Doug Biden grew up in Vancouver graduating from Emily Carr College of Art and Design in 1978. Art school initiated a lifelong passion for printmaking and after graduation he worked on ECCAD's Mobile Outreach Program which brought printmaking to rural communities across the province. Trips to places like Hazelton and the Queen Charlotte Islands inspired Doug's interest in First Nations' culture and environmental issues.
In 1989 Doug completed his Masters in Fine Arts from Concordia University in Montreal. After working as a master printer and sessional instructor at ECCAD, Capilano College and the University of the Fraser Valley, Biden accepted a tenured professorship with Okanagan University College in Kelowna, (now UBCO) in 1996. This would be the beginning of a deeply rewarding relationship with his students before he left teaching due to his illness in the spring of 2005. Doug was an enthusiastic professor of lithography, etching, and drawing who believed that the classroom studio was an environment where everyone gained. The student teacher relationship continuously replenished his own creativity.
PENDULOUS exhibits a wide variety of Biden's work over thirty years including an artist book, etchings, lithographs, monoprints and mixed media. Biden challenged himself to experiment with different forms of media while stretching technical boundaries of traditional printmaking. Ironically his interest in the body and illness was entrenched in his art long before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His father's Alzheimer disease and his mother's death from ovarian cancer were the inspiration for many of his works in the late 90s. Biden would go through a stage of being totally consumed by anatomical x-ray like images of the internal body, as he obsessed over the contrast between interior and exterior. These images foreshadow what would become his own battle with cancer years later.
Guest curator for PENDULOUS is installation artist and UBCO Critical and Creative Studies Professor Byron Johnston. Johnston had both a professional and personal relationship with Doug, as a colleague, traveling companion and artist collaborator. Johnston consciously chose not to hang any artwork for this exhibition. Instead the walls of the gallery are painted familiar colours that are seen throughout Biden's work and thirty-four wooden plywood tables are hung from the gallery ceiling by nylon twine. The prints are laid out unframed side by side on these swinging platforms. Johnston believes the audience will be drawn into a floating world of art.
Exhibiting the works on these suspended tables allows the prints to be presented on a flat surface, a refreshing and valuable way of viewing them "because this would have been the way that Doug would have viewed the work as it rolled off the press. The prints can be read, looked at from all sides, as Doug would have done in his studio and classroom".
PENDULOUS includes Biden's 1997 artist book Atlas of the Body Transparent which borrows the words of poet musician Roy Harper to combine Biden's images which he described as, "a critique on human tyranny over the animal kingdom, which is linked to human atrocities prevailing over our world everyday". Atlas was always designed to be displayed on table. Biden said, "the manner of presentation has parallels to libraries, where we learn and examine. I am reminded of surgical theatres when thinking of Leonardo's convert research of cadavers, and Rembrandt's painting of the Anatomy Lesson".
Doug's early prints reflect his love of drawing, "Drawing is a vehicle, an exploration, an open voyage, a work in progress from origins to finish. An attempt to make legitimate, honest content out of visual language". However, his love of the act of making art was always combined with the important role he saw the artists play in society - i.e. to critique. Biden said, "My work expresses the desire of locating a place within the self to mediate on both the pain and ecstasy of being".
Like most artists, Biden worked by instinct and always felt confident that something was being revealed and materializing while in the studio. He expressed it by saying, "I have a deep faith in the cathartic power of creativity, a love and complete commitment to the intense and personal process of making art." Viewers of PENDULOUS should find revelation and material to ponder as they enter the mindset of a creative thinker and artist who left us too soon.
The Penticton Art Gallery would like to thank both Byron Johnston for curating this exhibit and Ingrid Abbott for her text and writings on Doug Biden's life and art. To learn more about Doug Biden's work, please visit the website: www.dougbiden.com