The Opening – Roy Arden


THE OPENING is all about introducing the fascinating, quirky and wonderful people working in and around the visual arts in Vancouver. Each week, we’ll feature an artist, collective, curator or administrator to delve deep into who and what makes art happen!

House on Alley 6th Ave 2000

One of Vancouver’s most identifiable artists, Roy Arden (b. 1957) has long made work reflecting on human culture and it’s assembled environments. For 30 years he has worked with photography, making large and detailed images of Vancouver, but he has since begun producing prints, sculptures, collages and more based on his enormous archive of found imagery and items.

Arden has been nominated for the inaugural Scotiabank Photography Award. He recently took some time from producing some new video works to answer a few questions.

Wal-Mart Store (Royal), Burnaby BC 1996

Your most recent photographic work seemed to show the conflict in development, particularly suburban development. These places as (Belkin Director/Curator) Scott Watson has noted, are meant to foster stability, community and family, and yet they are built in industrial parks or on desolate wastelands – places without any of those things. Your current work (as shown recently at the Contemporary Art Gallery) is much more free, exploratory and whimsical. Do these bodies of work tie together for you, or are you exploring a different path?

You are referring to my photo work of the 90’s and up to 2005 or so. That work was me looking at my everyday environment as a kind of war landscape, the everyday war of the economy. I tried to find traces of the past but also the shocking appearance of the new. So it was everything from old company cottages that told the story of the early days of the lumber industry, to the palettes of goods from China stacked high in Wal-Mart stores today. There were many images of vacant lots and in-between zones. I actually like these zones, I grew up playing in them and find they have more possibilities than official parks for the imagination.

Landfill, Richmond BC 1991, Installation View, MoMA, New York 2009

All of my work is tied together through my own life and experience and that it all addresses questions of modernity and modern times. The new work is definitely more fun, both to make and view. It started around 6 years ago now, that I began making more digital collages from my image archive of jpegs culled from the internet. Then around 4 years ago, I started making small paper collages from books and magazines I collected. Next came paintings, drawings and sculptures. It had all been brewing under the surface for years but really exploded when I rented a larger studio and hired assistants.

D’Elegance 1, 2000

It’s interesting that you’ve been nominated for a photography award, yet you’ve admitted to taking a bit of a break for a few years from photography. Will you be picking up the camera again soon or do you feel you’d like to indefinitely explore other mediums?

After 30 plus years of photographs I need to explore other things. I never identified with photography as a medium. I always saw myself as an artist who was making photographs but who might also make work in other mediums and that time has come I guess. I’ve never really identified strongly with any medium. What if one suddenly found oneself without access to certain supplies? Such as happens during wars, depressions or even holidays? Would one stop being an artist because they couldn’t access their favourite materials?

Art Lovers 2010

I am still editing my Polaroids which I plan to show in the near future and I know I will make photos again soon but there is no hurry. Right now I am working on some ambitious videos, which I suppose are ‘photographs in series’ by definition. When they are finished I plan to get very serious about painting. The paintings will derive from photo sources so there is also the fact of mediums overlapping. I had some things to do in photography and specific genres of photography. I might again in the future as well. In the meantime I have work to do in other mediums.

‘UNDERTHESUN’ CAG installation view

It’s well known that you have a massive archive of images. Is this both digital and print? How do you source your images? Do you have any specific criteria?

I collect both paper and digital images. They can be used in various ways – a paper image could be used in a collage directly or be scanned and used as a source for a drawing or painting. Digital images could be used in digital collages or as a source for a drawing or painting etc. I search for books and magazines that resonate for me. Subject matter is all over the map, but I guess it has to relate to my sense of history and society – which is materialist and psychological. I also collect objects for my sculptures and recently, for videos. These are everything from back alley junk to rare old toys from antique stores and Ebay. My aim lately has been to not focus on a narrow subject or theme, so it is really hard to define the criteria at work, but nonetheless my choices are extremely specific. You can see an entertaining video tour that Adrian Buitenhuis made of my recent show at the Contemporary Art Gallery here. After viewing that, you will understand how long it would take to give an adequate account of my criteria.

Curriculum Vitae 2010

What do you have coming up?

I am working on a suite of videos. They are about modernity as industrial development through the metaphor of conveyances. They use old toys of steam trains, automobiles and other objects on table-top sets with lots of corny effects like smoke and fog etc. After these I want to focus on painting very intensely. I am having more fun than ever with making art. It’s strange to find this freedom relatively late – but certainly better than the alternative.

Roy Arden lives and works in Vancouver. He graduated from Emily Carr Institute in 1982, and received an MFA from UBC in 1990. He has exhibited at Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver; Belkin Gallery, Vancouver; Oakville Galleries, Oakville; VOX, Montreal; MOMA, New York; Richard Telles Gallery, Los Angeles; Patrick Painter Inc, Santa Monica; and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. He is represented by Monte Clark Gallery, Vancouver; Clark and Faria, Toronto; Galerie Tanit, Munich; and Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles. Visit his website at

All images courtesy Roy Arden