Rodney Graham, an artist whose dryly funny works about repetition made him one of Canada’s most celebrated artists, died Saturday at age 73 in Vancouver.

In an announcement of his death, his four galleries – 303 Gallery, Hauser & Wirth, Lisson Gallery, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle and Esther Schipper – said he had been battling cancer for a year.

Since the 1990s, Graham has been widely celebrated in the international art world for his films, photographs, paintings, etc., involving the artist proposing mundane scenarios. They feel designed to annoy or irritate their viewers, who responded with a mixture of confusion and laughter.

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His most famous work remains the 1997 video Isle of Vexation, in which the artist plays the role of a sailor in dated clothing who sleeps on a beach, apparently alone. For almost the entire nine-minute duration of the video, Graham remains in his mysterious slumber. Then, at the very end, he wakes up after a coconut falls on him.

Although Graham had been creating art since the 1970s, Isle of Vexation is considered his breakthrough. It was shown at the 1997 Venice Biennale, where Graham represented Canada. write in art forumcurator Dan Cameron called it “maddeningly hilarious.”

Her first video Halcion Sleep (1994), could be labeled in the same way. It’s little more than a long, grainy take of the artist asleep in the trunk of a car after ingesting Halcion, a drug typically prescribed to people with insomnia. While resting, he is driven from a hotel to his home. “It was like a kind of reverse kidnapping,” Graham once told the Globe and Mail.

Triptych representing an old man asleep on a chair in the center of a shop full of antiques.

Rodney Graham, Antique dealer sleeping in his shop2017.

©Rodney Graham

Graham was also a performer in many of his more recent photographs, which were widely distributed and exhibited as lightboxes. He appears there acting out scenarios that seem both vaguely familiar and a little hard to pin down: a burly tattooed man leaning on a balcony, a man in a sterile, retro conference room with a television set parked in front of a blackboard. chalky black.

Some of these works seemed to have specific referents, such as the one from 2007 The Gifted Amateur, November 10, 1962, in which Graham poses as an artist spilling yellow paint on a tilted canvas in a mid-century house. The painter Morris Louis, as New York Times the critic Roberta Smith once noted, died two months before the date given in the work’s title.

“There’s a playful charm to Rodney Graham’s art, but it’s ultimately aloof, as if meant to entertain a group, namely himself,” Smith wrote. “The rest of us can certainly watch if we want to, but it’s not mandatory.”

Look, many of his viewers did, and happily too. Writer Rachel Kushner once praised a film in which Graham gives up LSD as “deliberate, precise, complicated – as you might have suspected”. Artist and musician Kim Gordon once said she loved the lyrics of Graham’s music, which he started producing before he even turned to art.

An old man in a suit seated at a drum set.  On top of one of the drums is a plate filled with a steak on which he holds his fork and knife.  A curtain hangs behind.

Rodney Graham, Lunch Break (Salisbury Steak)2017.

©Rodney Graham

Rodney Graham was born in Abbotsford, British Columbia in 1949. He attended the University of British Columbia for art history and later Simon Fraser University, where he was taught by drummer Ian Wallace. Along with Wallace, he was part of the UJ3RK5 group, whose members also included photographer Jeff Wall.

In the years that followed, Graham would be considered part of the Vancouver school alongside Wall, Wallace, Stan Douglas, Ken Lum and Vikky Alexander. All of these artists used reproductions and stagings in their photographic practices to consider the slippery nature of reality, especially when filtered through the lens of a camera.

Graham’s early works, from the late 1970s and early 1980s, are much more conceptual than the works for which he later came to prominence. Many of these concerned the camera obscuras, a device capable of displaying an inverted image on a wall – essentially a form of projection that dates back to the appearance of projectors.

He would photograph trees and expose the resulting images upside down, alluding to both this proto-projection technology and the true nature of vision itself. “Before the brain straightens it, the eye sees an upside down tree the same way it appears on the glass back of the large format field camera I use,” he said. – he said one day.

In the 1980s he began to use loops more frequently in his work, rearranging ready-made text from a novel by Georg Bücher until it no longer made sense.

Photograph of an upside down tree.

Rodney Graham, Gary Oak, Galiano Island2012.

©Rodney Graham

Whether he focused on Marlboro Man or Rheinmetall typewriters, Graham always approached his subject with a spirit of earnest curiosity and playful subversion.

This extended to the paintings he produced towards the end of his career. They looked very much like Cubist masterpieces or neglected modernist gems, but in fact Graham had carefully designed them that way. Viewers interested in learning more would find that Graham had actually determined their compositions in Photoshop.

By the end of his career, he had appeared in an edition of the Venice Biennale, documenta and the Whitney Biennale, as well as a host of other recurring international showcases. He has had retrospectives at the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the BALTIC Center for Contemporary Art, the Museum Voorlinden and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. But he remained humble, for the most part.

When Curly asked in 2007 what he would choose to do if he wasn’t an artist, he replied, “Being a rock star – hey wait a minute, I’m a rock star!”

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