Chad VanGaalen + Amsterdam’s Andenken Gallery = A Match Made in Shroom Heaven?
Life is Butter Dreamer! Aug 2 to 21/11 — IT’S ABOUT TIME someone made space for a retrospective exhibit of work from the ogre-sized, prolific psychedelic mind of celebrated musician/animator/illustrator/circuit-bending-fetishist/all-around-delightfully-mad-scientist Chad VanGaalen. Next week, the Calgary-based artist will skip the pond to play songs from his latest record, Diaper Island, to some lucky Europeans. His first performance will also kick off a three-week showing of a few hundred individual pieces of his visual art, including animation cells from one of his fantastically trippy music videos and illustrations that span the period of his four acclaimed solo records with Flemish Eye.
VanGaalen pulled about half the material for the show from an old suitcase where he keeps drawings and retired sketchbooks. “It was definitely strange, kind of like having a conversation with your ex-girlfriend for like five days, just locked up together in a room,” he says.
The spread on display at Andenken will feature portraits of friends, strangers, weirdos, dragons (!) and other monsters, a range of lush landscapes, delightful oddities, a bunch of half-finished comic books, and sketchbook gems from overseas album tours and road trips across Canada—including scenes from a ridiculously improvised and epic mission to Dawson City, Yukon, in a school bus, largely fueled by two mason jars full of weed. Another 100 or so pieces in the show are cells of cutout animations that VanGaalen crafted for J. Mascis’ fantastic “Not Enough” video (below), which the gallery will also screen along with some of his other morph-o-riphic moving pictures. (Speaking of which: His video for “Peace On The Rise” is like a Kubrickian sci-fi cartoon.)
Ten days before having to ship his work overseas, VanGaalen also went on a week-long drawing bender to contribute some fresh material. His subject: the droves of drunken rafters who float down the Bow River through Calgary as a summertime right of passage (or maybe just an excuse to get loaded in the sun), observed from what sounds like a totally non-incognito riverbank spot.
“I kinda set up this, like, camo zone where I could be sitting. I hollowed out the inside of a bush on the edge of the river, and pulled the leaves out of the middle section so I had a nice shaded spot. The challenging thing about it was that I only had a window of about 10 seconds to draw people as they went by. And I was totally not camouflaged. People were like, ‘Dude, who is that dude in the bush totally perving out on people?’ It looked pretty suspicious.”
Accidental creepiness aside (in the eyes of apparent dick-wagglers, mind you), VanGaalen was pretty stoked about the results. “Being forced to draw them fast made them cartoony, kinda like Gary Larson-style almost… just one-liners. And there’s weird shit going on with rafter culture in this city, I feel like. I kinda got to know the rafts. There’s a Ralph Lauren inflatable raft that everyone has now. I don’t know where the fuck they’re getting them. It’s like a giant donut. Everyone has an inflated recliner armchair with a cup holder built in, and it seats 11 or 12 people all facing themselves in a giant ring. And just drawing an object that weird as quickly as I can is crazy enough. But then the people are shirtless biker dudes with handlebar moustaches, next to bikini babes, next to a bald headbanger or something.”
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Amsterdam in August 2011, Life is Butter Dreamer! is a rare and special opportunity to soak up a literal tickle trunk of crazy, uncanny, joyful and no-doubt hilarious visuals by one of Canada’s most incredible young artists. Especially in a city where you can—for the moment, at least—buy psychedelics and smokeables with your coffee.