Pierre Vassura: New Work 1983–2018

At 83, Pierre Vassura is ready for his first Canadian solo exhibition.| Photo by Paula Booker.

After an artistic career spanning several decades and continents, Italian-born artist Pierre Vassura will have his first major solo exhibition on Canadian soil at Richmond Art Gallery (RAG) this December.

Vassura has been creating artwork since the mid 1950s and arrived in Richmond in the early 1980s. After one small show at the Italian Cultural Centre in 2002 and many rejections from several of Vancouver’s art galleries, Vassura was delighted to be approached by curators Jonathan Middleton and Eli Bornowsky and.

“They didn’t have to convince me, I was ready,” says Vassura. “I have got forty years’ worth of continuous artwork and at the age of 83 I did not know what to do with it. So when the opportunity came [to exhibit] I took it. I have waited a long time and was not expecting it anymore.”

Geometric abstraction

Vassura himself is keen not to simplistically define his artistic style within this large body of work, but he does acknowledge that there are recurring key themes such as his use of colour and line in a strong graphic style.

“It is very difficult for me to describe around forty years of work,” says Vassura. “My style is my style. You have to see it to understand it. There is a unique distribution of line and colours and a strong repetition of formal relationships.”

Middleton agrees that there are recurring themes.

“The geometric abstract style of his work is really consistent within this large time frame. Even though the work spans many years there is a cohesiveness to it, and it is the work that Pierre most identifies with,” he says.

Storytelling on canvas

Middleton and Bornowsky first heard about Vassura’s work when they worked at the Or Gallery in Vancouver. The curators were struck by his dedicated and regimented approach and by his persistent production of artwork over many years, despite no real public appreciation. The pair eventually became instrumental in bringing Vassura’s work to RAG’s attention.

“Vassura has lived a long rich life but without any exhibitions,” explains Bornowsky. “It seemed we ought to get the ball rolling and start looking at his life’s work. The RAG was very excited to learn of a local Richmond-based artist of such high quality and wanted to play a role in presenting his work,” he says.

The upcoming exhibition will showcase a variety of previously unseen artworks. Vassura’s prolific personal collection of artwork consists of colourful and inventive paintings, sculptures and marionettes that predominantly date from the 35 years that he has lived in Richmond. Bornowsky and Middleton have both worked closely with Vassura and his family to carefully select key works to include in the show.

“We wanted the exhibition to show selections from some of Pierre’s most ambitious series of works,” says Bornowsky. “I think our inclination was to exhibit some of his more idiosyncratic pieces as well. It is not necessarily a comprehensive survey, rather more like an energized first-take.”

When asked about the key themes of the exhibition, Middleton explains that storytelling is central to Vassura’s oeuvre.

“All cultures of the world tell stories and have an interest in conveying meaning via images. It is human nature to build narratives that teach us something. A lot of Vassura’s work is based on fables, folklore and literature,” says Middleton.

Exhibition aficionadi and neophytes

The curators are both keen for the exhibition to inspire others, including young artists. Both also point out that Vassura’s work has the potential to resonate with the public both visually and on a humanistic level.

“We hope that the exhibition will be both interesting and stimulating for people who are familiar with art practice and who are already supporters or followers of contemporary art, but we also hope that this exhibition is the sort of thing that gets people interested in art for the first time,” says Middleton.

Vassura is looking forward to his work finally being on show to the general public.

“I would like people to come and enjoy the variety and try to understand it. It was a long time of work and to me it is finished. I will have happiness if people appreciate what I have done,” he says.


For more information about the exhibition, please visit www.richmondartgallery.org.