Six Artists to Watch from British Columbia

Art PicksMeet the Artist

Partial’s goal of ‘more art on more walls’ means that we have the pleasure of championing wonderful artists from across Canada.

We recently met with six emerging artists from Beautiful British Columbia: Mike Alexander, Yuan Wen, Sarah Graeme, Kirk Gower, Kai Liu, and jaz whitford. Each of these artists brings a unique and interesting approach to their art. We spoke with them to get a sense of their style, what inspires them and as an added bonus, what we should check out on our next trip to the Pacific Province.

Take a couple of minutes to get to know our six artists from B.C. to keep on your radar:

Mike Alexander’s Shop

Mike Alexander is an internationally-collected emerging Anishinaabe visual artist and writer originally from Swan Lake First Nation in Treaty #1 Territory, currently residing on the traditional and unceded lands of the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc. He has attended the University of Victoria, the Victoria College of Art, and the Vancouver Island School of Art, and received mentorship from master carver Carey Newman (Kwagiulth), as well as master of the Woodlands School of Art, Mark Anthony Jacobson (Anishinaabe). Since 2015, his large acrylic paintings have been shown across B.C., and included in group shows across North America.

Mike is a 60’s Scoop survivor and second-generation Residential School survivor, having only been able to reconnect with his community and culture in his 20’s. Part of this journey is expressed through his artwork.

What inspires your work?
I believe that my work is medicine. It reaches into the past in order to be left for the future and by that I mean, the Woodlands School of Art is a gift left to me by my ancestors. The teachings and stories shared by previous generations of artists who practice in an Ojibway style were inspired by me in hopes that I might one day find it and connect to it as a storyteller.  In that tradition, I think of the generations of artists to come, whose embrace of our culture is critical. I am inspired by stories that have yet to be written by young artists just like me.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I listen to a lot of punk and metal and own a 1000+ record collection. Music has been a constant in my life and I spend hours researching and discovering new bands. I enjoy extreme, uncomfortable and challenging sounds in a variety of genres.

What’s a place people should visit when they come to BC?
Skwachays Lodge is Canada’s only Indigenous-run boutique hotel, and it is a great place to stay for the ethical traveller interested in Indigenous culture in Vancouver. The Lodge is home to an excellent art gallery and an artist-in-residence program that I am a part of. It’s a very modern and beautiful place with suites designed by local artists.  

Discover more about Mike and his available works.

Shop Now Mike Alexander’s Work

Yuan Wen’s Shop

Yuan Wen is a printmaker and visual artist based in Vancouver. Her work explores the potential for unique compositional relationships that result from the arrangement of print elements and the selection of techniques. Wen’s early training in traditional Chinese painting influences her practice. As an immigrant, the stories of people with cross-cultural identities have always been her source of inspiration. Wen’s work merges the Asian aesthetic into a narrative concept by combining graphic experimental and printmaking techniques.

What inspires your work?
My inspirations are ancient murals and nature in BC. One of my projects, Cave 500, is based on the Dunhuang murals. This project activated my interest in ancient art, specifically classical patterns, painting methods, symbolic meanings, and their evolutions in history. Since then, I started to follow different antique paintings and sculptures that became a major inspiration for my work. I also love the richness of nature in BC and capture the moments of the season-changing process. Some of my works combine printmaking, drawing, and collage to reflect the intensity of colours, textures, and patterns in nature, which reveal the occupation of time and duration of seasons in a particular space.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I was a graphic designer for years. Illustration was my first choice in my previous study plan, but Visual Arts allowed me to explore traditional art techniques and various art forms. In my second year of Fine Arts study, I found that printmaking is a unique medium which combines graphic qualities and creative experimentation, which totally changed my practice.

What’s a place people should visit when they come to BC?
I recommend Tofino. I visited Tofino during the wintertime last year. It was impressive how big the waves were and how beautiful the Pacific ocean was. Especially, we caught early snow in Tofino, and the snowy beach and mountains were stunning.

Discover more about Yuan and her available works.

Shop Now Yuan Wen’s Work

Sarah Graeme’s Shop

Sarah Graeme is an emerging ceramic artist currently based on T’Sou-ke and Pacheedaht Territory on Vancouver Island (Shirley, BC). She received her BFA from NSCAD University (2021). Sarah’s work combines ceramic forms with plant fibers using weaving and basketry techniques. This combination and overlap in craft mediums and ways-of-making serves as a personal reflection in the context of materials, relationships, and place.

Jug with Plain Weave, 9″ x 13″ x 6″, stoneware, Wood fired, Daylily

What inspires your work?
My work is inspired by the materials I use and my relationship to them. When combining different media, there are endless questions and opportunities for the materials to be in collaboration together. As the artist, I imagine my role to be a facilitator in this conversation letting the interplay of materials unfold during the process. I am also inspired by the seasonal cycle and pace of the plant world. The plants remind me to slow down and pay attention.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I live in a tiny clay house I built with my partner. Using very similar materials to my art practice but with different applications, we built a small house with hand tools using wood, clay, and straw. Right now we live completely off grid but are slowly working towards a few solar panels and a rainwater shower!

What’s a place people should visit when they come to BC?
There are lots of beautiful places to visit in BC, many I have yet to explore. Where I live on the west coast of Vancouver Island (T’Sou-Ke and Pacheedaht territories) there are amazing beaches and forests to spend time in and explore.

Discover more about Sarah and her available works.

Shop Now Sarah Graeme’s Work

Kirk Gower’s Shop

Kirk Gower is a visual artist based in Vancouver and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University. In his practice, Kirk explores queer identity in contemporary portraiture and images. Kirk uses oil paint because of its tradition in Western art history and is interested in how different artistic techniques induce different responses from the viewer based on a traditional hierarchy of art.

At the core of his practice is a reminder to the viewer that what they are seeing is fabricated and that they are not the ones in control of what information is transmitted. 

What inspires your work?
Social media has certainly changed how people construct and view identity. I think that constructing identity has become much more complex. This has had interesting impacts on portraiture. I think it is both easier and more difficult to control image in contemporary times. Many people obsessively curate their public personas and it seems to be much more pervasive than ever before. Even though portraiture in its most traditional form still exists, it no longer carries the same weight that it once had. Social media has changed the power of art. There is so much visual content being injected, obscured and warped in our lives. Images are exaggerated and create strong narratives through social media, whether that be from photoshop, filters, apps, emojis, etc. What I try to do in my work is exploit these techniques to create a modern portrait while using what is considered a very traditional medium – oil paint. While artists have always been manipulating their work in similar fashions, I try to remind people that what you see is fabricated. 

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I have an identical twin brother and often he is in my paintings as a substitute to painting myself. 

Pansy, 36″ x 48″ x 1.5″, oil on linen

What’s a place people should visit when they come to BC?
Half Moon Bay on The Sunshine Coast, BC – it is the most beautiful place on earth and I was lucky enough to grow up there. 

Discover more about Kirk and his available works.

Shop Now Kirk Gower’s Work

Kai Liu’s Shop

Kai Liu is a printmaker and painter living in Vancouver. After immersing himself in art for more than a decade in China, Liu immigrated to Canada and studied graphic design in Hamilton, Ontario. Driven by his passion for art, he moved to Vancouver to study advanced printmaking at Langara College, where he received a diploma in Fine Arts. Following that, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Emily Carr University Art + Design where he is now enrolled in the MFA program. He engages multicultural themes in his practice while interweaving diverse artistic styles and a wide range of professional art fields.

What inspires your work?
Many things inspire me in my work, for example, nature, people, environment, etc., and even some work of other artists. Most important, however, is my observation of BC. I am lucky that I am living in BC, and it is a fantastic place for artists to live because of the cultural diversity and the beautiful environment, which gives me countless creative inspiration.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I used to be a computer CG animator. Because of my passion for fine art and the traditional medium, I left my permanent full-time position years ago, decided to return to university to complete my art degree. It was a tough decision to break out of my day-to-day routine to pursue my dreams, but it was a beautiful life experience.

What’s a place people should visit when they come to BC?
There are so many places people should visit in BC. But please come to Vancouver first. My favourite places in Vancouver are Stanley Park, Granville Island, and VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Discover more about Kai and his available works.

Shop Now Kai Liu’s Work

Jaz Whitford’s Shop

Jaz is a mixed secwe̓pemc & scottish interdisciplinary artist who embodies anti-professionalism & anti-colonialism as a way to move toward a future where indigenous knowledge and ways of being are not only respected, but valued & revered. Using a range of materials, forms and mediums they work to investigate and express their lived experience and understanding of spirituality, resistance, ancestral connections, and community care.

What inspires your work?
my ancestry ties me to cstálen ( adams lake ) in unceded secwepemcúl’ecw in the southern interior of so-called “british columbia”, I had the privilege of being raised within my territories, close with the lands and waters within secwepemcúl’ecw  & beyond. this relationship informs my work expansively.

nu chexw kw’átchnexw kwétsi sḵel̓áw̓? can you see beaver?, 121″ x 121″ x 2″, acrylic & ink on birch (set of 2)
nu chexw kw’átchnexw kwétsi sḵel̓áw̓? can you see beaver?, 121″ x 121″ x 2″, acrylic & ink on birch (set of 2)

What’s a place people should visit when they come to BC?
This question is difficult for me to answer but honestly I would have to say I don’t think people should be visiting so called “BC”, unless it is to directly support indigenous people who are living here or displaced from here. My advice is to stay where you are and use the time and resources that would be used travelling or on vacation, to support indigenous communities by donating funds and/ or labour directly to individuals, collectives, or organizations initiatives that are dedicated to directly improving indigenous peoples lives. 

Tourism and travel in bc are an extractive industry not unlike oil, mining or logging.

I must of course recognize that many indigenous communities, not just in b.c but the rest of “Canada“ and around the globe unfortunately have been pushed to support themselves through tourism, and it creates a livelihood for many folks who would otherwise have no means to support themselves. 

Although tourism doesn’t directly create things like tailings ponds or oil spills, it DOES fuel things like housing insecurity, heavily polluted waters, gentrification, unnecessary infrastructure, and other extractive industries which all directly destroy delicate and integral ecosystems that indigenous people rely on heavily. Both for day to day resources and for ancestral teachings that have become rare and inaccessible due to the violent nature of colonialism.

Tourism hoards local resources from often isolated and systematically oppressed communities to take on the needs of thousands of tourists a season. Unfortunately, they do not have a great track record of being good guests, acknowledging or caring for the land and people they are visiting. 

To be less extractive on an individual and a societal basis we do have to make sacrifices and tourists should be considering what they should be giving up before traveling in or to “BC”.

Discover more about jaz and their available works.

Shop Now Jaz Whitford’s Work

Are you an independent and/or emerging artist from the West Coast of Canada? Apply today to join our community of noteworthy artists.