Robert Edmonds is nailing his memories to the wall.
The artist, designer and Main Street fixture hangs the last of the frames of his Fragments in RPM exhibition in Vancouver’s Public Lounge Eatery then pours himself a beer. Dozens of moments in music look down on him. It’s the first of his solo exhibits in a while, but he’s quietly excited about it. He doesn’t do solo stuff much.
Fragments in RPM is comprised of screenprinted impressions of vinyl, and in their centres, Edmonds has placed fragments of gig posters he’s designed over the past few years. Gomez, Hot Hot Heat, Franz Ferdinand, Flaming Lips, REM, Queens of the Stone Age and Warren Zevon all jam among them.
“It’s the fragments of what you remember. Yes, we remember gigs, but do we remember every single second? Of course you don’t. You remember a show, but you can never relive it. It’s of the time, then it’s gone. So the concept here is that posters get covered up, scrawled on, broken down, like your memories do. The full poster is the event, but cutting out just part of it, that’s your memory of it.”
Evoke and design
Even though Fragments is as fleeting as the gigs it encapsulates — the exhibit runs until January 11 — Edmonds’ art can be seen all over the city.
The affable Aussie who moved to Vancouver in the early ’90s has been busy creating “branded environments” with partner and brother-in-law David Nicolay as part of their award-winning team Evoke International Design. It’s been a “heads down, bums up,” kind of year, says Edmonds, who admits he’s never been one to promote himself very much. Even though he’s helped design, like, a lot of the city.
Chuck a dart toward Vancouver’s coolest restaurants (and some condos) and you’ll likely hit an Evoke bullseye: Figmint, Afterglow, Coast, Sanafir (complete with Edmonds’ hand-painted lotus leaves on papyrus on canvas), Irish Heather, Salty Tongue and SheBeen have each been Rob ‘n’ Dave’d.
Then there’s the Main Street best bets, which Edmonds says are more their style — the kind of places where Guinness-loving, St-Kilda-Saints-Aussie-rules-football obsessives can shoot the shit amid hipsters and plates of food. Unpretentious but stylish. Accented but minimalist.
Signature pieces include the nicked-over-time marble bar and red-wine-stained woodblocks drunkenly lining the back wall of Latitude, and the layered patchwork wallpaper by the Cascade Room kitchen. At the newly reopened Habit Lounge, a bright orange papier-machier deer head glows over pierogies and punters, while the walls have paint-by-numbers-themed portraits of the five Habit owners as children. They are pure abstract Edmonds. In fact, one of the portraits is of Edmonds, who is also co-owner of Habit and Cascade. Can’t a painter/sculptor/linocutter/gig poster creator/graphic artist/designer also be a restaurant owner? Sure, why not.
In fact it’s part of the reason he’s so successful. “I didn’t stick by that starving artist mantra. I think most artists have to have something on the side to stay afloat, unless you’re in the upper echelons,” he says. “I got a job in design and there’s always a big gulf between people who are fine artists and graphic artists, and never the twain shall meet. But art is art. It’s born and it’s visual and it’s moral and you either do it or you don’t. It’s an expression.”
Edmonds spent years at graphic companies and agencies in Australia, London and Vancouver, which is where the obvious design edge comes from. He’s won awards for his design, done group shows in Georgia, Melbourne, Toronto and Philadelphia, and he says his schizo style depends on his “different headspaces.” But his mashed-potatoes, comfort-food art inspiration usually draws from pop cultural (or pure pop) references.
Music for the masses
Edmonds is an unabashed music fan. He’s on the board of Music on Main with one of the B.C. arts community’s greatest champions, Alma Lee. He’s designed album covers for Blue Rodeo (Blue Road) and Sex With Strangers (The Tokyo Steel) among others. He’s part of the Boutique Empire record label collective. And he’s been designing gig posters for shows across North America since 1999. He’s designed t-shirts that celebrate a moment in quirky Canadiana history.
But to see this side of his work, you have to be quick. Many of his posters get destroyed or are found, peeling, under a piece of chewed gum or graffiti. Just the way Edmonds likes it. So much so, he also self-published a book of his posters — called Plastered on the Street — photographed in-situ, in the rain and in and around the city.
“So many artists who design posters do their own style and then make it fit with the band. The first thing I do when I’m asked to do a poster is I try to find an interesting background story, so that it’s not about me, it’s about them…so when they see it, they go, ‘oh my god, how did he know about that?'”
Like when NYC’s The Strokes were at their pinnacle and everyone wanted a piece of the indie-rock pretty boys, the band and its collective tight-legged jeans were getting sick of all the hype. So Edmonds’ poster was of the band’s legs and feet. It was an anti-image poster, and the Strokes loved it.
For his Cure poster (one of Edmonds’ favourite bands), he did a green Caterpillar — a classic Cure track — on a leaf. Head goth Robert Smith approved the poster personally. How’d that feel? “Aww, I was floating,” Edmonds chuckles.
Next year Edmonds plans to launch a new exhibition entitled “Sinister Beauty,” with his photographer wife Janis Nicolay. “I’ve created little swans made out of wire, covered in tissue, lit from the inside,” he explains. “We’ve done a series of photos where they’re sitting in gardens at night, so you’ve got these little flowers ambiently lit by the swans, plus we’ve lit some small fires behind them. From that it’ll turn into a curatorial show because I sent the photos to musician friends who are doing pieces for it. I’d like to put it in a big gallery and have all these images set to music and release a soundtrack.”
Edmonds is among the lucky ones able to do exhibitions like this in a province reeling from severe arts cuts. “People will still do their art, but it’s how you get it out there. You’re never going to cut off the creative flow. I think these cuts will manipulate the kind of art that’s done. It’ll become reactionary, people will be pissed off. It’ll shape things. By taking the funding away, they’re throwing a blanket over it. But the arts are still there. It’ll smoulder and hopefully, eventually, it’ll set fire and be reborn as a whole new movement.”
Does Edmonds see himself as part of that movement? Perhaps. Yet despite the fact his brushstrokes are spread across Vancouver, he isn’t one for blowing his own trumpet.
“It’s always nice to be a little under the radar,” he says. “So by the time people discover you, it’s like ‘oh you did that? And you did that? And you did that too?’ Then you’ve got this huge body of work so that you’re not coming at it from one idea. Instead it’s substantial what you have and what you do.”
“I guess,” he laughs, “we’re the Beatles, but I’m George. You know, that guy in the background.”