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Island illustrators: Island Illustrators Society | British Columbia, Canada

Опубликовано: April 1, 2023 в 2:13 am


Категории: Miscellaneous

Jaleen Grove – Illustration, Research

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But is it Art? The Construction and Valuation of Illustration in Victoria’s Island Illustrators Society

MA thesis in Communication and Culture
Ryerson University, 2006

Preface to the Online Version

Hey everybody, this little blurb here does not appear in the Official Thesis. I’ve added it to this copy available from my website, because I know that a lot of people who are reading this don’t come from an academic background and don’t really know what a thesis is supposed to do. Also, many readers might not want to read the whole thing in depth but still want to know what it says, and the Abstract is pretty brief (the rules only allowed me 150 words or less to summarize a 165 page essay). This bit here is to explain myself to a general audience.

What’s a thesis?

It’s a really long essay that must present something new: new data, new information, and especially, new ideas. Same root word as theory . It also supports this new stuff with an argument for a certain point of view, based on facts or logic or persuasion, depending what field you’re writing in. You also have to relate it to things important theorists have said. The point is to put forth a plausible case about something – and in the arts, as we all know, this can be pretty subjective. There is no “truth” the way there might be in hard science, because we’re dealing with philosophy. So the “discourse” (everything being said about a topic) is made up of lots of opinions and ideas and each person is free to come to their own conclusions based on a (hopefully wide) selection of concepts.

My thesis is just another facet of an ongoing conversation. I like to think it’s an under-represented facet that many tend to ignore, which is why I studied it. Although I’ve tried to make a convincing case here, because of the nature of the discourse and its lack of hard truth, I don’t want anyone to think I’m super inflexible on the ideas presented in it. My hope is to spark disagreements as well as agreements, in a useful way. The point is to help cultural producers (artists, curators, historians, etc) understand illustration and conservative art in Canada in a more in-depth manner than they have previously.

I encourage readers to neither write off nor embrace wholeheartedly the thesis in its entirety, but to pick and choose the best parts sensitively.

What’s in it?

Basic argument – that the Island Illustrators Society of Victoria, BC represents a way to make art that challenges the divide in the art scene between contemporary, non-commercial artists and conservative, commercial artists.

Other arguments

•  that the historic divide between art and craft turned into one between painting and illustration that later turned into one between non-commercial and commercial art (meaning art shown in artist-run centres compared to art that sells in commercial galleries).
•  that this divide is silly, counterproductive and artificially maintained despite underlying similarities between the sides
•  that in Victoria this divide was   solidified by policy and structural decisions at the AGGV and UVic in the 1960s
•  that illustrators are involved in a deeply creative process
•  that illustration is concerned with communication, whereas fine art doesn’t have to be
•  that “illustration” can be mistaken for “fine art” and vice versa; only intent and context distinguish them
•  that conservative art is not anti-change but reflects culture as it changes
•  that Victoria has not been quite as unilaterally unprogressive in art as is generally thought
•  that local conservative taste is derived from British Arts and Crafts, landscape, native art, and Asian art
•  that Victoria arts policy has been rather ineffective in visual art, paradoxically allowing many forms to flourish by failing to provide cohesive leadership which might have imposed an “official taste”
•  that Dr Alan Gowans had an important impact on Victoria, helping make it a receptive place for illustration and conservative art
•  that so-called non-commercial art is just as commercial as any other aspect of our society
•  that being commercial is not a dirty word but reality, and working in commercial ways does not mean the art has to give up political and meaningful content

Data and historical information

•  survey results covering Victoria artists’ self-identity and working practices
•  data on Victoria’s art scene as compiled by Ottawa
•  history of the status of illustration in BC
•  operations, activities and contributions of Island Illustrators
•  ways Victoria institutions and key individuals have contributed to make Victoria a centre of conservative art with a healthy amount of illustration lovers too
•  play by play description of the fight in the art scene between modernists and traditionalists in the 1960s
•  some artwork by local artists, mostly Island Illustrator Society affiliates
•  most complete list of membership of Island Illustrators over the years (300 people!)
•  stuff about me, because some of you asked
•  quotes from local artists and a couple other Canadian artists


Thanks for reading and participating!





THESIS (7 MB pdf)

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Comments from Martin Segger:

JC Scott lent me a copy of your thesis which I have just read. As one Alan Gowan’s first art history majors I followed with great interest your application of his analysis of the “restless art”. I must admit his thinking remains fundamental to mine, and thus the perhaps eclectic nature of the programming of the Maltwood and its collecting directions. Your thesis is an interesting one and, I think, well defended. Cheers, Martin.


Comments from Dr. Louise Forsyth:

I was particularly fascinated as I read it to note the resemblances between what you were saying about art traditions, standards, practices and critical discourse and my own current research along similar lines on theatre…. read more in a pdf


Comments from Connie John:

I wonder if you know the work of T.S. Coburn, he of the Hallmark Card Christmas scene of horses pulling sleighs in the snows of Quebec? He was caught in just the dilemma you describe…. read more in a pdf


Comments from Duncan Weller, an illustrator in the study:

Seriously disliking an artist’s aesthetic choice and summarily hating the individual who creates the work is a kind of racism. … It’s happened to me regularly that I’m outright rejected as a person because my art doesn’t fit the mould of what I’m supposed to be doing in order to get the title “artist.” Who says?… read more in a pdf


Comments from Dr. Robert Belton:

Dear Jaleen,
This is pretty interesting stuff, actually, and while I don’t take exception to your characterization of Sights of Resistance as missing the boat on commercial and illustration art, I do think that you imply a misunderstanding of my position such as it is outside of that book…. read more in a pdf



If you have comments you’d like me to add here, please email me: jaleen [AT]

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    90,000 artists drew how they imagine the U-turn to East

    At the request of The Rules of Life, five contemporary artists and illustrators,
    who worked on the design of the Asian issue, depicted how they represent
    turn to the East. The editors publish their works, accompanying
    brief information about each of the authors.

    Rules of life



    Olga Aleksandrova

    Olga studied to be an architect and has been drawing commercial illustrations since her university days, participated in local exhibitions and art layouts. She abandoned illustration for several years and worked as an architect, but recently returned to it. Collaborates with an English agency and often works with local publications in Germany, Italy and the UK (Wienerin, Brillo) and popular brands. nine0229

    “I have a difficult relationship with China – the Asian customer is one of the most difficult in terms of understanding and working communication. And my Asia began with Kyrgyzstan – for the first time I ended up there by accident, during the coronavirus restrictions, when Europe was closed. There are practically no tourists in autumn, the mountains are covered with snow. You can endlessly be amazed at the diversity of the landscape: here is the desert, here is Issyk-Kul – almost the sea, and now there is knee-deep snow in the mountains, and then camel again, incredible canyons where wildlife takes over. nine0101

    Sasha Denisova

    Sasha started painting in Hawaii when she was a schoolgirl and lived there for a year as an exchange student. You could choose any occupation, but she preferred drawing, sculpture and ceramics. After that, she trained as a theater artist, and years of academic drawing and painting still make themselves felt. Later she moved into design and illustration. She worked a lot with Esquire, as an art director collaborates with American brands. In addition, he creates his own zines (illustrated samizdat), sells them through niche shops and gives them to friends: “I am interested in non-institutionalized art, marginal and non-obvious. Now I live in Belgrade, and this is an absolutely imperfect city. He seems to breathe chaos, covered in graffiti and people not in a hurry. Such an analog sip in the digital age.” nine0229

    “I perceive Asia exclusively through European optics, the binary system “we-them”. Europe does not speak to the East, it speaks instead of the East. In my head, the East is just a set of exotic clichés shaped by European culture. It is noteworthy that Asia itself has picked up these imposed clichés and actively reproduces them.”


    Mina has two higher educations – she graduated from the Faculty of Economics of Moscow State University, then moved to London and studied at Camberwell College of Arts first for a bachelor’s degree, and then for a master’s there. She says that she has been drawing for as long as she can remember: in childhood, her mother rolled out a roll of wallpaper in front of her, on which she could depict everything that came to mind. Mina lists the installations in the windows of the Diesel store in London as one of her most important projects: “We were doing layered Victorian jungle-themed sets, and I was given this project not only to fully plan and visualize, but also to lead. It was cool”. nine0229

    “I really love islands and island ecosystems. I am especially interested in the tropical – as enclaves of biodiversity and at the same time places where you can see many endemic – found only there – species. I love Asia very much, but I don’t romanticize it – colonialism once walked through it with a heavy tread, and this is still noticeable. But every trip to the islands of Southeast Asia is like New Year, birthday and Halloween for me at the same time. Very joyful, wildly curious and creepy at the same time. I love rainforests with their heavy smell of leaves, flowers, mold and rotten fruit. I dream of seeing all the small cats someday. This, of course, is not an easy task. So far, I have only met the Ceylon leopard in the wild. The plans include a fishing cat, a rusty spotted cat and all the rest.” nine0101

    Anastasia Krainyuk

    Anastasia says that she always wanted to make art, and she still has notebooks drawn in her childhood at home. But she went to study as an architect, worked in her specialty for five years and, bored, began to practice in 3D in her free time. The experiments swallowed her head, and the base laid in the architectural bureaus came in handy here. A cross-cutting theme of Anastasia’s works is the look of a child who grew up in the post-Soviet space on puppet and plasticine cartoons. nine0229

    “Unfortunately, I have not yet been to Asia, although such a trip is planned, of course. For the last couple of years I have been going crazy about South Korean cinema and I recommend everyone to watch The Handmaid by Park Chang Wook. In South Korean cinema, I am fascinated by the element of surprise. The directors manage to surprise you ten times in a film, sometimes you can’t even imagine this or that plot twist. There is a novelty in Korean cinema that Hollywood has been missing for quite some time.”

    Zat Vornik

    Zat Vornik became interested in art around the time he learned to read – recalls that one of the first books he received as a gift was a children’s encyclopedia of art history, thick black books with gold and white embossing . He began to draw in high school, even entered the district art school, but left after a year, eventually graduating from the State Institute of Television and Radio with a degree in animation and computer graphics. He says that his favorite projects are those dedicated to physicality and sexuality: “At the intersection of these topics, you can always have a blast.

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