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Canadian Artist of the Week
LOOK AT THIS: Looking Back At A Vanishing Slice Of Vancouver With Jim Breukelman’s ‘Hot Properties’
July 26, 2014
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Hot Properties #1, 1987

LOOK AT THIS is a weekly series featuring the work of Canadian artists, designers and creators of all sorts.

Name: Jim Breukelman

Born: Pointe-à-Pierre, on the Island of Trinidad (then a British colony), 1941. "I was British by birth," Breukelman told "But I have been a Canadian for many years now."

Lives and works: West Vancouver

This series: As the founder of the Fine Art Photography program at the Vancouver School of Art in 1967 (now the Emily Carr University of Art + Design), Jim Breukelman has had a hand in the artistic development of generations of Vancouver photographers (including Scott Conarroe, whose work we featured in November). The photo above is from his late '80s series Hot Properties: Urban House Portraiture, for which he travelled the neighbourhoods of B.C.'s Lower Mainland — Point Grey, Kitsilano, Dunbar, Arbutus, MacKenzie Heights, Kerrisdale, to name a few — to photograph the modest but immaculately tended homes homes from the 1930s and '40s. "What interested me about these houses was that, even though they began life looking very plain and much the same as each other, their owners managed to transform them into something special through modest, personal touches to their exteriors, along with carefully planted and trimmed gardens or, in some cases, no plantings at all," Breukelman told

On architectural self-portraits: Breukelman spoke with each homeowner before taking the photos, which led him to see the homes as expressions of their owners' personalities. "Looking at them, I felt they functioned beautifully as self portraits, unique expressions of the personalities and values of the people living within them," he said. "The best of these stood out as jewel-like pocket environments, clearly created to be personal paradises or sanctuaries. Of course this has always been the case with well loved homes. But knowing the time period in which these homes were built, when people were trying to get over the upheaval and horror of the Second World War, made these homes particularly poignant for me."

On what happened next: "Many, perhaps most of the houses I photographed are gone now, replaced by much larger 'Vancouver Specials,' which take up most of the space on the lots they sit on, leaving little room for trees and gardens," he said. "This is radically changing the once verdant feel in many of our local neighbourhoods" Indeed, the title of the series is a nod to Vancouver's "super-heated" real estate market, which is continually changing the shape of the city.

Other Canadian artists he admires: Breukelman said there are so many wonderful artists in this country that he wouldn't want to narrow it down to just one ("the following list of artists is even too short," he added). "Gabor Szilasi, Lynne Cohen, Mark Ruwedel, Edward Burtynski, Geoffrey James, Stan Douglas, and Danny Singer, while following quite different paths, nevertheless, have qualities in common that I admire and aspire to. The beauty of their images is riveting. They research and delve deeply into their chosen subjects over extended periods of time. So, their works are rich in content, full of informative details that afford one the opportunity to make many discoveries, varied readings and interesting speculations."


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