Home » Douglas Coupland Speaks! (Part One)

Douglas Coupland Speaks! (Part One)

Last week at his beautiful, art-filled Ron Thom designed home in Vancouver, VoCA sat down with artist-slash-writer Douglas Coupland to get his views on everything from Warhol to techological obsolescence to City of Toronto love.

“All young artists secretly think they’re the next Warhol,” says the Generation X author.


Douglas Coupland. Image:anthonygeorge.com

Here are some highlights:

VoCA: Douglas Coupland, are you more artist than writer or vice versa?

DC: I don’t differentiate. I don’t see a real difference. Is cooking different from roasting?

VoCA: So it’s all part of your creative process.

DC: Yes. I mean I went to art school, obviously (at Emily Carr in Vancouver), and I was working at a magazine in Japan in the 80s…

I started writing by accident…I was working in 3D (sculpture), and the moment you start working in 3 dimensions as an artist, your costs go up. I was working in Toronto at a magazine, and I was lower in the food chain (in an editorial position), and it began to seem that writing was in the cards for me…

I was making 2D work during this time, and in the early 2000s I entered the third dimension again, starting from scratch, too. Obviously my life situation was different by then too. It was ten years later and I wasn’t fresh out of school…As you can tell, I’m a visual person.


Coupland’s plastic bottle sculptures, now all sold. Image: beachpackagingdesign.com

VoCA: People probably think of you as a writer who became an artist, who became a writer…

DC: I can see how they would think that…Ive been donating (my work) on an ongoing basis and donating everything to UBC, I’ve just been putting away and putting away, and one day I looked around and thought, oh my god there’s so much stuff here…

(Coupland talks about his need to archive his writing, and his interest in the obsolence of technology.)

VoCA: Maybe we don’t need to archive things any more?

DC: Yeah – I used to keep the paper manuscripts, they said, we need to see the evolution. With the last book, for example, every night, I would send myself a backup copy of the days work on my gmail account, in a way that was previously unimaginable.

VoCA: It would be interesting to publish that, to publish the progression

DC: I think it would be a great visual project, you could get a screen the size of a wall, and publish one page, then two and see it grow and then you’d get to the end and it would shrink and go back up again..I think we’re in the golden age of data visualization.

SB: Have you heard of Snapdragon? It’s a visualization software from Microsoft…

DC: Microsoft – Uh oh

SB: Uh oh is right. You can zoom in and zoom out of things very fast and far, like zoom way out of the phone book until it’s just a blur and then zoom in so the letter T is a giant cross shape on your screen.

DC: what kind of memory architecture do they use?

SB: Just Intel, I believe

DC: It’s like those letters you write to your parents where you’re an adolescent, full of delusion and self-flattery…do you keep those or delete them? Keep or Delete?

VoCA: What did you do?

DC: They are on probation (laughs)

VoCA: I’m curious to know…if you keep or delete says a lot. Are you someone who wants ties to the past or are you someone who wants to cut ties and move forward?

DC: The stuff I like best is like a daytime schedule, from April 1994, you know? I like the memory tweak part of it.


Marshall McLuhan, subject of Coupland’s latest book. Image: college-de-vevey.vd.ch

VoCA: Tell me about the book you recently wrote on Marshall McLuhan.

DC: It was John Ralston Saul who said they were wanting to do a book on McLuhan. It seemed like homework to me, like I was being commissioned to do homework but he was very persistent, and so he said ok, then I freaked out and bailed out, then said ok, then bailed out again, but finally I agreed to do it…You know I started to art school in 1980 the year (McLuhan) died and he was passé by that point, so the Global Village, the Medium is the Message and that scene in Annie Hall is all I knew of him.

But reading what he wrote was really mindblowing.

VoCA: And will that influence your art?

DC: Absolutely.

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Douglas Coupland, Bill Gates, the Richest Man in the World, 1996. Image: Heffel.com

VoCA: I noticed that you have a Warholesque silkscreen of Bill Gates up for auction at Heffel’s on April 29, 2010.

DC: Oh, really? It won’t go for much..

VoCA: In what ways did, or does, Warhol influence your work?

DC: The thing about Warhol is that he influences everyone so profoundly, but no one ever talks about that, which I find strange.

I had a weird experience in ’94 or ’95. I bought through Christie’s a Brillo box, from the collection of an artist, and it had the Warhol Foundation stamp on it, and I loved it, and then (due to other circumstances) I sold it to Sotheby’s. Then a year later or so I got a call from Sotheby’s asking “What can you tell me about this Brillo box you bought?” and what had happened was that the guy who oversaw the installation of (Warhol’s) Stockholm show in 1968, in 1990 long after Andy was dead, went out and made 110 of boxes on his own and somehow got stamps on them and now they’ve all been declassified (as fakes) by the Warhol Foundation, downgraded. There was no bad faith (as far as my sale went), I was lucky to sell it when I did.

I find that what’s interesting is the whole notion of forgery. But those pieces (he gestures across the room) are by a guy Charles Lutz in Brooklyn, who made these really good replicas and sent them to the Warhol Foundation where they put a DENIED stamp on them, which was kind of clever. Actually, they don’t take them from him anymore, so in a weird way they are actually quite collectible.

All young artists secretly think they’re the next Warhol, which is kind of embarrassing. Everyone thinks that, especially in art school.


Andy Warhol, Brillo Soap Pads Box, 1964. Image: edu.warhol.org

VoCA: Are you a compulsive collector?

DC: No no, I’m actually more discriminating that you’d think.

VoCA: Because it seems like many of your sculptures are about repetition, or series of things

DC: Well the stacks (his sculptures of stacked objects that cover the coffee table) are part of an ongoing series that I’m doing of industrial objects that come in various sizes…

And the bottles…the big ones are all sold now and the small ones, the maquettes, the studies are up there. What’s interesting is the soldiers, which were done in 2000 and we had to do an armature, and it was an insane amount of work and to do one of those now, you could scan it and build it for not very much really. We’re in a really interesting period where there is an incredible price collapse in the third dimension. It’s not just a country like Iceland going bankrupt, it’s like a whole dimension going bankrupt. You can do shit for almost nothing now. The soldiers I did in Toronto, the public art piece at the corner of Fleet and Bathurst streets, we actually had to make maquettes of that, and since then, you’d never make a maquette.

VoCA: You mean the rise of technology that makes sculpture much less expensive.

DC: Yes, exactly

VoCA: Well, we like your park in Toronto a lot.

DC: I love Toronto, I’ve had nothing but fun, success, good times, interesting work…I love it. No Toronto-bashing from me. Some interviewers did a documentary once on why everyone hates Toronto and they cornered me at some event and asked “Why do you hate Toronto?” I said “I don’t, I love Toronto”. They said “You’re just trying to be contrary,” but I said, “No, I really love Toronto.” Needless to say, my quote never made it in the documentary. (laughs)

3 Responses to “Douglas Coupland Speaks! (Part One)”

  1. Bill says:

    Good interview, so far! I was interested to read this because I’m under the impression that VoCA thought Coupland’s work was colourful and fun, but not all that significant or meaningful. Now that you’ve spoken to him, do you feel differently about his work? Has it changed your earlier appraisal?

  2. Andrea says:

    Hmm. I think some of his work is better than others. It’s his style. And I think some of it is very interesting. Maybe I’ll do a more in-depth post about it.

  3. I particularly liked his reference to not differentiating between his work as a writer and visual artist. Like most, I first knew of Coupland as an author but the more I see of his visual works the more his books make sense to me. I would definitely enjoy reading a more in-depth post on Coupland’s work. I don’t know nearly as much about him as I’d like and am always pleasantly surprised when I encounter his projects.

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