Chapter 56. The Case of Shadbolts Tree of Life
Jack Shadbolts massive 1987 painting Tree of Life has found a new home in the Reichwald Health Sciences Centre on UBCs Okanagan campus. The painting was originally commissioned for the main floor lobby of the Granville Cinemas in Vancouver where it hung until recently when the property was sold and the cinema closed. The new owners wanted the piece removed and were offering it for sale at a bargain basement price.
Portia Priegert reported in Trek, the UBC Alumni magazine, that when local art lover Pauline Boyle and Stew Turcotte, owner of the Hambleton Galleries in Kelowna, got wind of the problem, they enlisted the financial help of UBC alumnus Luigi Rossi, and together they were able to plant Tree of Life, an exuberant work composed of multiple facets of energetic colour, in a new home in the Reichwald Health Sciences Centre.
When I saw the painting in its original cinema location, I was pleased at how its integration into a difficult architectural space was gracefully achieved. Shadbolt admirably demonstrated his commitment to the authenticity of location and to the artistic integrity inherent in his creation. The work successfully unified three-dimensional space and enhanced the aesthetic engagement for all who viewed it. As David Burnett explains in Cineplex Odeon: The First Ten Years, the piece was a brilliant resolution to the complex restrictions dictated by the architecture of the site as the only available site for a major work of art was in a narrow well, open to three floors behind the façade. Burnett suggests Shadbolts work literally climbs up this well and spreads over the lobby balconies on the second and third floors. Shadbolt described the imagery as symbolic suggestions, of an underlying and irrepressible force of natural growth that would take over the available terrain for its own.
Boyle, Turcotte and Rossis collaborative efforts fortunately saved the work from perhaps being destroyed or permanently removed from public view, and this magnanimous trio is to be congratulated for a job well done. Now, the Tree of Life, a site-specific work conceived as a brilliant solution to the restrictions of its original site, hangs in a space that is large enough to accommodate it.
One has to wonder about the collecting mandate of the receiving institution, represented by Susan Belton, UBCs Public Art Collection Curator, in receiving and placing this site-specific work in a new space for which it was neither intended nor appears to demonstrate a connection. This is an important work by a major BC artist, but artistic integrity aside, I suppose artistic compromise is also an important factor for preservation. One wonders what the fate of the Tree of Life would have been had it not been donated to UBC.