People + Time + Urban Space



What am I on about?

It’s the difference between complexity and complicated and how you react to each.  It’s how chefs, distillers and vintners make use of time as an ingredient to add that depth of flavor or complexity.  It is what you respond to in a city, the places you have loved and all of the spaces that have left you with a sense of disease and a reticence to return.

What is it? The secret is the ingredient of complexity or people + time + place to interact and oil paint is made to submit itself to the catalyst of time.  To harness this ingredient in the way that the chef and the vintner does and to master it as I do colour and brushstroke, is to open the next door. The question is: what is the vehicle for time in oil painting?  The chef makes use of slow cooking, multi-level process’ and sometimes just allowing the elements to act.  The vintner uses casks, the harvest seasons and bottle closing methods, so what is the vehicle in painting?

Not perfecting too soon, reverse and slow the completion of a work. Physically act on a painting to force it to step backwards in time and then to allow the paint space to have a relationship with itself while you are having a relationship with the painting.  Invite the viewer to act on the painting with brushwork and colour that signals, no that demands participation – relationship.

I used the January painting 2016 to start looking at the answer and it seemed obvious to use the Vancouver Viaducts as my subject as they seem to be urban manifestations of complexity.

The first painting

Leanne M Christie first painting of the Vancouver Viaducts
Complexity. 84" x 60" PRIVATE COLLECTION

The first painting video

So why the Viaducts?

Good question and one that I have been asking myself since I chose to use them as the subject.  It seemed to be a ‘no-brainer’ at the time but the more I look at them the more I am not sure what to do.  After all, this is not meant to be a insightful and concise history on the structures nor a thoughtful, educated critique of the plans that have unfolded for this area of the city.  At the time of choosing the Viaducts, they presented a meeting point for discourse as their presence and also the lack of presence of the rest of the Freeway system to which they were meant to be attached, represent varied political, racial, economical and urban dreams. They have been bullies, murderers, caretakers, capitalists, communists, friends, enemies and orphans.   It is hard to keep in mind that this is about painting as it is easy to run with the prevailing temperature of a moment and think only about the story but the main question for me is where is the intersection with painting? I have chosen a naturally complex urban structure but where and what are the paintings? This is the question that lead me to understand that this collection while being the Death Mask of the Viaducts (they are intended to reflect the physical spaces which the Viaducts occupy and define), intersect with painting through the idea of complexity.  All that stands now is to understand how to use time as a pigment to introduce a complexity similar to that of the Viaducts, into the paintings.


Initial observations on complexity

Googling the idea of complexity was not the best place to start directing my own thoughts on the difference between complex and complicated. My perspective did shift as I realized that the idea of complexity spills over into many fields and at the risk of descending down a rabbit hole I have restricted my thoughts for now to the area of what I guess could be included under the banner of urban sociology?

Complexity is different to and far more engaging than complicated and it is simplistically defined as a system made up of many parts, all of which have independent relationships to each other. Remove one part or break one part and it is virtually impossible to remedy because it is hard to understand how the parts interact with and influence each other.  A complicated system is made up of many parts but they are not interlinked and can be thought of more in terms of linear relationships.  Break one part and it is easy to understand and repair.  In thinking about what I find invigorating in the city and culture, it is the complex that stimulates the imagination because it generates endless wondering. Complicated is fun but lacks the stimulation and intrigue.  I am convinced that a sophisticated painting is a complex one possessing a depth of flavour and intrigue.

The second painting in progress

Leanne Christie painting in Progress under the Viaducts

The Plaza. Oil on canvas. 60" x 60" - the final painting. Rositch Collection

Leanne M Christie oil painting under viaduct
The Plaza. 60" x 60" PRIVATE COLLECTION

Painting 2 Video: The Plaza

Complexity is instilled in painting when we understand destination and build in flexibility by taking the time to arrive thoughtfully. Not looking for the quickest route, not accepting the first solution but by examining the already existing layers and seeing what can be preserved and developed and what can be removed or reworked so that the final work is rich, multi layered and complex. Oil Painting is a perfect vehicle for complexity as it allows you to develop a conversation with a very visceral medium which allows for organic growth of the work.

Creating an active ingredient from time

Meandering along the idea of the iconic-soon-to-be-no-more-Vancouver-Viaducts, the areas of the urbanscape that invigorate and those that repulse and the realization that time is an important element lead me to thinking about time not just a passive passage but an active ingredient.  The question then becomes one of how to activate it so that it works on something in a non destructive way and the answer seems to be relationship.  Not the gooey community relationship stuff that can be bought at the corner kitsch store but the deviant, misaligned, misinformed and always narcissistic connections that we create between objects and people based on our often uncritical thoughts. So if time can be activated to be a positive ingredient which can introduce complexity through the mental strings that we attach to things, ideas and events – how can it be harnessed for use in painting?  I return to the urban and the Viaducts for answers.  It appears that the key is to introduce some guidance for use or the introduction of a new idea and then allowing the other to use their already existing relationships to create new ones with the area, idea or object and to surrender your control to this new relationship so that it has the ability to evolve in as many unique ways as there are people who interact with the original object or the use/interpretation that the relationships of others introduced.  How much more invigorating can this be in painting as it literally means introducing and harnessing time by applying your marks in such a way that they activate the viewer by signalling that this is not a passive act, they are not consumers but co-creators and when they engage with the painting create a permissive space to do so and then surrender control of the completion of the painting to them.

Painting 3 in progress

Death mask progress painting 3
Leanne M Christie starting a painting in her studio
Leanne M Christie painting in progress
Painting in progress Leanne M Christie
Leanne M Christie in the studio

3rd Painting: 49°16'36"7 N 123°05'50"7 W

Oil painting of Vancouver Viaducts from artist Leanne M Christie
49°16'36"7 N 123°05'50"7 W. 60" x 60"

In February 2017 I was invited by the African Descent Society BC, to exhibit the Death Mask body of works created to date and to provide an Artist talk.  This talk and exhibition was part of the Hogan’s Alley memory exhibition and concert which was part of the Forum on People of African Descent and the UN International decade for people of African Descent.

The transcript of the video can be found here and the 26 minute video of the talk can be found below

Artist Talk on Death Mask and Complexity. Forum on people of African Descent, UN International Decade for people of African Descent and the Hogan's Alley Memory Exhibition and Concert

Christie painting from underneath the Vancouver Viaducts
Home. Oil on canvas. 60" x 60"
Christie original urban oil painting in alley
Christie oil painting of Vancouver Viaduct from Death Mask series of paintings
Leanne M Christie Vancouver Viaducts urban
The Divide. 30" x 48" PRIVATE COLLECTION

Vancouver Viaducts Subject Notes

Subject notes(Viaducts timeline)



CloseUPwestminster avenue bridge 1898


Source: Photo by SJ Thompson, City of Vancouver Archives #137-62

2 July 1915

First Georgia Street Viaduct opens. ‘Designed to carry traffic over the The first one opened on July 2, 1915. It was designed to carry traffic over the Canadian Pacific rail yards on the north shore of False Creek, as well as over a spur of False Creek that came up to Columbia and Keefer.


The Old Georgia St Viaduct 1915

The Old Georgia St Viaduct 1915


False creek 1935

False Creek, 1935

Source: Photo by Leonard Frank, Jewish Museum & Archives of BC #LF.02805



old viaduct 1939

Old Georgia Street Viaduct

Old Georgia Viaduct, 1939

Also visible here are the Beatty Street Drill Hall, the Vancouver Block, and the second and third Hotels Vancouver.

Full image/hi rez.

Source: Photo by Leonard Frank (cropped), Jewish Museum and Archives of BC #LF.02763

Single Bridge Georgia Viaduct which was completed in 1915(Vancouver was building during the war?)

The life of the original Georgia viaduct was intricately tied to the filling of the tidal salt basin that sat along the east edge of False Creek – the False Creek Flats – for the construction of the Pacific Central Station (built between 1917-1919). The station was to serve as the western terminus for Canada’s transcontinental rail line and the formal gateway into Vancouver for visitors coming to the city.

This led to the construction of the first Georgia viaduct that sprang from the intersection of Main Street at Georgia St. and soared over the industrial lands to connect above the rocky escarpment at the eastern edge of the downtown near Georgia St. and Beatty St.

Plgued with diffculty due to poor contstruction. Tram tracks never used due to safety. Concerete fell off. every second lampost removed to relieve weight. Ground subsided so lanes closed for repairs.  nb connectoin to downtown so safety issue tolerated.

1964: To Build a Better city - CMHC and City of Vancouver



“Blight is death to a city and these dwellings built with such hope and care at the turn of the century are dying board by board and the property that they occupy dies with them” (when was property alive?)

‘Most of Vancouver is kept strong and healthy through the normal process of land and building renewal (normalise an action) but in areas such as this, nothing happens except dilapidation and decay gets worse each year. Property values fall and blight is the result. What does this condition mean to a city in terms of its physical and human resources? It’s health and crime rate? What does is cost to police this area? to provide social assistance, fire protection and water? Are sufficient taxes collected from these areas to pay for these services? how is this worn out area to be renewed? (this video still does not answer these questions as the people living there do not have the resources for more. The redevelopment does not solve the economic issues it just redevelops the area – gentrification? people who are there at the moment will not be able to stay so new houses = new tenants)

Strathcona Vancouvers oldest neighbourhood?

the definition of blight


1960 freeeway proposal Vancouver


Less than a month later, Mayor Bill Rathie announced he wanted to build a $145-million, six-lane freeway through East Vancouver and along the downtown waterfront.

September 1965

Plebisite to approve $10 million viaduct cost


Put in more details and images re the freeway plan which was decided on in this year

‘shoot north from the Georgia Viaduct along Carrall Street to the waterfront, where it would link up with a waterfront freeway that led to a new bridge or tunnel across Burrard Inlet at the First Narrows.

At the eastern end of the Georgia Viaduct another freeway would have run over Union and Adanac Streets in East Vancouver to join with the Trans-Canada Highway in Burnaby.

Opponents were outraged, because it would have destroyed much of Chinatown, Gastown and Strathcona.’

Rattled city officials rescinded the approval for the Carrall Street freeway on Jan. 10, 1968, which The Sun labelled a “startling about-face.”

Read more:

3 October 1965


18 October 1967

When council approved the elevated freeway along Carrall on Oct. 18, 1967, Chinatown was furious. “Chinese businessmen and property owners heatedly charged that council reneged on its promise to consult them before deciding the route,” said a story in The Sun.

“They claimed the eight-lane traffic artery above Carrall means a death sentence for Chinatown as a tourist attraction and viable business community.”

Others chimed in to denounce the freeway, including UBC professor and future TEAM city councillor Walter Hardwick, who argued city staff had “ignored the views on transportation planning expressed by representatives of 20 civic organizations.”

December 1967

In December 1967, the chairman of Vancouver’s town planning commission resigned to protest the city’s freeway policies. Dr. Peter Oberlander said city planners appeared to be giving priority to transportation and traffic rather than overall city and metropolitan planning.

10 January 1968

Rattled city officials rescinded the approval for the Carrall Street freeway on Jan. 10, 1968, which The Sun labelled a “startling about-face.”

Read more:


Freeway proposal scrapped but 15 Blocks of Stratcona already purchased and cleared. (15Blocks? which were these blocks? Hogan alley surely not considered 15?)


Construction starts on the ducts


1970 viaducts

Aerial view of the viaducts, 1970s

Source: Photo by Gordon Sayle, City of Vancouver Archives #515-1

28 June 1971

First phase of Viaduct opens

9 January 1972

Opening jan9 1972 mayor car

Vancouver Mayor Tom Campbell’s limo edges through a crowd of protesters at the opening of the Georgia Viaduct Jan. 9, 1972

9jan1972 protests

protestors gathered at the new Georgia Viaduct Jan. 9, 1972, fearing it would renew freeway plans. Photograph by: George Diack, Vancouver Sun

9dec1972 protest at opening with mayor ar

Vancouver Mayor Tom Campbell’s limo edges through a crowd of protesters at the opening of the Georgia Viaduct Jan. 9, 1972.

9 December 1972

Dec1972 viaduct opening dayFinal Cost $11 200 000


Expo vancouver which redeveloped the area around False Creek. Has it changed much since then. What did it look like before expo?


The Plaza Skateboard park opened under the Viaducts between Quebec and Union Street. In 2013 it was listed in the top 25 Skate parks in the world by Complex magazine

February 2010

Vancouver city council approves seperated bike lane on Dunsmuir Viaduct.

8 February 2013

Fatal car crash at around 3am claims the life a of a 22 year old man.

The City of Vancouver said it plans to remove both the Georgia and Dunsmuir Street viaducts. Coun. Geoff Meggs said the change would make the area safer.

“People do come off the viaducts if they’re not paying attention at excessive rates of speeds,” Meggs said. “As a result there’s a lot of danger for people who are trying to work and live in their own neighbourhood.”

But with commuters running reds on Prior Street – and another car hitting a house Thursday morning – locals are saying the city has to do more to calm traffic.

“We’re worried that it’s going to take something like this before the city starts to really pay attention to some of our concerns,” said Pete Fry, a member of the Strathcona Residents’ Assocation.

Fry said he hopes the accident Friday will remind drivers to be more careful in the Strathcona neighbourhood.”

April 2015

Viaducts closed for filming of ‘Deadpool’ due to be released in February 2016

27 October 2015

Vote747ToRemoveViaductCity council votes 5-4 to approve plan to remove the Dunsmuir and the Georgia Viaducts. 2 Councillors were absent

2016: Vancouver City Council Votes to contract consultant engineers

vancouver city council passes the vote to contract engineer

The city votes to hire an engineering firm to consult on the removal of the Viaducts. Cost: $14 000 000