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Who is Graham Warrington?

Keimi Nakashima-Ochoa

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In the spring of 2021, as preparations for the Contemporary Art Gallery’s 50th anniversary were underway, a small dusty cardboard box deep in the storage shelves of the gallery found its way to the then-empty curator’s office. Here, piles of files and archival materials were being relocated temporarily, in various states of reorganization and mystery. In this specific box—a fairly small one that had no top side and could be held with one arm—were photographic slide cases of many colours, sizes and shapes. From amongst powdery bits of rubber bands, my colleague Vitória Monteiro and I removed the slides from their plastic prisms, unveiling dozens bearing the same purple name: Graham Warrington.

The amount of unlabeled slides compiled in this box created a dizzying sense of delirium. Nearly all of them were from the year 1972, when the Contemporary Art Gallery—then known as the Greater Vancouver Artist’s Gallery (GVAG)—found its first physical location.1 The considerable number of images, in a key formative year for the organization, suggested a significant relationship between the gallery and Warrington, but the only remaining documentation attached to the name we could find in the archive was in the white frames of these slides. I couldn’t quite let go of my curiosity, and I began to extend my research outside CAG’s archive and began to look online. Other than their name, the only other trace of Warrington I could find was an address that appears on the bottom of a handful of slides: “Box 608–Vernon B.C.” While this may have been enough information to reach someone fifty years ago—and there still is only one post office in Vernon—this hasn’t been enough for me to find anything about them in an online search. 

I began to speculate: could Graham Warrington have been a student, who moved away to pursue further schooling elsewhere? All of the images that had dates on them were labelled between March and July 1972, so this certainly seemed like a possibility. GVAG was run primarily by young, local artists then, some of whom pivoted careers and trajectories soon after (it was the ’70s after all). In any case, the attention to detail seemed to indicate a significant level of investment. From the sheer volume of images, to the monogrammed frames, to the handwritten names of the artists that created the work in the photos, it was clear that this person was diligent and thoughtful, and took their work seriously. 

I decided that this mystery that I couldn’t quite piece together had to be one of the parts of CAG’s archive that I took the time to generate a response to. Though it wasn’t an event or an exhibition, this aura of mystery left me with an itching interest. Originally, I had planned for this piece of writing to function as a sort of tabloid article or a classified ad, seeking to uncover the identity of a person I couldn’t seem to find anything about on my own. I selected and edited a handful of scans of the slides, including the frames in order to depict both the meticulously labelled slides and the images they contained. However, after the first draft was written, my former colleague Asumi Oba was able to find some crucial biographical information about the artist that helped soothe my desire for information, and necessitated the restructuring of this text.

As it turns out, Graham Warrington was a white British photographer who moved to Vancouver in the late 1940s.2 In the ’50s he began to establish himself as an architectural photographer, receiving a good deal of notoriety and being included in an exhibition at the Libby Leshgold Gallery (then Charles H. Scott Gallery) as recently as 2013.3 Interestingly, one of the photos I selected from June 1972 was a mural he painted that same year. This mural remained in the basement of Vancouver City Hall until at least 2015, when his son Guy petitioned to restore and preserve the mural after the building was slated for destruction.4 It’s unclear if this mural has been destroyed since, but it certainly seems as though it was important to the artist, since it was included in several of the slides that were found in CAG’s archive. In fact, it’s quite likely that this collaboration with City Hall was the way that Warrington became acquainted with the Greater Vancouver Artist’s Gallery. At that time, GVAG was funded largely by the City, designating funds to the gallery in order to commission artists to produce works that would become a part of the City’s rotating collection.

Though I still have not found more evidence detailing Warrington’s relationship with the gallery, it is apparent that his involvement, though seemingly brief, left a real mark on CAG’s early history. While I’m not so certain that Warrington and I have much in common, his prolific photography work—which in my visual memory still constitutes mostly art documentation—is certainly something I enjoyed uncovering and investigating, and for now that is more than enough. Reflecting on history, however widely known or obscure, can be an opportunity to collaborate with our own communities, or discover new and separate ones. 

Keimi Nakashima-Ochoa

Keimi Nakashima-Ochoa (all pronouns) is a racialized immigrant settler of mixed heritage. They live and work on the stolen ancestral territories of xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səlilwətaɬ families and nations. They are a Disabled bilingual worker, learner and artist whose practice incorporates reading, writing, weaving, printmaking, and more. Keimi’s work holds central their learnings from Black Feminism and practices of Disability Justice. They are interested in anti-colonial research and learning, accessible spaces, and liberated futures. Keimi was the Timelines artist-in-residence at CAG in 2022.


1 The organization opened its first space in late fall 1972 at 766 Homer Street. The gallery would subsequently move to 555 Hamilton Street in February 1973, where it  operated until 2000.

2Graham Warrington,” City of Vancouver Public Art Registry.

3Photography and the West Coast Modern House.

4 “Geometric mural in the basement of Vancouver City Hall,” Ouno Design.