A: What inspires you?
J: Now or when I started?
J: When I started art in my younger days, I never imagined it would become my profession. I was inspired by Pop artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and First Nations artists who used bold lines and great colours. They were the major influences on my visual style.
A: I noticed animals and flowers often in your artwork, how do you choose your subject?
J: It usually starts with a doodle. I never set out to make anything deliberately. They evolve on their own. If it makes me laugh then I know I want to create something out of it.
A: You have been so generous and have been involved with many charities such as A Loving Spoonful. Which charitable causes are close to your heart?
J: Obviously all of the HIV/AIDS ones and anything to do with children.
A: You have been living with AIDS for a long time, what are your thoughts on the evolution of our society's view on the HIV/AIDS?
J: I would like to educate you on the difference between HIV and AIDS.
AIDS is a condition. HIV is a virus that may cause an infection, but AIDS is a condition or a syndrome. Being infected with HIV can lead to the development of AIDS, which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. AIDS develops when HIV has caused serious damage to the immune system.
A: I apologize for my ignorance.
J: It's alright, unless you have it, how would you know? I like to inform reporters about it because many people still don't know the difference, and I would like your readers to be informed with the correct information.
A: Of course.
J: When I was first diagnosed, no one was talking about it so I decided to be very open. I figured if they liked me let's see if they'll like me with HIV and they did. So I kept on trucking along to help change the public's perception of what someone with HIV looks like and who people with HIV are. Since I had a public image, I thought I could use this platform wisely for education.
A: What about society's shift in their view of the LGBTQ community and legalization of marriage, etc.?
J: It's about God damn time! Love is a human right. I don't know why people can't see that. I think the majority of the people are pretty accepting. Just about every TV show nowadays has a gay character on it. That wasn't the case 10 years ago.
A: Did you face a lot of discrimination growing up?
J: Oh yeah, I was beat up by kids at school, and my father kicked me out of the house when I was 16.
J: Yeah, back then, you had to try and hide it. I'm so happy for the youth in the community. Their lives are so different from mine growing up. I see young LGBTQ kids walking hand in hand without a care in the world, it's so heartwarming for me to see that much change in my lifetime.
A: What are your thoughts on sexual fluidity? I hear we're leaving categories behind now since human sexuality is not just straight or gay.
J: About 15 years ago I used to be regularly invited to elementary schools to give talks to children about art. On one occasion a little boy in Grade 2 asked me if I would like to have lunch with him. He brought me a blueberry muffin and then hung around me all day. Great kid. I eventually met his whole family and they sort of adopted me as a family member. Anyway, he's now 24 years old and recently came to visit me and brought some of his friends he has known since the day I met him in Grade 2. We had a terrific time hanging out. I later commented to him that it was such a great thing that he and his buddies were completely comfortable with me and my sexuality. He said “in my family we were taught that everyone is the same”. I thought that was so cool.
A: Is that the case in the U.S.? I think they're different
J: Prejudice is everywhere. I think it’s part of human nature. With each generation people are becoming more tolerant. We still have some more evolving to do, but we have come a long way.
A: I absolutely love your photography for its everyday simplicity. It showcases such exquisite beauty from daily life, what is your process?
J: I’ve always expressed myself visually rather than verbally or through the written word. I see things differently when I'm walking around with a camera. When my eyes “giggle” I know that’s the shot to take.
A: What kind of advice would you give your younger self if you've met him at age 19-20?
J: I can't think of anything.
A: Any advice for new artist?
J: I once was invited to give a commencement speech for the graduating class of the Emily Carr Institute and I didn't know what I would say because art is a hard career to get into. You have to be really passionate about it. If art is the only thing you want to do from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep then keep on doing it. How I got started in the beginning was by donating a lot of my art to many charities that I believed in, and as a consequence my art was out there and became recognizable. Also, I sold it really really cheap. As I got more popular I started to raise the prices.
A: How do you feel about the art scene in Vancouver?
J: I haven't been out to an art show in ages. I don't have a clue what's going on I really don't. The only art show I've been to recently was for my friend Tiko Kerr at 1000 Parker Street which was fantastic.
A: Have you been to Art Basel or big exhibitions like that?
J: No, that's not my scene at all.
A: Who collects your art?
J: Mainly people in British Columbia. I also get orders from across Canada and internationally.
A: How did your art get all over Granville Island?
J: Those directional signs you mean?
J: My good friend Kosta Tsetsekas, who is a fantastic graphic artist, called me up one day and said that he had Granville Island as a client. They wanted new directional signs and he thought of me and asked if he could use some of my artwork for the project. I said sure, and it was done. I got a nice little commission out of it.
A: It's a match made in heaven, and surely adds a lot of character to Granville Island.
J: Thank you!
A: Out of all your artwork, is there a favourite that you're really proud of?
J: The one piece of artwork that brought me international attention is called “One World One Hope”. This piece was commissioned for The 11th International Conference on AIDS in Vancouver. It was later selected by Canada Post as the image on the first stamp to recognize AIDS. Because of the attention I got from that image I was invited to meet Princess Diana.
A: Was that a highlight for you?
J: Oh yeah!
A: What was she like?
J: She was wonderful. Let me start from the beginning and set up the story properly. There was a competition to create a poster for National AIDS Awareness Week for Canada, and I applied and won. The wife of the Governor General of Canada was passionate about HIV/AIDS, and we unveiled the poster together for the press. A short time later I received an invitation to a luncheon at Rideau Hall in Ottawa for Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Only 50 guests were invited. It was a select group of people who the Governor and his wife felt would be of interest to the Royal Couple. This group included scientists, architects, visual and performing artists and persons involved in the fight against AIDS. And ME! I couldn't afford to go to this so a fundraiser in Vancouver was held to cover my expenses. Reuters got hold of a local newspaper article about it and it was all over the news with the headline “Joe Average To Lunch With Lady Di”. CBC Radio did an interview with me in which I was asked what I was going to wear to meet the Princess and I replied “I’m going over to a friend’s house to try on an Armani suit”. Diana's press people played her the interview and when I finally met her in the receiving line, she asked “Is that the Armani suit?” I said “No, it didn’t fit, this is a Hugo Boss is it okay?” She replied “You look fabulous!” Following the receiving line we were all seated for lunch. I was in awe of everyone who was there. After lunch we all retired to The Grand Tent Room for coffee and petit fours. Half the room was surrounding Diana and the other half were surrounding Charles. I just stood off to the side and took it all in. Gerda, the Governor General's wife, came up to me and quietly asked if I was having a good time. I replied “I’m having the best time ever!” She then linked arms with me and said “come with me, the Princess has requested to speak with you”. She led me through the crowd and sat me down next Princess Diana. She was a beautiful person inside and out. She’s everything you imagine a Princess would be. She was just fantastic.
A: What did you two talk about?
J: She asked about my health, and we talked about HIV/AIDS. I thanked her for all the great work she was doing to raise awareness and remove the stigma. We talked about my art a bit. She'd seen my work and really enjoyed it. I said to her “You must be missing your kids horribly”. She replied “I miss them so much”. We talked about her kids for awhile and then I let someone else have a turn. It was lovely.
A: She sounds very down to earth
J: She was! That’s what made everyone love her so, she honestly related to people. I was very fortunate to have those moments with her, I will treasure them forever.
A: Did you meet anyone you honoured or respected at that luncheon?
J: I met Moshe Safdie, David Suzuki, and a lot of very cool people it was all kind of a blur. I was just so stunned that I’d actually had a conversation with Princess Diana.
A: My friend Susanna Strem, the art gallery owner of Chali-Rosso Art Gallery downtown explained to me over lunch two months ago that not all people who can paint or take photographs are artists. An artist sees into thefuture, but uses mediumto express and connect with a wider audience the sentiment of the present. I'm still grappling to understand this concept, what does an artist mean to you Joe?
J: *Small giggle* Hmm, people often say to me: “Joe, I wish I was an artist” and my response is “everyone is an artist”. Just getting through life is an art.
A: What about commercialization? What about the concept of selling out?
J: If Coca-Cola calls me tomorrow and offers me $10 million dollars to have the right to use one of my images of course I would say YES. If that's selling out then I'm all for it.
A: Some artists keep their best pieces for themselves, is everything you create for sale?
J: There was one piece I kept for a long time but now it's for sale. It was a piece I felt emotionally connected to. At the end of the day you gotta pay your rent. If somebody wants to buy it, I’ll sell it!
A: What is your creative process? Do you have to go through anguish; do something first or just wait for the moment of inspiration to hit you?
J: I always say my inspiration is a deadline.
A: Do you see the difference between amateur art and professional art? I sometimes cannot tell the difference except the difference in price.
J: Amateur artists are people who create solely for pleasure. They paint simply because they want to paint. “Professional” artists do the same but with the end goal of making a living.
A: Joe, you've faced a lot of challenges and adversities in your life, is there something you do to help you weather the storm?
J: Keep on keeping on. I mean, what else can you do? You just rough it out. You will get through if you just have to be tough.
A: In all your artwork, there is an undercurrent of a sunny disposition and loving vibe. Is that the message you like to send out to the world.
J: YES, very much so. I could paint things that make you feel sad but I want to paint things that make people feel happy. I think that's my job - to make people happy. I once said my paintings are love notes to the world. My paintings are how I wanted the world to be since I was a little kid. But I was very disillusioned by the world. I thought everything would be perfect when I grew up, and it totally wasn't.
A: Is there anything else you'd like our members to know about you and your artwork?
J: I’m still creating art and I would love people to come visit my website (www.joeaverageannex.com) and see all my artwork which is available for sale as prints.
All photos and artwork displayed in this interview are owned by Joe Average, and we have obtained permission for use for display.