The art of mountain life 

Gutmann finds his place at Whistler, Part ii

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"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things."

– Steve Jobs

It's not easy being an artist in Whistler. The rents are unconscionably high. The culture is unremittingly commercial. And the prevailing gestalt is unapologetically bourgeois. Cute sells. Pretty is popular. As long as the new art doesn't clash with the furniture, of course.

But stray off the safe "decorative" path for a moment, and suddenly you're on your own. Alas, there is no great thirst in this valley for provocative stuff...

Sure, we talk a big art game. But we rarely deliver on it. And no, I'm not exaggerating to make a point. Ask anyone seriously committed to making art (and not just decoration) in this valley. It's a hand-to-mouth existence; a frustrating exercise in surviving between the cracks of the system. Strange, eh? For all our mutual back-patting — for all the eloquence of our fancy Whistler 2020 document — Whistler is still struggling to integrate its artists into community life.

"We don't do it for the money, that's for sure," says photographer-artist Arne Gutmann. A 16-year survivor of the Whistler arts scene, the 46 year old has done a bit of everything to make ends meet over the years. And it would be totally understandable if he waxed cynical about his situation. But that's not Gutmann's style. Hmm... How can I describe his character? Joyfully resilient comes to mind. So does thoroughly and irrepressibly alive. On board. Ready for anything.

In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen Arne without that cockeyed smile of his happily pasted across his face. Or without a new art-project-cum-party-cum-outlaw-happening to promote. His enthusiasm for art and life knows no bounds. His fun with existence is inspiring.

So why isn't he more successful then? He laughs when I ask him. "Making money as an artist around here is like pulling teeth," he says. "You can put on a wicked art show with great vibes and a super ambiance... but when the evening's over, there's still no sales. So no dough either." More laughter. "But I don't care. For me it's all about the party. I mean, a good art party is just like performance art. Take a live painting show for example — that's such a cool thing for the non-artist to experience..."

Always up, always ready for a new adventure, Gutmann expresses his own creativity in a myriad of ways. Here's how he describes the genesis for his infamous poo-font project. "Well," he recounts, "I was living in Toronto in those days, working at the Elgin Theatre. On my days off I'd often visit the Art Gallery of Ontario." He sighs. "I'm a very tactile guy," he says. "And I was really taken with the gallery's Henry Moore sculptures. So sensual; so smooth. So one day I decided to take some nice pictures of his stuff..."

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