What is that? I mean, you hear that word so many times, maybe in a pub, club or just about anywhere when talking with friends and colleagues.
Well, strictly speaking, a bohemian, as quantified by a dictionary, is this:
“somebody who leads an alternative lifestyle, they are not hippies because they can have an extremely wide range of different tastes in music, fashion, art, literature etc they are usually very creative people. they are above all optimists, even if they can be very cynical too…. they like wearing a mixture of weird clothes and mix different fashions together just for the heck of it….they like weed…. generally very laid back and relaxed. ”
Another, maybe more accurate meaning is given by this article from that barometer of world bastions, the BBC…read it here!
Whatever the meaning, I wanted to talk about a guy who very definitely meets this explanation. His name is Keith McKellar.
I had been staying at the Patricia Hotel in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, an area well known for it’s seamier side of life, being home to substance abusers, the poor and homeless people.
Although all these people in the DTE area of Vancouver are harmless, that still doesn’t stop people from other wealthier environs, taking a circular route bypassing this side of town.
A pity in my view, as the area has the highest concentration of artists per capita in the whole of Canada. There are professional artists, emerging artists, community artists, student artists and lovers of all the arts here.
There are poets, musicians, actors, theatres and theatre companies, art galleries, contemporary and traditional dancers, film-makers, writers, visual artists, festivals, choirs, arts schools and universities and many more genres of art.
And it is within this atmosphere that Keith McKellar honed his persona.
Keith can be found most weekends parked at Commercial Drive/Gravely, just opposite the Café Roma, his drawings and paintings overflowing out of his brown Chevy van that has become somewhat of a trademark all over Vancouver now.
Keith’s work is mainly pen and ink, with vivid, almost flourescent colours, depicting Vancouver cafes and theatres, dives and dance halls. In fact, anything crumbling at the edges and left behind in history seems to draw his eye. But nothing more so than the city’s neon advertising lights, steadily dwindling nowadays, fizzing down to blackout with each passing day.
Most of his drawings are eccentric ink renditions of some of the city’s most legendary eateries , about which he says “The café is like the church of modern times. It is a meeting place, a place where you can share your secrets. It’s a timeless place. It’s a fulcrum room in our existence.”
A little bit about Keith…
His main job way back in the 70s was as a cabbie in Vancouver. As he explains himself, “Cab driving was a front-row seat at the pulse. A tilt at the trove… The neon geography was a seizure of colour and motion.”
However, with that seat right in the middle of where everything was happening, the streets, came the demon of firewater…he was drinking hard, which resulted in the inevitable, his marriage to a childhood sweetheart collapsed.
After that, he went from job to job, totally over 65 different jobs.
“I’d been pushing the river the wrong way. Sleeping anywhere: rooftops, fire escapes, couches. So I jumped off that train and rolled. Then I got up and just kept running”, he says.
He managed however, to travel a phenomenal amount during those days, taking in LA, Taiwan and Japan, after which the drawings seemed to start flowing as if from a faucet that had been kept closed for so long.
“I lived like a monk, of course. But living like that is the ultimate wealth. I was outdoors in L.A. for 30 days and 30 nights. All you need is a tarp and a sleeping bag. A cart for your paper and pens.”
What of his technique? Well, it also has a suitably mystic twist, as befits a bohemian… “I call it quick-slow,” he says. “You have to be fast on the inside and keep a slow hand. It’s hard work pulling ink. But it’s like riding your bicycle up the Fraser Valley and a guy blows by on his Harley, this hunk of sausage on wheels with $100 bills falling out of his pockets from the dope deals, and you suddenly feel light and ethereal.”
To an observer, Keith’s age bears hardly no resemblance to his physical persona…he’s sun-burnt and lean, tall and walks with a positive…well, bohemian slant, his long hair waving behind him, and his trademark leather waistcoat and neckerchief making him stand out from the crowds anywhere he goes.
And he has his own views about where his work should really be available for viewing. “Galleries? I don’t mind galleries,” he says finally. “But I don’t go knocking on doors.”
A staunch bohemian to the last!
See him in action here..