If you thought you knew Michael Audain, think again

Prominent art collector and benefactor Michael Audain takes a detailed journey through a long and well-lived life.

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The name of Michael Audain comes up a lot lately.

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Not too long ago, the Audain Museum of Art in Whistler gained press for a new exhibition featuring paintings by famous Quebec artist Jean-Paul Riopelle. Two of the paintings in this exhibition belong to Audain and his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa. They join a gallery full of other impressive pieces from the Audain collection in the magnificent gallery of the ski resort that the Audain Foundation has funded to the tune of $ 43.5 million.

The annual Audain Prize of $ 100,000 for the visual arts has also been in the headlines recently. This year, it was awarded to the Hereditary Chief of the Haida Nation James Hart.

Oh yes, and a few weeks ago the Audain Foundation, of which Audain is the president, donated $ 100 million to the Vancouver Art Gallery for the construction of its new home.

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“I have a long relationship with the Vancouver Art Gallery,” Audain said in a recent telephone conversation. “It goes back 65 years. I think the Vancouver Art Gallery is where I learned a lot about art because I absolutely believe that the way to learn more about art is to look, to look, to look and to to concern. Gordon Smith said that, I think.

Developer, art collector and philanthropist Michael Audain signs a $ 100 million donation to the Vancouver Art Gallery on November 4, as his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa, and VAG CEO Anthony Kiendl look on.  The donation from the Audain family charitable foundation will finance the new VAG building.
Developer, art collector and philanthropist Michael Audain signs a $ 100 million donation to the Vancouver Art Gallery on November 4, as his wife, Yoshiko Karasawa, and VAG CEO Anthony Kiendl look on. The donation from the Audain family charitable foundation will finance the new VAG building. Photo by Mike Bell /PNG

It is these worthy philanthropic initiatives and perhaps a successful career as President of Polygon Homes, a company that for more than 40 years has built 30,000 homes from Abbotsford to Squamish, that give the 84-year-old man some notoriety.

However, people who admire Hart’s (The Scream Too) big and beautiful dance display as they walk into Whistler’s gallery are unlikely to have any idea that the guy who put it there was too. a Freedom Rider who was jailed in Mississippi; a prison guard in Oakalla; Godson of early 20th century stage star Tallulah Bankhead; descendants of the famous and influential Dunsmuir family – yes, like on the streets in Vancouver; agricultural assessor; delegate to the founding convention of the NDP; founding member of the BC Civil Liberties Union; and a leftist activist.

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All of these biographical titles are fleshed out in crisp chapters in Audain’s new book, One Man in His Time. The West Vancouver resident began writing the book a few years ago as a record for his family. But once he got down to it, his perspective widened.

“As I got a little older, I thought to myself, ‘Damn, I might as well share this with the public, not just my grandchildren,” Audain said.

In 2021, it’s worth considering whether the shelves need another book on a wealthy and successful white man.

“The rich old whites are still around and they still shape our world and I think when you find one that uses their wealth for non-commercial and socially useful purposes as far as Michael in particular, I think it’s worth it. worth it. encouraging that and acknowledging that, ”Audain editor Howard White of Douglas & McIntyre said over the phone.

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Categorizing the book, Audain, who was born in Bournemouth, England, and moved to Canada in 1946, is reluctant to call it a memoir. He sees it rather as a “series of anecdotes or tales”.

But, if you think this one fits in the pantheon of books where a certain captain of industry tells you how successful he is, you’d be wrong.

“I didn’t intend to write much about my business. The publisher asked me to put something about my business there because that’s usually why he says I’m famous, building houses. I was reluctant to put too much. This is probably the most boring part of the book, I think, ”Audain said.

He’s not wrong, as the stories of starting a business are the driest in the flood of colorful reminders to a life full of far-reaching experiences that sometimes make the story feel adjacent to the story of Forrest Gump.

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However, Audain doesn’t just place himself in places and points of history, he sometimes puts himself under an emotional microscope.

Michael Audain founded the Grizzly Bear Foundation to help preserve the animals that are so much of British Columbia
Michael Audain founded the Grizzly Bear Foundation to help preserve the animals that are so much of British Columbia PNG

The soft-spoken business giant who helped save the grizzly bears hated the UK boarding school. His parents separated when he was very young and his father had a drinking problem which sometimes led to violence. Audain also openly discusses the sexual dysfunction he experienced when he was a much younger man.

“I would go out from time to time, but I would always stop climbing into my bed,” Audain writes in the book. “I wondered if I was perhaps more suited to the priesthood than to secular life.

While Audain initially admits he was a bit reluctant to reveal privacy issues, he realized that this was all part of his origin story – a story with which he said he never really sat down well until he decided to write the book.

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“I never went through psychoanalysis or anything, but writing these stories taught me things about myself, a perspective on my childhood and my youth,” Audain said. “So there are things about myself now that I understand better than I didn’t understand before. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how lonely I was as a kid and how little appreciated I was. Often how miserable I was. So, I would invent a fantasy world to get away from it all. Usually through reading.

For his publisher, the straightforward approach with Audain’s many stories was not something he expected from the Officer of the Order of Canada and Member of the Order of British Columbia when the book was released. been launched.

“I was surprised that he was so outspoken,” White said. “You know what celebrity bios look like, they’re totally bland. They’ve been airbrushed by a nigger and they’re careful not to say anything that might embarrass them in a boardroom.

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“He’s the complete opposite. He left everything lying around.

While art is a driving force in his life, Audain does not devote much time to it in this book. One notable passage is a foundational experience where Audain recounts how his 10-year-old self was immediately captivated by watching the great master sculptor Kwakwaka’wakw Mungo Martin at work at the Royal BC Museum.

“I was exposed to the art of the original peoples of this coast and it caught my attention and it fascinated me and have been since,” Audain said. “I was very grateful for this.”

Audain’s name is now synonymous with Canadian visual art.

“I’m not here to acquire art for investment purposes,” said Audain, when asked about the collection. “We believe that all art should be given.

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“Our children, they got the art they were going to get a few years ago,” added Audain, who pointed out that on the day of this conversation, eight pieces from his house were to be collected and sent to a museum. in Eastern Canada. “Our obligation is to give it. “

With One Man in His Time now out, Audain is working on finishing a book on his life in art. He has “a plate full” of exciting projects going on and always goes to work at Polygon every morning first thing in the morning.

“Retirement? I don’t have that word in my vocabulary,” Audain said, when asked to slow down. “I don’t encourage him.”

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