Ian Wallace was born in Shoreham, Great Britain in 1943. He graduated in art history from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1968, where he taught from 1970–87. He taught from 1972–98 at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, also in Vancouver, where he currently lives and works. Ian Wallace is a pioneer of the Canadian conceptual art scene; his work has been exhibited primarily at leading North American museums. In Europe, the first comprehensive retrospective was dedicated to him in 2008, co-developed and shown by three institutions – the Kunsthalle Zürich, Witte de With in Rotterdam, and the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen in Düsseldorf. In 2012/13 the Vancouver Art Gallery will show the most extensive exhibition to date of this seminal Canadian conceptual artist.
Wallace is considered a key figure in the so-called “Vancouver School,” which up-dates photography with conceptual approaches. Through his work, as well as through his many years of teaching, he has significantly influenced an entire generation of Canadian artists, including Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, Ken Lum, and Stan Douglas, among others. Wallace views his activities as artist, art historian, and critic as different aspects of his practice. Accordingly, his work is characterized by a high degree of reflectivity. Central significance is granted to the investigation of various means of depiction. From the mid-1980s, Wallace developed a characteristic visual form: he laminated documentary and staged photos on canvases; there, he let them engage in dialogue with fields of monochrome painting. Abstraction and representation thus confronted one another. Wallace combined the two fundamental strategies of twentieth-century art: the self-reflective aesthetics of modernist painting, which takes the canvas’ two-dimensionality as central moment, thereby drawing beholders’ attention to the specific qualities of the medium, and—through the use of photography—the opening of art to everyday reality and issues of representation. In his self-reflective examinations of the artist’s role, Wallace inquires into the meaning and value of intellectual work in relation to artistic production’s physical-material side. Wallace additionally studies other sites, such as galleries and museums, as well as the urban space.