'People in places in time:' A Vernon artist’s intimate portrayal of street life - InfoNews

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'People in places in time:' A Vernon artist’s intimate portrayal of street life

Pierre "Peter" Doré holds up one of his recent drawings.
April 12, 2019 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - Peter doesn’t have much: a van, a plastic cooler, poster paper, pencils.

The 30-year-old sleeps in the van, which he moves regularly to avoid getting towed or fined. The cooler doubles as a work table. It’s smaller than the poster board he draws on, which means he has to slide the paper around as he works.

Living with few material possessions is what allows Pierre “Peter” Doré to focus on his art.

“I remember living with a lot of money and it was unhappiness,” he says, surrounded by book shelves at the Vernon Library. “I believe you can get more out of life by having little. I like living poor. It clears my mind.”

Doré wears a patterned wool sweater, carries a colourful satchel and has a beaded bracelet on his wrist. He has gentle eyes and a shy smile. Doré is known around town for his drawings of real life and real people in Vernon.

Image Credit: Peter Doré

One of his drawings features more than 40 people sitting down to eat at the Upper Room Mission, an organization that serves three meals a day to those in need (Doré is one of them). In one part of the drawing, a parent spoon-feeds her toddler. A few tables away, two guys jam on their guitars. Another man sits cross legged on the floor with his dog. Around the room, people play chess and card games. Everyone is smiling (even the dog). These are the real faces of the Upper Room Mission’s guests.

“When they gather in front of it they’re all pointing people out,” he says. “It feels good when people are enjoying it and saying ‘oh that’s so and so.’”

The style is similar to a Where’s Waldo picture. Every square inch of the poster paper explodes with life; people laughing, having conversations, sharing food. Doré’s drawings are really made up of lots of little drawings — symbolic vignettes of the real lives of the people in them.

“Each little scene is something that happened, a little snapshot of real life,” Doré says.

In a newer drawing, which features no less than 76 people sitting in and around the Upper Room Mission, Doré points people out by first name, offering stories here and there about the subjects. One guy is scowling from behind the wheel of his car because a woman keeps pestering him for a ride — true story. A woman sitting in a “chill circle” on the grass has a bandaid on her knee from the time she fell. Another guy lifts one hand from his bicycle handlebars to flash an enthusiastic thumbs up.

“He found a bike with no front end on it so he just strapped it onto a shopping cart and rode it all over town,” Doré says, recalling the day with a burst of laughter. 

Doré is fascinated by people and loves capturing them in moments in time.
Doré is fascinated by people and loves capturing them in moments in time.

It’s an unfiltered and honest portrayal of street life, one where syringes and graffiti can be seen if you look closely, but where people also chat on the grass, smile and watch out for each other. There’s grit and there’s hardship, but there’s also humour and camaraderie.

“At some point in life you reach a point where you have to figure out what you want to draw. And I think I found something good here: people in places, in time,” Doré says.

The drawings take months and Doré says he barely takes a break once he gets started. Despite some fine arts training in college and university before he dropped out, Doré uses simple, Dollar Store materials. 

“When I went to college it was the opposite. They teach you to work with nicer tools but they don’t teach you how to make more art. I always had the mentality that you could make more with less,” he says.

Image Credit: Pierre Doré

As he makes his art, Doré is also making an impact in the community. Recently, he was approached by Vernon’s Community Safety Office about designing a logo for the city’s new needle and garbage clean-up initiative ‘Folks on Spokes’. The image he came back with probably isn’t what anyone expected, but it’s uniquely Doré. In the logo, a trio of men stand above a series of spikes (symbolic of needles, spokes on a bike, and water.) The guy on the left stands on a mossy rock, representing wisdom, and the man on the right stands on a book, representing knowledge. They hold up the person in the middle from touching the point. Together, they can move mountains.

Born and raised in Quebec, Doré always loved to draw and remembers creating pages of comics before bed as a child. He always dreamed of being an artist, but the confines of art school didn’t work for him. After dropping out and going through some other life experiences, Doré travelled east for a fruit picking job and landed in Vernon a couple years ago. 

“One of the reasons I stayed is actually because of the chess club,” he says.

Doré spends much of his time at the Vernon Library playing chess and reading science magazines. With no cell phone, arranging a time to meet Doré for an interview involved many messages passed through Upper Room Mission staff. The day it comes together goes like this: Doré asks staff to relay that he’ll be at the library for a few hours and says the journalist should "look for the guy in the travelling homeless hat.” And there he is — felt hat and all — deeply engaged in a chess game with an older gentleman.

Peter Doré spends much of his time at the Vernon Library, playing chess and reading science magazines.
Peter Doré spends much of his time at the Vernon Library, playing chess and reading science magazines.

Living poor isn’t always easy, and Doré acknowledges there’s a lot of pain and suffering on the streets, but says for his part, homelessness doesn’t mean unhappiness.

“When you’re poor, you only have what you really need in life. It takes away all the options that I don’t need to consider. When you have money, you are always heightening your standards. You buy an SUV and look over at the guy who owns a bigger one,” he says.

He admits, however, that he even he needs a bit of money to live. Mostly, any cash he makes goes to maintenance and repairs for his van, as well as gas. Financial gain isn't what motivates him to draw, but when asked about buying prints of his work, he says he’d be ok with selling them for $15 — “if anybody wanted them”.

In his next drawing, Doré plans to include more community residents — not just those who live rough. 

If you would like to arrange to buy a print, contact Doré at Petertheshark@protonmail.com. You might not hear back right away — Doré doesn't have a phone or computer and only checks his email intermittently. 


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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