Hope in Shadows, Megaphone, his family, and his art has brought balance to Theo Venn’s life after a difficult youth
Artfully making his way
“I moved here in 2009. When I arrived here, I had this job lined up with this guy named Abdul, and I tore down and rebuilt things. It didn’t matter what, a shed or a house. We just fixed it. I’d get drunk every day after work at the beach.
“I’d go to work hungover, repeated the process until I couldn’t and I just kept drinking. So for about two years, I was working, drinking, working, drinking, then drinking and drinking. I got injured working. I smashed my hand but I kept working because I was half-snapped through it all the time.
“I was hanging out with my cousin Jordan at the beach, and he was a carver. He carved soapstone, little trinkets. I picked up the carving tools and made a great-horned owl, my first piece. It was the head of a great-horned owl. I finally found my reason to take a break from work and I never went back.
“I’m an artist. I draw. [The soapstone was] really soft though. I thought, ‘Wow, this is so malleable.’ So I figured it out. I just stopped going to work and kept carving. So all of a sudden I was a bum on the street carving. I was making pretty good money with my carving. I’d clear about $100 a day with little trinkets and whatnot. But I was getting more into the alcohol. It took its toll on me so I took a break. I stayed in carving, got into drugs, crack, cocaine. It was alcohol and crack, living on the streets.
“I grew up in Prince Rupert. My mom took me out of the village when I was five and took me here. I went to a shitload of different schools, we were getting kicked out every six months or so. I was raised by bikers. Like 16 bikes in the yard thrashing it up, people partying for two months at a time. We’re going to get an eviction notice, right? I was like, ‘Yay, we’re moving again.’ My older sister Colleen stayed with my father in the village and I went with my mom. It was educational.
“I got sent back to Gingolx for awhile because my mom got kicked out. My mom tried to live with me in Prince Rupert, but I didn’t like who my mom was with so I stayed in Prince Rupert on the streets for a few years. I went to jail for the first time when I was 14 for a week.
“I stayed in a tent for awhile. I stayed in a caboose when I was around 13-14. I had a rough upbringing. I met my wife when I was 16 at a residential attendance program, which is sort of a bail bed for messed up kids. They had a healing circle every Wednesday where kids from town would be able to attend as well. I met my wife. It was love at first sight. I got married at 21 and we had a whole bunch of kids.
“They live up north. I’m actually going to be busting my hump this month for sales because my daughter wants me to walk her for her grad, which is next month. She’s my only girl.
“I left her mom because of her attitude. I moved here in 2009 because we broke up.
“I got word of mouth about the [Hope in Shadow] calendars in 2011, found out how easy the money was. I noticed there was nobody on Commercial Drive doing it so I thought, ‘I’ll take this street over.’ I was walking away with $100 to $200 a day on Commercial.
“I was killing it. I was so well known out there already because I was always so happy and smiley, like the most cleancut bum on the street you’ll ever see, right? I had completely shaved hair.
“We had a band called the Barley Boys. We were known amongst the musical community as well. It didn’t work out because we drank too much.
“Somewhere in between that I’d taken a break from drinking. It was the end of 2010 and I was just sick of it so I left Jordan, stopped hanging out with him, stopped doing the music and I got into calendar sales. I managed to get some new clothes right away. Went out the next day and it was just more people piling in, and they all wanted to hear my story and how I’m trying to make a comeback. It was somewhat a catalyst in terms of moving forward in my life.
“I’ve always been able to fall back on my artwork. People to this day are trying to order portraits off of me because I did one of my grandma with a grizzly bear standing up. I use oil paint, watercolours—everything self taught—acid-etching on glass and mirrors. Pretty much any art medium you can think of I can do, even sewing.”
Theo Venn sells outside of the Joe Fortes branch of the Vancouver Public Library on 870 Denman St.