Laura Zerebeski

Laura Zerebeski

Location: Canada

I grew up in a pulp mill town in BC's interior and moved to Vancouver over 20 years ago. I am a full-time expressionist painter with a surrealist edge. I specialize in vibrant paintings of familiar urban and residential places.

As an avid runner and cyclist, I portray the feeling one might have when moving through a scene. Certain landmarks hang in your head and then you see another point of interest; in your mind, it all seems closer together and brighter because of endorphins, fresh air, and good weather. Sometimes there are days when the ordinary becomes absolutely beautiful due to whatever effects of light or season or one's own mood.

My stylized exaggeration of architecture often represents the people who inhabit the neighbourhood scenes. I personify buildings so they look like the people that live in them and I use vivid colours and symbolism to create scenes that are whimsical and meaningful. There is so much joy and motion around us; my hope is that those who like my work get a jolt of vital familiarity.



As you can tell, I love my hometown of Vancouver. I try to portray the sense that one might have when moving by it or through it, like when walking or running. Certain landmarks you see might hang in your head and then you see another landmark; in your mind, it all seems closer together and brighter. When you view a panorama, you usually move your eyes from one point of interest to the next and the next and that's how you "feel" a view, like it's all crammed into your head and almost overflowing. So that's how I paint it - with motion and endorphins.

Capitol Hill Dawn “Capitol Hill Dawn”

Capitol Hill Dawn - September, 2011
Acrylic on canvas, 60" x 48"
Located at: Private Collection (SOLD)

I'm an early riser and my favourite time is that calm period just after the sun rises. There's a stillness in the early morning and the optimism of a new day that still full of potential. Or maybe I've become misanthropic as I've gotten older, so I like the world best when there are fewer people awake in it.

This painting shows a lovely late-spring morning when Burrard Inlet is calm - see, there's only one freighter waiting to load - and the commuters haven't started bustling yet. There's a green and yellow shade to the water from reflected sunlight and new growth. The distortion on the Ironworkers and train bridges are similar to my earlier, bluer version but I wanted to focus more that special luminescent morning light that the early riser Vancouverites are privileged to behold.

Heritage Hall “Heritage Hall”

Acrylic on canvas, 10" x 10"
Located at: Private Collection (SOLD)

Heritage Hall is located at Main and 15th in Vancouver. It used to be the old post office a century ago, and later the RCMP headquarters way back in the day. Nowadays, it hosts a variety of weddings and craft fairs in its beautiful ballroom. In fact, you can see a wedding or some kind of celebration going on almost every weekend.

So I painted this one to look like a slightly eccentric bespectacled wedding guest, kind of like that one beloved relative everyone seems to have.

Vanorama Enorma “Vanorama Enorma”

Acrylic on canvas, 72"x36"
Located at: Private Collection (SOLD)

This is a larger version of my Vanorama painting with more focus on the water and the iridescent quality of the western light reflected in the glass and metal buildings. I love this view. This, to me, is quintessential Vancouver. The bridges, the Oz-like radiance in the setting sun, and the jagged mountainscape backdrop. There's an almost unreal and unreachable quality to the downtown peninsula of Vancouver.

Ivanhoe Night “Ivanhoe Night”

Acrylic on linen canvas, 10" x 10"
Located at: Private Collection (SOLD)

The first version of the Ivanhoe was meant to evoke the lunchbag crowd of workers that frequent the place. This version, at night, signifies a mattress.

The Ivanhoe is also a very reasonably priced backpacker's hostel a block away from the big Pacific Central train and bus station. In this version , I gave it a decidedly Van Gogh Starry Night look with warmly lit windows and a bit of easy sag to the walls, like a comfortable mattress.

First & Commercial “First & Commercial”

Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 30"
Located at: Private Collection (SOLD)

Vancouver's Commercial Drive is one of the more colorful areas in Vancouver. "The Drive," as it is more commonly known, is what I consider Vancouver's "old school" ethnic neighbourhood with loads of Mediterranean, Latin American, and eastern European stores lining the streets. The theme of this painting is soccer.

Commercial Drive is soccer central and the World Cup usually brings this place to a standstill because it is so full of cheering fans. So picture toilet paper rolls being thrown overhead, exuberance, fist-pumping cheers, and if you look closely you might see a series of hidden flags for Spain, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, Brasil, and France. Hint: look at the newspaper boxes on the street and think of stripes on a flag.

Vancouver Sunrise “Vancouver Sunrise”

Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 40"
Located at: Private Collection (SOLD) *Giclee Available

I’ve done variations on this scene before, which is what you see when you’re pulling into downtown Vancouver on the seabus. In this one, I decided consciously use more fiery reds and yellows and fewer blues and greens. I wanted the overall effect to be a bouquet of jewel-toned warmth: sapphire, emerald, ruby, and gold.

As much as I love Vancouver, there are more dull days here than bright ones. You get a lot of mist and an unrelenting monochromatic sense of gray every day when you live in a coastal rainforest: gray days in, gray days out, gray days in-between.

This tribute says that after all the endless damp gray-Gray-GRAY when you get a bright day in Vancouver, it is really, REALLY bright. When you wake up and see a clearing in the rain and feel the sun, it feels like all the Vitamin D in your body sits up and shouts, Booyah!

East Van Cross “East Van Cross”

Acrylic on canvas, 8" x 10"
Located at: The Beaumont Studios (NFS)

Ken Lum's light statue, Monument for East Vancouver, is installed at East 6th Avenue and Clark Drive and was part of the Olympic Public Art Program.

In the comments section of a Georgia Strait article about the work, an East Van resident described the significance perfectly:

"I remember the East Van cross for what it was, a ubiquitous symbol of rebelliousness with a shady gang history. For me, the East Van Cross was a tag we would proudly put up in washroom walls as our way of saying, we are here, don't forget about us, and don't mess with us.

Vancouver used to have a much bigger divide between East and West, working class and rich, immigrant and white, and the East Van Cross was a reminder to us that we can still hold our head up and be proud of where we came from. And also a reminder to the kids on the west side, that if you come to our school to play a game and you make fun of us, or our cheap cars, or our cheap clothes, that we will have no problem with letting our fists talk for us.

While I'm glad the more violent associations are gone, I'll always be a proud East Vanner, and I myself have drawn a few of those crosses in different places at different times."

City Centre Motel “City Centre Motel ”

Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 12"

The City Centre Motel was often used for filming Da Vinci's Inquest, a Vancouver-filmed TV show about a coroner. The motel has had its share of real non-alive bodies found within.

There is no "turn down" service here with chocolates left on the pillows. This is an inexpensive motel on Main Street geared towards temporary occupants who hide behind closed curtains and consume food and beverages that don't require chilling.

Color of Industry “Color of Industry”

Acrylic on canvas, 50" x 20"

I did this one for myself to match and uplift my mostly mundane black, white, and beige décor at home. This painting is a blend of my two styles: one of whimsical personification and the other of textural abstraction. The cranes are the most lifelike elements in this painting because the cranes are an omnipresent feature in Vancouver, particularly in East Van. You see them from every street and every level in every building. They're huge and easily personified. Many people think they look like an orange-red version of the Star Wars snow walkers.

Vancouver was built on industry. Much of the reverential sculptures around False Creek pay tribute to our industrial past, even though most people would just as soon that past never existed. It took years for False Creek to recover from the industrial sludge that killed most of the wildlife. But in the "Hope" category, False Creek now gets visiting whales looking for food!

Still. It's a hard thing to look back on our industrial past with our present environmental view and not feel squeamish. I remember working for a certain forestry processing place that determined water was okay to re-enter the ecosystem if they threw 20 salmon into the recovery pool and three of those salmon lived. Three.

That said, this one was done with a sort of fossilized texture on the city of Vancouver. The sails look like bones, the cracks in the sky appear to be years of washed-over grime. Meanwhile, the orangey-red cranes persist in chromatology, vibrance, and motion.

The Cobalt “The Cobalt”

Acrylic on canvas, 10" x 10"

Like many of the Downtown East Side SRO rooming houses, The Cobalt Motor Hotel was built a century ago as working men's housing. Nowadays, the 92-room motel generates hundreds of emergency calls a year.

It once had a strip bar and a flashing neon sign that said "girls girls girls" but later the bar was one of the bastion venues for punk and heavy metal concerts, hosting bands like Anthrax, Agent Orange, SNFU, and DOA.

It is still billed as a live music venue featuring live music, DJs, and even comedians on some nights.

Burrard Sunset “Burrard Sunset”

Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 36"

There are days when Vancouver is not all green and blue or gray: some days, like late summer, it can be perfectly golden. This shows Burrard Street bridge with dragon-fiery clouds and temperature tenseness. There is only a week or two every summer in Vancouver when we really *need* air conditioning, but, boy, when we need it, we need it. This is one of those days.

Yaletown “Yaletown ”

Acrylic on canvas, 36" x 30"

Yaletown's waterfront architecture tends towards an unremarkable sameness. It is hard to caricaturize or exaggerate such a homogenous view but when you consider how the scene represents the majority of the inhabitants, it makes sense to depict the buildings as relatively similar and crowded together. Vancouver, and Yaletown in particular, is a very health-conscious city. On any given morning you are likely to pass joggers, booty-camp classes, and even seaside yoga enthusiasts all striving towards fitter forms no matter how foul the weather. notes this about Yaletown residents: "Whoever they are, there are certain traits all Yaletown locals share: they love their gyms, their yoga, their weekends in Whistler, their easy access to the area's gourmet food and hip nightlife, and their dogs. Little dogs are de rigueur."

This scene shows a group of buildings clustered off and "admiring" the one building on the left. The sky above is punctuated by thought-bubble heart clouds while the seawall winds sinuously past a drink-umbrella gazebo and some frivolous trees. There's also the Quayside Marina and the classic blue-green shades of Vancouver.

I rarely put people or animals in my paintings. I usually prefer to let the architecture personify the denizens, but I couldn't resist putting in (look close!) several tiny dogs in dresses prancing about. There's something vaguely disconcerting about seeing a miniature terrier wearing both a tutu and a muzzle.

Carnegie Centre at Hastings and Main “Carnegie Centre at Hastings and Main”

Acrylic on canvas, 20" x 16"

Hastings and Main is the "ground zero" intersection of the downtown east side, Vancouver's oldest and arguably most troubled neighbourhood. There is an unfurtive drug trade that operates at this intersection and in the alleys surrounding this building, the Carnegie Community Centre.

The Carnegie Community Centre began as a public library, but now hosts a number of services and programs for the neighbourhood. There are thousands of people who use the centre every week for anything from HIV/AIDS support groups, Humanities programs, pottery classes and even ballroom dancing. It is one of the most well-attended community centres in Vancouver. The Vancouver Courier wrote:

"Over its 100 years, the Carnegie has attracted thousands of people from all walks of life-fishermen, loggers, addicts, the abused, the mentally ill, the homeless, politicians and the police, to name a few. And no matter how hard life is on the outside, it's clear there's something for most people inside, even if it's just a temporary refuge from hard reality. As Wells puts it, when a person walks through the front doors at 401 Main St., he's on "neutral territory-an environment where there's no intimidation, just a spot to relax.""

This depiction shows the centre with a slightly-askew hat, like the jaunty touques worn by some of the patrons, and with the two front columns bent like praying hands, cupping a flame.

Downtown Granville “Downtown Granville”

Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 30"

I originally conceived this one to be part of a show on Vancouver Neighborhoods. This is looking north down Granville Street at Nelson.

One of my studio mates observed, as I was painting it, that the Scotia tower building on the right looked a little like a female dress form. It does. And the TD tower on the left looks a little like a male in a suit and tie. That was unconscious personification.

But think of high school dances: you know how girls always gather on one side, and boys on the other? It always felt like there was an uncrossable gulf between the two.

So when one considers this in the context of neighborhoods... well, this part of Vancouver has the highest density of bars and pubs and meeting places in the city.

Heroin Alley “Heroin Alley”

Acrylic on Canvas, 30" x 60"

This one was on my to do list for a while. It's a real place, though I'm sure "Heroin Alley" is not the municipal name. The actual alley is right at the start of Vancouver's downtown east side between Hastings and Pender at Cambie, looking onto Victory Square. It is where a lot of addicts go to shoot up. It's a real problem in the DTES.

Aesthetically, I always liked the contrast of the red bricks against the greenbelt and the dramatic lighting in my flukey source photo. The composition seemed kind of symbolic: dark alley looking onto the light, tunnel through to greener landscapes, yada yada. There's a metaphor for surviving or for overcoming stuff. It's still hopeful. As for the whole picture, I can kind of see an anguished face in the building itself.

I've been told these tall verticals are less saleable, but this one just had to be door-sized. So there you have it.

Kitsilano Neighborhood “Kitsilano Neighborhood”

Acrylic on Canvas, 30" X 24"

This is of a street in Kits on 7th Avenue between MacDonald and Stephens. I used to live near there a decade or two ago. I love painting with a Crayola spectrum of ROYGBIV (Red-Orange-Yellow-Green-Blue-Indigo-Violet): having all the colors in the rainbow in almost equal strength can't help but evoke some sense of joy. Rainbow colors really are the simplest form of happiness – it’s childlike and reminiscent of Saturday-morning cartoons.

Kitsilano has a lot of students, immigrants, and ex-hippies: these are all people who move around and don’t stay long – but while they’re there, they tend to leave a huge impression of color and character. They may leave the gardens unkempt and unmanicured, but they post dreamcatchers, flags, and and see-through rainbows in the windows.

Sulphur Piles “Sulphur Piles”

These are Vancouver's famous sulphur piles. I know a lot of people get bugged by the intrusion of industry on nature, but it's really a quintessential Vancouver scene caught on one of those perfect late-afternoon winter days. There were a lot of things I immediately loved about the source photo: the contrast of the mountains, the lines, and how the machinery mirrors them but is really kind of dwarfed by them. I loved the touches of extremely bright color in the freighter and the sulphur itself, and the freighter really is called "Wisdom Line" - how perfect.

I did it as a triptych because there was a lot to focus on and I wanted to get the sense of panorama in there. One thing I changed with my style was breaking away from the longer, looser brushstrokes. This one has a lot of shorter choppy Van Gogh-y brushstrokes to capture the snow on the mountains and the weird little highlights you get in winter. Also, I avoided putting on any accent clouds in the sky just because the middle plane is busy enough.

One last thing: a fascinating sulphur fact that I discovered is that sulphur = brimstone. I always wondered what brimstone was. It always seemed to be associated with hell and punishment, e.g. hellfire and brimstone, Revelation 20:10: "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, etc." Interesting that Vancouver is kind of a major clearing house for it. It's also considered to be a major alchemy ingredient. I was a little concerned about the brimstone connection until I read this one: "In alchemy the names given to the three essentials are Body, Soul, and Spirit, or respectively, Salt, Sulphur , and Mercury." So I guess in alchemy, at least, sulphur also symbolizes the soul. That's a relief. And one more stretch o' meaning: as a very lapsed Catholic, triangles always used to symbolize the holy trinity for me - Father, Son, HG, and all that. Okay, I'm just getting carried away now. It's not that deep - but you've got to admit the sulphur bit is interesting!

Granville Island “Granville Island”

Acrylic on Canvas, 36" x 30"

Slight variation on Granville Island Morning but a lot more chaotic with the color and, truthfully, real Vancouverites will know that the mountains aren't quite positioned as such in this particular angle. Also, my reference photo was taken in the summer but I wanted more color and snow on the mountains, so I changed the season to autumn and the lighting to late morning.

Nonetheless, the office buildings of the downtown core are uniform, regular, and reflective compared to the bright ex-industrial mess that is my beloved Granville Island community. I live there, my son goes to school there, my gym and community center and gallery are all there. I know this place and all its corners and grooves and rats-nests like the back of my hand. I drove over that bridge every day for years.

This is my third take on this scene. I wanted to emphasize the contrast of the downtown regularity against the neon-bright GI community separated by the lovely art deco Burrard Street bridge.

Rowing Club “Rowing Club”

Acrylic on Canvas, 36"x 36"

This was painted as it appeared in the 1980's, when things were a little brighter and neon was a perfectly acceptable clothing colour.

The Rowing Club building today is not a reddish brown. These days, the building is very dark brown English Tudor style with white accents. I prefer the old chocolate colour. I also prefer the bright 1980's style boats. They are much brighter than the bland white ones that park there today.

The only message about this painting, if there is one, is this is a place where people have celebrations: they get married, they have anniversary parties, they celebrate life here. The clouds look like balloons, the trees look like birthday candles, and the boats and water have all sorts of confetti color in them.

Science World “Science World”

Acrylic on Canvas, 24"x 18"

Another quintessential Vancouver scene: Science World, built back in 1986 for Expo, is one of my son's favorite places to go. Then there's the backdrop of BC Place along with Wall Center (far left) and the ubiquitous Scotia Tower. Science World is now known as "Telusphere" due to corporate sponsorship, but hopefully that does not extend to painting titles! It'll always be Science World to me just because I always want to lisp when I try to say "Teluthpere."

The things I liked about the source photo were (1) lots of blue, (2) lots of rounded shapes, and (3) lots of Crayola color that I could emphasize in the posters.

There's a lot of up-and-down tumbling movement to this one, like hyped-up kids on sugar. There you go: no deep meaning, just fun. Kind of like a field trip, perhaps!

Planetarium “Planetarium”

Acrylic on Canvas, 28" x 22"

This is the view from the Burrard Bridge looking out at the Pacific ocean and down on Vanier Park. Key buildings are the Haida-hatted Planetarium and the Maritime museum. There is also a ubiquitous red-bottomed freighter in the distance framed by layers of mountains and scuddy clouds. Mind you, this is more what the view would look like if one were hovering above and squeezing the whole thing, accordion-like, as evidenced by my more panoramic but less colourful reference photo.

Alas, I never did see any of the famous laser light shows at the H.R. Macmillan space center. Apparently this was quite the thing to do if you have ingested any of our local hallucinogenic specialities.

Alexander and Main “Alexander and Main”

Acrylic on Canvas, 20" x 20"

Some might consider Alexander and Main to be the bad part of town. It is near the docks in the heart of Vancouver's famous but frightening Downtown East Side. The thing that people don't always notice - especially late at night - is there is a real sense of community here. People know each other. You can hear them holler greetings from open windows.

Yes, the sky is a Van Gogh ripoff. I wanted to make the tones of the buildings warm with vinelike city fixtures. The sky and street are colder and more unstable.


Acrylic on Canvas, 20" x 20"

VAG = stands for "Vancouver Art Gallery" (ah, no, not what one might immediately think when one sees those three letters together). The VAG was originally designed as a courthouse and still frequently plays one in many of the movies and TV shows that are filmed in Vancouver. The gallery contains lots of Canadiana such as Emily Carr and many of the Group of Seven painters.

My memories of VAG are of sitting on the steps in my early 20s, smoking, wearing Doc Martens and too much eyeliner and some silly peasant dress. It was always a well-known meeting point because the vantage from the steps lent itself to excellent people-watching. You were never bored, waiting there.

I painted this one as I remember it best, always late afternoon, early evening, with a golden-pink glow from the lowering sun.

City Hall “City Hall”

Acrylic on canvas, 20" x 16"

I lived on 12th and Cambie, kitty-corner to City Hall, when I moved to Vancouver for good almost 20 years ago.

The building has often been portrayed with Orwellian 1984-ish overtones in many paintings and photos. It can be an imposing structure. This take is more playful, with festive fall trees and collapsed wedding-cake architecture. The green light emanating from the windows is the same shade that might be seen in banker's lamps or accountant's visors. The light is late afternoon sharp from the west.

But surely the turbulent clouds on the horizon are not at all symbolic.

Coal Harbour from Hallelujah Point “Coal Harbour from Hallelujah Point ”

Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 30"

This is a dynamic take on Coal Harbour's serene skyline as seen from Hallelujah Point on Stanley Park. The intention is to make it appear as if a fist grabbed the whole view and shook it or gathered it into a bouquet, leaving the buildings pleated and crumpled.

The cranes were almost an afterthought but Vancouver is full of them. These ones here are pointing out of the canvas, which is a no-no according to rules of composition. However, there are enough elements, like the clouds and waves, pointing inwards that it creates tension and adds to the sense of motion. The eye doesn't know where to rest. This restlessness is characteristic of Vancouver itself: the changing snowline on the mountains, the varicolored sea, the endlessly reflecting and erecting buildings, plus all kinds of bodies in motion. It's an active city.