In his Vancouver Opera series from 1997, contemporary artist Joe Average created images of characters from the operas presented in the 1997 Vancouver Opera Season. This image represents a character from Il Trovatore, Verdi’s convoluted and absurd opera and part of the trilogy with Rigoletto and La Traviata. Themes of obsession, revenge, war and family dominate the opera and the plot hinges around the revenge of scorned gypsy, Azucena. Joe Average rendered this character with a distinctly contemporary aesthetic and, calling on both cubist and realist lineages of painting, he created a bold and powerful figure. This image was exhibited on the large screen at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, propelling Joe Average to national recognition. In this print, Average takes a persona from what is traditionally considered to be “high art” and presents it with a “street” aesthetic, exemplifying the artist’s ability to blur lines and cross boundaries.
|Provenance||Private Collection, Vancouver.|
Joe Average, born Brock David Tebbutt, has been an important contributor to the B.C., Canadian and international art scene since the mid 1980s, when an HIV diagnosis, complete with an uncertain life expectancy, moved him to focus exclusively on his art. He changed his name to Joe Average after being inspired by artists in Canada’s Western Front who adopted stage names like Dr. Brute and Sally Peanuts. His easily recognizable pieces, featuring images of flowers, animals, insects and people, have captured the interest of international art critics, royalty and celebrities, while remaining accessible and meaningful to local collectors and supporters.
Joe’s work has been described as “a visionary kaleidoscope of colour, creativity and compassion” and has come to symbolize love and inclusivity. Over the years he has received numerous awards and honours, including civic merit awards, the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award (1998) and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for Outstanding Community Achievement (2002). In 2002, then Mayor Philip Owen issued a civic proclamation designating Nov. 3, 2002 as Joe Average Day. In 2004 Joe became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy (RCA) of Artists and won its prestigious RCA award. In 2019 he designed the Equality Coin for the Royal Canadian Mint. Also in 2019 Joe received the B.C. Medal of Good Citizenship.
Joe’s art transcends mere placement on gallery walls. His images have come to symbolize hope to millions of people living with HIV/AIDS. Despite his well-documented long, painful health struggle, he has quietly and consistently donated prints and photographic works to charitable causes across the province serving children and those living with terminal illness. For years he has designed posters and t-shirts for Vancouver’s annual AIDS walk, helping raise funds for local service organizations like A Loving Spoonful. Over the last 35 years, there has seldom been an HIV/ AIDS fundraising event that did not feature at least one Joe Average piece on the auction block. Joe’s commitment was evident throughout the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic as sales of masks featuring his most iconic images raised $10,000 for BC Children’s Hospital.
In addition to Joe’s significant contributions as an artist and philanthropist, by sharing his personal story, he has quietly raised awareness of what it means to live with HIV /AIDS. His moving, painful honesty has encouraged his fellow Canadians to support community projects and has helped raised the profile of men and women who have struggled with isolation, rejection and stigma associated with AIDS.