Retro City

A work of art immortalizes the city.

Imagine Edmonton in July 1983. The Oilers are warming up for what will become their first Stanley Cup-winning season. The paint on West Edmonton Mall is still wet. The City of Champions is ready to host the prestigious summer Universiade. It’s an Edmonton of a different era – one that can be difficult to imagine for those of us who weren’t around then. But now, thanks to illustrator Raymond Biesinger, everyone can see what the cityscape looked like at that time.

Biesinger recently added Edmonton to the prestigious list of cities he has immortalized in silkscreen. The 34-year-old freelance illustrator, who was raised in St. Albert, has been creating 24-square inch black-and-grey drawings of Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec City and Montreal on white silkscreen prints since 2012. 

Each city is depicted at a different time in its history. Montreal is shown in 1967, the year it held what’s considered to be one of the most successful world expositions of the 20th century. Biesinger’s work of Toronto shows the city on the day the CN Tower first opened in 1976. For his drawing of Edmonton, Biesinger illustrates what the capital looked like on July 1, 1983, the opening day of Universiade, an international, multi-sport event for university athletes.

Biesinger became interested in illustration while studying history and political science at the University of Alberta. His work as a writer at the university paper, The Gateway, eventually led him down the path of illustration. But his background in history gave him a good foundation for studying each city he depicts in his series. “Each is as much a research project as it is an illustration project,” he says. “When I lived in Edmonton, I really cared [and I still do] a lot about the history and architecture of the city.”

The drawing, which took him about nine days, features some old landmarks that no longer exist, such as the Arlington, a five-storey apartment building on 100th Street and 106th Avenue that opened in 1909 and burned down in 2005. 

The Edmonton Heritage Council‘s series, Herzog on Heritage, by Lawrence Herzog, helped in researching historical buildings, says Biesinger. 

Each silkscreen focuses on the aesthetic of that city during a certain timeframe, but there is a certain amount of plasticity to his work. “I focus on a certain area [of the city], but if there is an important building, I’ll drag it into that area,” he says. “The more intimate I am with a city, the more of a stickler I am for realism.”

Biesinger’s silkscreen of Edmonton will be sold online through his website, at Mill Creek Picture Framing in Edmonton and at the next Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair.

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