The Street, The Beat

24 August 2019 – I’m hardly the first to muse about the way “the street” so often leads “the beat” — i.e., the way many big-name creative people, big-name brands, politicians etc. keep tuned to what’s happening out there on the street, and then adapt it for their own vocabulary and objectives.

But here I am, musing a-fresh, in the aftermath of the Vancouver Mural Festival which, as always, is centred around my neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant. It took shape here because some artists lived & worked around here already, and because enough local building owners resonated with the idea and offered up their walls.

So now street art is part of the image of the “new”(moving from sketchy to quirky/interesting/trending) Mount Pleasant.

References to the Festival hit vacant walls, and don’t need further explanation …

and already amazing murals have received their final knock-out element. Here, it’s the 3D hand to go with the face in this now-complete work by the Medianeras duo.

It’s not just the Festival, though.

Street art, playing with what’s on the street, is in the local vocabulary.

Right here on a pedestrian-walk button, for example.

That’s playful, modest, & definitely “street.” I begin noticing the influence on our local “beat” — how up-market merchants want the connection, want the street-art cred, though of course suitably translated into up-market terms.

A picture-framing gallery includes this shot of alley-art in its classy window display …

and a new luxury condo tower builds this imagery into its façade — part of a corporate strategy to attract with-it, design-conscious, urban/urbane residents.

Yes.

Well.

On the other hand.

The street does not like being co-opted. It has its own opinion about new luxury condo  towers, whatever their design may include.

It’s an old, old story, isn’t it? Artists move into broken-down neighbourhoods, since that’s what they can afford, and through their energy & creativity make those neighbourhoods newly vital & interesting — whereupon the Brand Name Boys take note, become interested, and move in themselves.

Whereupon, too often, the artists can no longer afford to live there, and have to move out. I hope it doesn’t happen here.

The street, the beat.

 

2HOT4U

15 August 2019 – No, no, indeed not. Never 2HOT4 you.

Allow me to broaden the claim: never 2HOT4 us.

That’s just Vancouver graphic artist Alex Joukov having his little joke …

tucked into his contribution to the 4th annual Vancouver Mural Festival.

We’ve just emerged from the 10-day event (1-10 August), which this year added another 25 or so street murals to the 97 created in previous years, all of it carried out through the not-for-profit Create Vancouver Society.

The epicentre is my own Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. I wandered into the festival by accident that very first year while doing an Airbnb stint in this part of town — talk about serendipity! — and I’ve loved it ever since. This year it’s a mix of local artists (of various backgrounds, including indigenous) plus ones from Australia, Japan, Argentina and the USA.

There’s a whole clutch of new works right around Manitoba and West 7th, including Alex’s car-on-fire, in a great range of styles.

Everything from William Liao’s haunting face down an alley …

to Pablo Zamudio’s dramatic play of colour & line, in a neighbouring alley.

We watch murals take form, from one day to the next.

One day, there’s the barest whisper of sketch marks on the wall …

and next day, bold colour owns the wall.

Artists work in all sorts of ways. Up on an accordian-pleat Skyjack, as you’ve just seen,

or …

on a vast multi-storey scaffolding grid,

or …

 

on a human-scale wooden ladder,

or …

up in a cherry picker.

Through whatever combination of mood, temperament, and work pressure, the artists either ignore the onlookers, briefly acknowledge their presence, or — as with the Argentinian artists who comprise Medianeras (above) — engage with us, rise to our interest.

The women field our questions, talk about what they’re creating, and point out the footprints they have helpfully painted into the pavement below, showing us exactly where to stand for the best possible view.

We comply.

And we see just how, as intended, the human being on the side of this entrance-way does indeed seem to be emerging from the building.

I double back to the Festival’s gallery on 7 1/2 Lane, between Ontario & Quebec streets and (as the Lane’s own name tells you) between 7th and 8th avenues. Several new works are in progress, joining several from other years, including this 2018 contribution by Linsey Levendall.

It’s moody, skillful work, given an unintended zap by the current placement of that dumpster, right under the subject’s nose.

But … that’s street art, isn’t it? Each piece lives with everything else in its environment. It’s a dance with changing circumstances, and we the viewers, through our reactions, keep the beat.

One final work I have to photograph, right there among the 7 1/2 Lane murals.

“That’s not part of the festival,” somebody helpfully tells me. Good grief, I know that.

But who can ignore Romulus and Remus?

That Archetypal Picket Fence

9 August 2019 – Growing up, we knew what it was, and what it stood for. The picket fence was white, and suburban, and it stood for all things predictable, bland, and safe.

But now that picket fence may be black.

And downtown (well, east-end off Commercial Drive).

And not predictable.

It may offer an unexpected little visual treat ..

or even two.

No signature, no flourishes, and à propos of nothing at all. Just … there it is. Enjoy.

Wandering

28 July 2019 – My feet are wandering, as they tend to do, but more obediently than usual. This time they are trotting along with others, all of us on a neighbourhood tour of “lower Mount Pleasant” (close-ish to the south-east end of False Creek).

The guide is pointing out evidence of the social, industrial and built heritage of the area: remnants of the vernacular residential architecture of the 1910s, for example (gables, wood cladding and off-set front doors) …

or …

remnants of mid-century shop signage. (Bike Woman is listening to our guide, who is out of frame to the left.)

I am also listening, I am, but while my feet are obedient wanderers, my eyes are rebellious wanderers, and they keep leading my mind a-stray.

Here we are being shown one of those early homes, still surviving and freshly painted.

Only my eyes bounce off the bright paint, weave through the tree branches, and fasten on that bit of street mural beyond.

Now we’re being told more about the history of this house, and the (woeful) state of heritage designation in the area. My eyes instead slide along the building’s side wall and hop over alley space to contemplate the shipwreck in turquoise waters, ‘way down there.

And so it goes.

Another intersection, more information, and, though my feet are behaving themselves, my eyes are still on the prowl.

Look! A whole exuberant dance across that white wall over there, nicely framed by modes of transport: a sturdy truck up close, a sleek auto-share vehicle across the street, and guy wheeling his bike through the doorway.

Next, a neat little square of mural, far end of that parking-lot grid, tucked behind the hydro pole …

and, later, a huge full-wall’s worth of faces, with the vacant lot offering an unobstructed view of every detail.

Nothing distant about this one! We’re on the pavement right in front.

Smack-dab under the dog’s whiskers, and still, the guide manages to ignore him.

She is just not a street-art kind of gal. (I shouldn’t beat up on her — we all edit what we’re going to notice and not notice, otherwise we couldn’t get through the day.)

She does mention the company, though: apparently Mount Pleasant Furniture does a roaring business renting props to movie shoots in town.

Their doorway window gives just the tiniest indication of how many props must be on offer.

Tour over, and my feet, eyes and mind are now free to wander in unison.

Feet stop while eyes and mind enjoy this real, live dog on Main Street, patiently waiting for his human to abandon the delights of the Cartems “donuterie” and take him home.

Feet stop again just across the intersection.

Eyes read, mind again enjoys this street ode that I have read before …

with summer tree-shade bringing the text to life.

I do pause, one further moment.

And then — feet, eyes, mind, and everything in between — I wander on home.

 

Water, Water, South & North

30 June 2019 – We’ll start South.

Having given no more than passing reference to the Fraser River in my post Up the Mighty Fraser — all about the street, not the 1,375-km river — the least I can do is show you a photo of the river itself.

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation advertises a walk along the Fraserview portion of the river as it winds through south Vancouver, and I jump at the chance.

Wonderful walking/cycling trails now, and condo/retail development, but it is still a working river, so, yes, logs still come down in booms, and sure-footed men still walk among them. (Sudden memories of childhood visits to my grandparents by the Ottawa River in Woodroffe, and our game of “riding the dead-heads” as we swam — i.e., clambering up the exposed end of a half-sunk rotten log, and bobbing up and down.)

And now … North!

Another day, another exploration.  I ride the Seabus across Burrard Inlet to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver, wandering first among the docks, public art, natural beauty and retail temptations of the Shipyards District, right next to the terminal. The name is developer’s language, but fair enough: this was once a very long and very busy stretch of ship yards and dry docks.

No fog horn, not even in the day, but it didn’t matter. They had Joe Bustamente, a one-armed former Chilean mariner and — more to the point — a skilled trumpeter. Circa 1900, he and his trumpet guided ferries through the fog to safety.

I walk the length of the Burrard Dry Dock Pier and use its railings to frame a view of the St. Roch Dock, in the process catching a Seabus plying its shuttle route.

Then I head west onto the North Shore Spirit Trail. This is, or will be, a 35-km bike/pedestrian greenway along the waterfront right from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. It is also a joint project of First Nations, municipalities and the provincial and federal governments, so my hat is off to all of them. Let’s just take a moment to imagine all the negotiations, and be grateful that everyone persevered.

I’m sampling a modest number of those kilometres, the ones immediately to hand (to foot?), starting at Wade Baker’s Gateway to Ancient Wisdom, which welcomes visitors to Squamish Nation land.

I pass a stone marker at the bridge over Mosquito Creek, which features, well-of-course, a mosquito. Plus a very small sparrow…

Look downstream into Burrard Inlet. There’s a whole colony of 21st-c floating homes at rest in the water, sharing space with a working marina.

Look upstream instead, for a reminder of 19th-c history. There in the distance, the twin spires of St. Paul’s Indian Church.  (Yes, “Indian” — gone from contemporary vocabulary, but sanctioned in this historical reference.)

Built in 1868 and the oldest surviving mission church in the Vancouver area, St. Paul’s combines Gothic Revival style architecture with Coast Salish interior details. Still a working church, it has been restored four times, most recently in 2017, and I’m hoping it will be on the list for North Vancouver’s next Doors Open event, because I’d love to go inside.

A red cautionary hand, marking the road crossing ahead. Was prudence ever more beautifully delivered?

On along Kings Mill Walk, rightly named for the mammoth lumber mills that once stretched along this section of waterfront. Out in the water, a circular boom. No, I don’t know why. A seal swims through, that’s enough for me.

 

I see gates into an off-leash dog park. It is a long, winding and very beautiful pathway along the Inlet, I see no signs demanding a dog as price of entry, in I go.

And, anyway, I want to get close to some of the 15 artist-designed birdhouses, part of the Birdhouse Forest created in 2005.

Pretty sure this one is by J. Gauthier, apologies if I’ve got it wrong. Also pretty sure that, although these are meant to be working birdhouses, they aren’t. Far as I can see, the intended chickadee and tree swallow inhabitants have turned up their beaks. Well, at least we human enjoy them.

On out of the dog park, with its polite instruction to owners, and equally polite apology to the dogs…

My turn-around is the 280-m pedestrian overpass at Mackay & 1st Street West. It rises over train tracks, and you know what that means. Where there are tracks, there will be box cars. Where there are box cars …

Equally bright artwork, but this time officially sanctioned, on a utility box on the homeward stretch.

And a stop at Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie, just off Spirit Trail. (Truth is, I’ve woven two North Shore visits, one within days of the other, into this single post. The second visit is with my great friend Sally, who guides me to Thomas Haas.)

No latte this time, I order a house specialty — spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate. Then Sally & I try our luck with the bright red chocolate dispenser in the wall separating café from workspace.

See the white arrow pointing to a bright white circle, just below & left of the open tray? There are a few of these arrow/circle combos scattered over the façade, each swinging open a tray when pushed. Each tray contains a single free chocolate. If nobody got there before you, that is. (Frequent refills, but frequent eager fingers as well.)

All empty. I have to make do with my Aztec Hot Chocolate.

First-world problems.

 

High Alert

21 June 2019 – Solstice, the summer version in the northern hemisphere, and, here in very-seasonal Canada, it’s street-festival season.

No wonder even dogs & cats are on high alert…

Well, that was a shameless segue if ever you saw one, wasn’t it? But there really is a kind of link between image & theme, not that I suppose you care a lot.

I’m walking back south on Ontario Street from False Creek, enjoying breeze & sunshine, and about to turn left on E 5th for a latte. I pause at the corner to properly enjoy the dog & cat — and the other two cats on the dog’s back, and the whole rest of this mad mural.

But that’s not the “whole rest.”

It’s just another chunk of this 2018 example of Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF) art work, whose epicentre is still this Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, and will be again, come 1-10 August.

So I enjoy the wall yet again, including the name & signature style of the phantoms in the front yard collective …

and go get my latte.

I sit in the café thinking just how festival-drenched we are: Main Street Car-Free Sunday just past; jazz and folk festivals warming up; VMF looming and the Vancouver Bach Festival as well (30 July – 9 August). To name a few.

But dog/cats/etc. have me thinking street art in particular, and the rest of my walk home supports that train of thought. (I almost wrote “visual thought.” Is that possible?)

A little farther south, a little higher up the hill, left turn into the alley between E 7th & E 8th, and whappp — big octopus eye stares me down. I look on east, past the rest of that mural, ‘way down the line to the pink blob in the distance, framed by hydro poles.

I reel in my visual field, focus up close again, see the octopus credit line.

Except it isn’t, I later realize. It’s acknowledging the 2018 VMF overall curator, Scott Sueme, a Vancouver-based abstract artist who began with a fascination for graffiti and skate-boarding, attended Emily Carr University, and is now hung in and represented by very fine galleries indeed.

I don’t have a credit for little girl with heart, alas, though I think this mural dates from the 2016 VMF. Query: does anybody else look at that and think of Toronto’s lovebots?

Eastward down that alley, past Quebec St., up close to the pink blob. Which is still pretty darn pink, but less blobby, even if I still can’t quite work out which body bits go where.

Right turn at the cross-alley.

But not before admiring another 2018 mural, one I’ve always liked for its cool, ordered contrast to the more typical street-mural turbulence.

For the first time, I read the complete credit line, not just the year. And I discover why this work is so cool, ordered and geometric.

See? If you keep looking, you keep learning.

Bare Ankles & All

1 June 2019 – Oh, forget the calendar. Canadians know that once the 24th of May holiday is past … and the weather is warm… it is summer.

Time to enjoy.

Which is exactly what I see happening, in assorted manifestations, all along my walk west on the False Creek south seawall, up into Granville Market & South Granville, and eventually back over into Mount Pleasant.

Man props up his bike, sinks into a freshly-repainted Muskoka chair on Spyglass Dock, and relaxes into the sunshine, bare ankles & all …

Crow preens atop the nearest lamp post, bare beak & all …

Very small craft await spring fix-ups (in contrast to sparkling larger neighbours) …

Goslings learn to look both ways before they cross the bike path through Charleson Park …

Yellow Something pretends to be a bright red poppy in the Charleson Park Community Garden …

Labyrinth detail pretends to be the eyes & beak of a ferocious owl (or vice-versa) on a sea wall lookout near Granville Market …

Patch on battered building in Granville Market doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is, rust …

Child discovers the splash-pad fire hydrants in the Granville Market playground turn on and off, all by themselves …

A festival poster in the Market acknowledges (as all events now do) where we work, live and play …

Guys on the left edge of a Granville Bridge on-ramp watch pigeons eat grain, lower right; neither group pays any attention to the mural trio, upper right, admiring the mural tribute to Lawren Harris; for that matter, the mural trio pays no attention to man-on-bike emerging from that red door on their left …

A sunbather in Jonathan Rogers Park bares more than her ankles & toes (take that, Mr. Spyglass Dock Man) …

And a bakery signboard on the Kingsway …

proves that not all Vancouverites are fitness freaks.

Into the Sunshine

23 May 2019 – Let me sort out my prepositions. Not into, but up. Up the Sunshine Coast.

Out of Vancouver, and up the 180-km stretch of mainland that — thanks to those convoluted mountain ranges — is only accessible by air or water.

I choose water.

Love those BC Ferries  Away we go from Horseshoe Bay, starting the 40-minute ride that will weave around some intervening islands in Howe Sound and deposit us all at the Langdale Ferry Terminal.

Then it’s pavement again and a local bus. I’m off at the next community along the route, Gibsons, a town of some 4,600 people just 6 km down the road. My plan? To mooch about.

And I do.

And I have a good time.

I hear great snippets of conversation. “Had a bear in my back yard yesterday,” says one woman to another as she buys some stamps. “Three hundred pounds. Totally destroyed my bird feeder.”

I see delightful things. Places to park while charging your e-vehicle …

and places where you better not park at all. Unless your name is Ribbet.

Mostly, I head for the waterfront, walking the pathway that borders crowded marinas, with pleasure and working boats both, and a long, busy public wharf.

Over here, a float plane …

and, over there, a couple of houseboats, gloriously smothered in plants.

I see tiny shells, carefully arranged on a weathered log …

and an old boat, its hull still bright, the interior bleached and collapsing.

Kiddies hurl stones at a convenient jetty …

kayakers diverge, as gulls converge …

a jaded fish swims into a parking lot …

while much happier fish swim across the community centre wall.

Of course they’re happy! These are rockfish with a purpose. On June 7, Gibsons’ inaugural World Oceans Day Festival, they will be auctioned off to raise funds for the local Marine Education Centre.

Locally created, with local resonance, for local benefit.

I’m happy too.

 

Quebec, Vancouver

19 May 2019 – Not the city, not the province, but the street right here in Vancouver. Imbued, I am now convinced, with all the creativity and flair of its eastern namesakes.

There is Quebec Manor, for example, corner of Quebec and East 7th, which first strutted its splendid stuff in 1912, a 32-suite luxury apartment hotel, and is now a non-profit housing co-op.

Wonderful old details still abound …

I go woo-woo every time I pass.

So I should not be surprised, really not at all, to be just as amused and delighted, farther south on the street, ‘way up by East 20th.

I am walking back north toward home, pleased with the visit I’ve just had, pleased with the leafy residential street, everything just “lying down and behaving itself”  — a definition of good design that I’ve long cherished, courtesy of a Calgary photographer I knew decades ago.

And then I see this fence, rolling on down Quebec, defining the boundary of a home that fronts on the cross-street.

Talk about street art! This one has everything, all exuberant, and pretty well all repurposed and recycled and flung into a bright new life.

A big old circular installation, for example …

crammed with lovingly rescued bits of stuff.

And larger-than-life wooden figures … this one proclaiming, board by board: “What I am / after / above all/ is / expression.”

Beyond it, more and more.

A painted orange flower, nicely framed, flirting with all the real flowers outside the frame …

a whole line-up of bird house façades …

another circular installation …

just as crammed full of reimagined bits & pieces.

Who knew rusty can lids and old CDs could dance together so happily?

My own favourite, the painted crow. Who is contemplating either a rorschach inkblot test over there to the right .. or just an inkblot, skip the tortured analysis.

A butterfly …

and I turn for one last loving look northward.

But wait!! (As the infomercials love to say) There’s more!!

One block down, right at the alley corner, a canoe.

Rusty bedsprings behind, assorted garbage and recycling containers all around, and fresh new seedlings emerging in the canoe bed.

Québec, j t’aime!

 

 

“Satu Lagi…”

22 April 2019 – “Satu lagi,” I mutter to myself, as I wander eastward, deeper into Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. “One more.” The phrase — a linguistic remnant of time once spent in Indonesia — is the perfect motto for a wandering, exploratory walk. It tugs you along. On and on.

Walk one more block, check out one more alley, turn one more corner, step close to one more plaque, sniff one more blossoming fruit tree, stoop to touch the unfolding fiddleheads of one more fern, breathe a moment on one more sidewalk bench while you let street life unfold before you …

That kind of walk.

I am totally in the mood for a satu-lagi outing, this sunny-cloudy day, ready to pause wherever, follow any impulse.

First stop, to admire painted fir cones decorating a tree at Scotia & East 6th.

On east, thinking I’ll follow 6th for a while since I never have before, but ready to be tugged either side of that axis.

I’m enjoying a string of bright-coloured small homes, then find myself indeed tugged off-axis for satu lagi, one whose weathered paint job is warmed by its cheerful title: Chateau Leanne.

One-more / one-more.

One more traffic circle, this one at St. George, with turquoise stencilled tributes to both St. George Creek and the indigenous Coast Salish peoples …

One more cluster of fern fronds, unfolding into spring light and warmth …

One more bend in a road, this one luring me back onto Fraser, but north this time, down to a curve with its red diamond warning sign, and, beyond that — or so it seems, from this distance — a surprising little grove of trees.

I follow it, and, oh, there’s nothing one-more about what I see among the trees.

It’s a one-off, that’s what it is, and it justifies my decision to walk the extra block and explore that grove.

Littering is wrong, always wrong, but I find I have a guilty, sneaking appreciation for this litterbug’s sense of placement. That chair is perfectly placed, perfectly angled. (Sorry.)

Vaguely planning to head south ’round about now, but first satu-lagi myself a few more blocks east. Where, on the edge of a park, I discover this poignant tribute to traffic accident victims and a call for witnesses to the most recent.

I finally turn south on St. Catherines, and find myself pulled across the street by these contrasting homes — the newcomer so sombre and austere, its older neighbours so bright and at ease.

I move in for a closer look at the vivid photo-wrap utility box in front of that infill home, and then see how wonderfully it is juxtaposed with mosaic artwork along the edge of the alley just beyond.

One more utility box, one more block up the street, this one also decorated. More impressive than its neighbour, you could argue, since it is hand-painted, not photo-wrapped.

Oh, all right, perhaps not more impressive after all. But good fun, don’t you think?

I have no reason whatsoever to swerve east yet again, but … satu lagi gives me a tug, and I swerve.

Over at Prince Albert, I’m rewarded with visual haiku, one black crow silhouetted against a multitude of pink blossoms.

The sky stays grey, colours continue to pop.

Westward again by now, one-more / one-more, starting my zigzag west & north toward home.

Stream of Dreams fish swirl on an elementary school fence, one more school engaged with the charity that helps communities become better stewards of their local watersheds.

When I’m almost home — my mind jumping ahead to home, my attention with my mind — there’s a surprise. Mind & attention jump back, join my body in the present moment.

Look.

One more treat.

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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