Door to Door

19 September 2019 – Two walking women meet one walking man.

Not any old walking man — this is Walking Man (Howard Street, Glasgow), by Alex Tedlie-Stursberg.

Thing is, we’re not in Glasgow. We’re in Eihu Lane, downtown Vancouver — specifically the two blocks of this commercial laneway, wedged between Alberni & Robson, that lie between Burrard & Bute.

It is a very busy commercial lane.

More than once, we have to summon our inner gazelle & leap to safety. (Not as gracefully as the gazelle, perhaps, but with the same sense of urgency.)

It’s worth it. We are walking the City’s new Canvas Corridor — 45 murals adorning back doors and vents, in a laneway project involving downtown business associations, the City of Vancouver and 27 artists (culled from hundreds of applicants via the Simon Fraser University School for Contemporary Arts and the Vancouver Mural Festival).

There are delicately haunting doorways (I Hate Rain, Nadia So) …

vibrating doorways (Holy Mountain/Man, Adam Rashid) …

two-fers …

and even four-fers.

There’s a city on the tip-tilt (City, Jag Nagra) …

and a sraight-up heart …

with, just like it says …

Enough Room For One More (Justine Crawford).

We laugh and point and compare/contrast and leap out of the way of trucks and leap back into mid-lane and, finally, realize it’s time to put on our skates (with Skatemail man, Graeme Kirk) …

and leave the alley.

So we follow that cement mixer as he pulls away …

and get one final treat.

Just look what he was obscuring

Hello Malayan Tiger, thank you Elaine Chen.

(And yes, this is the twice-promised post, about the rendezvous I was rushing to keep when that panel of VSE hand signals slowed me down.)

 

A Loop Beneath a Rain-Rich Sky

14 September 2019 – Rich more in promise than delivery, though, as I write this, rain is pelting down.

Earlier, the sky is merely lowering, luminous grey, the air heavy with its cargo of rain. But I am now a Vancouverite, am I not? I put on my jacket, tuck a mini-umbrella into my backpack, and off I go.

A loop, I tell myself: down to the eastern end of False Creek, west up its north side to the Cambie bridge, over the bridge, back east to Creek-end once more, and home.

I’m not the only Vancouverite. Waving-cat Maneki-nako stops waving, wraps his paw around an umbrella instead, and turns into rain-cat.

Luminous sky means darker darks & punched-up colour, this rain-filled trench in a construction site suddenly a turquoise pond.

Site equipment rears dark against the sky …

as do hydro poles in a nearby alley, their attendant crows somehow even blacker than  usual.

Down on False Creek, an inukshuk seems to huddle against the chill …

and tide height turns rock tips into dark islands in the glittering waters.

A woman stops beside me, also contemplating the rocks. We chat, her small dog with butterfly ears yips at a passing gull. “I named him Napoleon for good reason,” she sighs. “Small Frenchman with big attitude.”

Just before the south-side ramp up onto the Cambie bridge, I pause again. A kid & his skateboard take a breather beside the mural with its large “Stay in school” message. It’s Saturday. He’s legal.

Over the bridge, and, starting down the spiral staircase at the south end, I hear music.

I look over the edge.

Some passer-by has pushed  back the protective tarp, and started playing the public piano that lives here on Spyglass Dock every summer. The music swells; the pavement murals glow in the mist.

A little farther east, I watch crows fly in to join their fellows in a favourite staging tree. Come evening, they’ll take wing for their nightly migration to the next municipality over, Burnaby. Night after night, they swirl past my balcony, dozens at a time.

 

Mist has turned to drizzle; drizzle is thickening to rain. One more line of hydro poles, as I cut south-east toward home. No crows here, just one bright saw-tooth line of pink warning flags.

And now… rain! I scamper.

(You’re right: this is not the post I semi-promised you last time around. This one seemed more here-and-now. That one comes next. Yes! I promise.)

Put/Call, 1/2/3…

12 September 2019 – We’ll get to all that. First, let’s talk months.

Favourite-month & birth-month stuff.

My favourite month tends to be…

even though my birth month is …

I’m showing off like mad, aren’t I, but really, I’m proving nothing more than the fact that I can read.

I’m barrelling along Howe Street, downtown Vancouver, definitely en-route elsewhere (as you will discover in my next post), but then…

I have to stop for this.

Now home to the Open Outcry Restaurant on its one-time trading floor, this building at 475 Howe Street is the site of the former Vancouver Stock Exchange — demurely headlined as “colourful” in this write-up, though more pungently called the “scam capital of the world” by Forbes magazine in 1989.

But we needn’t care, need we? We can instead indulge in a little insider lingo (if not insider trading), all risk-free and perfectly legal.

The numbers seem routine enough …

but it all gets more exotic with the signs for months of the year, and specific stock-market commands.

And now you can decode my month-secrets.

Love That Dude

8 September 2019 – This is a love story …

about this Dude.

In 1991, the Vancouver Parks Board installed a handsome new cedar sculpture, Reclining Figure, in Guelph Park — a not particularly large or widely known park in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, bordered on its east side by Guelph Street.

By 2017, as you can see in that Georgia Straight photo above, the wood was busy repurposing itself. Just fine for the planet as a whole; not so fine for lovers of the sculpture. The Parks Board paid to have it returned to the artist, Michael Dennis, on Denman Island.

And then… what to do, what to do?

Because, you see, this wasn’t really about Reclining Figure at all.

It was about The Dude. And Dude Chilling Park. And a community icon.

A little back-story:

  • November 2012, local artist Viktor Briestensky, in tribute to the sculpture, puts up a hand-lettered sign renaming the park, “Dude Chilling Park.” The Parks Board removes it.
  • February 2014, after an online petition gains some 1,800 signatures, the Parks Board thinks, Why not?, and puts up a Dude Chilling Park sign next to the Guelph Park sign. The park is still legally Guelph, but has dual-sign status.
  • The park’s alternate name gains international media attention; the “Dude” sign keeps being stolen as a souvenir; lots of people visit the park; and on we go.

And then it’s 2017, and the Parks Board finally removes decomposing Cedar Dude from the park, and reunites it with its creator. Guelph/Dude Chilling Park has lost its soul.

What happens next is a grassroots campaign to “Save the Dude.”  The Mount Pleasant Community Centre is a driving force in the campaign, local media get behind it, people and various societies chip in, Michael Dennis adds support — and, finally, there is money to back the public will to save The Dude by casting it in bronze.

Mid-August this year, Bronze Dude is triumphantly installed. (But I only catch up with it today…)

We love our Dude!

Fibre-art on the park’s tennis court fence proclaims it.

More fibre-art, twined around nearby tree forks, illustrates several more reasons why people love this park.

One reason, the park’s large community garden, visible behind that tree.

Spin about, sight along one of those two wrappings for another reason.

See? There to the left? People laughing and story-telling around one of the park’s many benches.

Just chilling with The Dude.

 

Floating Blue

26 August 2019 – “Pleasure craft” is now the official designation, but it has taken almost 100 years for officialdom to lay successful claim. This floating cabin lived a long life in a squatters’ community moored between low and high tide in Dollarton, North Vancouver, before becoming home/studio to artists Al Neil and Carol Itler in the late 1960s.

(Yes, the same squatters’ community once home to Malcolm Lowrey, but no, not his cabin. That one burned down.)

By 2014 the cabin (“the blue cabin,” for obvious reasons) was the last remnant of that community — and slated for demolition. That’s when a whole consortium of public/private sector cultural interests came together to  restore it, and turn it into a studio for a floating artist residency.

And now there she sits in north-east False Creek, right next to the brand-new living quarters that completes the facility.

The historic Blue Cabin was restored by artists Jeremy & Sus Borsos; the 500 square-foot, off-the-grid living quarters was designed by artist Germaine Koh and architect Marko Simcic.

It’s public-take-a-free-tour day, and we’re there, you bet.

“Restored” is exactly the right word for the Blue Cabin: all those multi-coloured pieces of wood, thrown together in one houseboat, are stabilized but otherwise lovingly preserved, right to the chips & scars.

From electric blue exterior walls …

to interior walls & ceiling …

floorboards …

and the bevelled glass mirror in the door to what we guess must have been a medicine chest, in that battered yellow wall.

The work in both buildings is in its final hectic stages. Both will have what’s needed, without excess and with maximum flexibility: each artist will be able to reconfigure the bits to fit individual needs & tastes.

We troop across the dock to the adjacent living quarters — severely, elegantly, rectangular-minimalist. Once we climb up into it, we imagine how much the artists will enjoy those panoramic views across False Creek and into the busy life that fills the Creek.

Eastward toward Telus World of Science (aka “the Golf Ball”) …

and westward toward and beyond the Cambie Street bridge.

Once finished, and with a rather more elegant ladder, this overhead hatch will offer access to a roof-top mini-garden and very mini-deck. “Room for a tiny table and a chair,” says our guide.

We learn that for the first year, priority will be given to indigenous artists. (The Cabin, like the rest of us, resides on the unceded and ancestral territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-Waututh nations.) Regional artists Angela George, Janice George, Buddy Joseph and Debra Sparrow have already completed a research term with the Cabin, and will take up residencies later in the year.

First 6-week resident artist? Vicki Couzens, a First Nations multimedia artist and cultural leader … in Australia. Our tour guide isn’t sure what the focus of her work will be, but points out that Couzens is central to the reclamation of the possum cloak story and language.

Later, I look up the Australia Council for the Arts involvement in this project — the only overseas partner — to learn their rationale.

This prestigious opportunity ensures that Australia’s highly respected First Nations’ arts, culture, and stories continue to be shared with new audiences across the world, and strengthens our deep connections between Australian and Canadian First Nations peoples.

I like it.

 

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.

I Stop! (Twice)

3 August 2019 – So here I am, deep downtown and just flowing down the street. Flowing, not bouncing — my body, like my mind, still caught in a post-concert trance of Mozart rhythms.

And then, I stop.

Not so much for this amber hand, as for the basilisk stare behind it …

the defining feature of Traffic Bear.

(I would honour him with his proper indigenous name, but unfortunately these photo-wrapped signal boxes don’t always identify the artist or composition.)

And I walk on, I flow on, over one street, down two …

and I stop again.

My back to the law courts, my face up-tilted,

to watch real clouds drift past, checking out the art-clouds on the building below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

  • 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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