Omens, One-Two-Three

4 January 2020 – I’m not superstitious, black cats & ladders are safe with me, so I don’t get all jumpy about a possible bad omen — but I’m quick to call something a good omen and get all gleeful about it.

So please join me in the Historical Present Tense, jump back to 1 January, and get all gleeful with me about my walk that day.

We’re having lots of rain this winter, but here in downtown Vancouver, this first morning of a brand new decade, the sun is blazing down.

First good omen: sunshine.

It bounces crisp shadows off richly warmed walls …

and highlights just a riffle of cloud in that Alberta-blue (still my criterion) sky.

Which brings us to my second good omen: feet overrule brain, and it pays off.

Brain thought that we (the whole mind/spirit/body collective it thinks it controls) would head north-then-west. Feet abruptly veered east instead, into the South Flatz.

With a zed. Because this once-grotty stretch of reclaimed lowland — from the current artificial end of False Creek on east to its former natural end near Clark Drive — is becoming an artistic and intellectual magnet, thanks to the relocation here of Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

But the train tracks still run along the north side of all this redevelopment, and graffiti, murals and boxcars are as much part of the scene as the snazzy newcomers.

I peer through chainlink fence, using boxcar ribs to frame images on the walls beyond. I smirk at this neatly lettered graffito: “art is pain.”

I have visions of an Emily Carr student bursting out of that handsome building right behind me …

to leap the fence and take out his/her frustrations on that wall beyond the tracks.

Next door, another handsome building, this one the Centre for Digital Media, a post-grad collaboration among various universities. More art, but this time 3-D, official and not at all painful.

No need for that umbrella today!

The work brings to mind the Love In The Rain sculptures by Bruce Voyce in Queen Elizabeth Park, but I can’t find confirmation.

I’m up by Great Northern Way by now, once train tracks and now home to cars, bikes, pedestrians, and even a Little Free Library box. Of course I peer in.

Oh, New Year’s is so ten hours ago!

Across the broad street, an imposing & equally broad staircase. Lined with statuary.

I’m glad it’s there, but I don’t quite know what I’m looking at.

Over at Clark Drive, though, I know exactly what I’m looking at.

As in: “I’ll see your padlock and raise you a pair of clippers.”

I follow my feet north on Clark for a bunch of boring blocks, be grateful I’m skipping this bit in the re-telling. Just south of Prior, I head west again, with no particular plan in mind except to escape Clark, and wander willy-nilly through industrial park territory — everything from tool manufacturers to “integrated media solutions” studios to something called Flüff (with the umlaut) and the Vancouver International Marathon Society.

Some okay murals, plus this imaginative use of (I think) a glue gun to create a runic cameo on one corner of a nondescript wall.

I wander on, feet doing the work, mind along for the ride. Then eyes see three spur-line train tracks, and brain & feet agree we should all turn left and follow the tracks.

Which brings us to my third good omen: serendipity. Sometimes you rediscover by accident a place you could never find again on purpose.

I am so pleased. I recognize this mishmash of brick and wood and out-buildings, covered in murals. Complete with alley-ways (dungarees optional) …

and plant growth as much part of the total effect as the artwork.

By sheer, happy, welcome-to-2020 good luck, I have once again found myself at 1000 Parker Street. I am behind the Parker Street Studios, which houses some 200 artists in its four sprawling floors of space.

Every alcove and doorway an explosion.

Its spirit? Look closer, up above the top-left corner of the door.

“People are having too much fun,” it says.

I laugh.

The guy standing nearby, having himself a smoke, turns at the sound and nods. We talk. He is one of the building managers. “Oh, it’s a great place. Lot of really good artists here, you know — all kinds.” I say yes, I know; I came here once on an art tour. “Come back any time,” he says.

We beam at each other, wish each other happy new year, and go our separate ways.

“The Owl and the Pussy-Cat…”

9 November 2017 – Chant along with me:

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea green boat…”

I am not in a pea green boat.

I am in the former mattress factory at 1000 Parker Street, but I am as deliriously enchanted with my surroundings as any fan of Edward Lear could ever hope to be with his nonsense verse.

And, right here at 1000 Parker, there is an owl.

We are on the Surrey Art Gallery bus tour I mentioned last post, the day-long visit to clusters of artists’ studios in two Vancouver locations.

1000 Parker Street, I learn, is a Vancouver treasure, one of those rare examples of a major property developer/manager — in this case, the Beedie Development Group — that decides to dedicate one of its properties to the needs of its city’s artists.

Result: some 110 studios & 227 artists over four floors of a rambling wooden structure that began life in 1896 as the Restmore Manufacturing Company (and has been a few other things along the way).

I begin to think the hallways house almost as many artistic delights as the studios. There was that owl and, look, here’s a painted piano. With fall pumpkins.

The artists we visit speak coherently and engagingly about their lives, their preoccupations, their creative explorations. We’re a sort of dress rehearsal for the 20th annual Eastside Culture Crawl  (November 16-19), when this building, and its residents, will be a key attraction.

As always — at least, for me — it’s the asides, the little sidebars to the main story, that bring the artists most compellingly to life.

Visual artist Tiko Kerr, for example, works in the studio space once occupied by Jack Shadbolt (1909-1998). Assorted materials belonging to that renowned painter had been left behind, including a whole array of paint brushes. Kerr grouped some together, prepped them, and repurposed them as his “canvas” for a tribute painting that now hangs on a studio wall.

Later, when Judson Beaumont, woodworker/founder of Straight Line Designs (“We make quirk work”), explains that an early influence was the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

his beautifully executed, totally functional — and entirely loopy — designs make perfect sense.

His studio is on the top floor. He leads us out a doorway onto a little deck, talking about the work they do, answering questions, out there in the fresh air.

I sight down the old wooden walls to the railway tracks below,  a reminder of this building’s — this whole area’s — industrial/manufacturing past.

Frances nudges me, points straight down between two arms of the building. “Ooooooo,” I breathe. A continuous frieze of street art.

I want to see it! Inside is fine, it’s informative & stimulating … but I want to go outside, circle the building, see everything up close.

And I get to do just that.

Most tour members climb back in the bus for the return trip to Surrey; one other woman & I are staying in town. Jud Beaumont offers us the circle tour of the walls.

He laughs when I read out the company name lined up with his over a doorway. “Survival kits,” he repeats. “But they’re gone.”

I stare down a long building wall, realize I am as taken by the lines, colours & textures of the old building itself, as I am by the new — and ephemeral — artwork that is now part of it.

It becomes one stunning package, a dialogue of component parts that gives energy to the whole.

“The fire department inspector must have hysterics every time he visits,” I say. Beaumont is suddenly serious. “We are completely up to code. In everything.”

Then he breaks out in more laughter. “But I tend not to show potential clients any shots of the outside of the building,” he adds. “It might worry them.”

I’m not worried, I am having the time of my life, scooting from one visual treat to the next. Look at this doorway!

And this gold-sprayed mannequin tucked in a niche!

And Mr. Periscope Rabbit!

And the austere beauty of precisely aligned windows.

I am swept by sudden memory of the wall of north-facing windows on the Group of 7 Studio in the Rosedale Valley Ravine, in Toronto.

Except that Group of 7 building does not have any backchat from a line-up of chartreuse what-nots.

Or the scrutiny of laser-beam eyes in a smirking white face.

Well, it had to turn up, didn’t it?

We started with an owl. Of course there’ll be a pussy-cat.

I prance down the cul-de-sac, for a closer look.

Then I thank Beaumont for his street-art tour, say good-bye to my tour companion, and walk the 8 kilometres home, west through Strathcona, across Main Street, along False Creek, and up the hill.

So much fun.

 

 

 

  • 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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