Not-Toronto Alley

31 August 2017 – No, no! You do not go looking for one city in another, judging the latter by how much it does, or doesn’t, resemble the former.

So I am slightly embarrassed to confess that this alley immediately reminds me of Toronto alleys that I have walked & loved.

But it is not Toronto.

It is Vancouver. Lower east side Vancouver (between W. Cordova & W. Hastings, and Richards & Homer).

Still, it is very reminiscent, is it not?

I am a tad nostalgic, as I watch this old fellow pause to light his cigarette and then slowly wander on his way.

A whole lotta paint on this walls. No wonder this aerosol can is lying flat, exhausted.

(The cat, of course, would not dream of slumping in exhaustion.)

Even a bare pole isn’t quite bare.

I haven’t seen this little red Angry-Mask before, but suspect it has been pinned to many other surfaces as well.

On the pavement beneath my feet, more art work.

 

Then there’s Peek-a-Boo, with Dumpster. (Vincent Van Gogh Division.)

And Peek-a-Boo, with Truck.

And Peek-a-Boo, with Shoulder.

I emerge.

And pretty soon, on the edge of Gastown, I’m enjoying a different vista entirely.

On the right, the 1910 Dominion Building, Vancouver’s first steel-framed high-rise (once the British Empire’s tallest building); on the left, and wonderfully sympathetic in its architecture, a market-price residential tower in the redeveloped Woodward’s complex.

Definitely not Toronto! Definitely Vancouver.

 

Gallery Lane

18 August 2017 – Not named on any City-issued map of Vancouver, but right there on the Muralfest map: “Gallery Lane.” I’m back, the day after the big party, to explore what I missed the first time around. Judging by all the bright red dots on the map, I missed a whole lot, up and down the Lane.

So in I slide, dropping north from East Broadway into the alley between Quebec Street & Main. Right away I love it, it’s all grungy and eye-popping at the same time. A poster for the Mural Festival, its backdrop a tired old fire escape on the corner building…

Two more steps into the alley, and paff! A dumpster. A dumpster as set upon by Oksana Gaidasheva and Emily Gray, leaping with colour and life.

I practically fall into that corner owl, as mesmerized as any unlucky field mouse by those glaring eyes.

This starts well! I am happy.

On down the alley I go, prowling, pausing, cocking a head & a hip, again  & again.

Side trip just north of East 8th, to the Wrkless face at the end of a short cul-de-sac.

Look how it’s framed! Every element just right, stairs & security lights & wheelies & litter & windows & walls. The perfect streetscape art installation.

And now, just for the next few images, I want you to flip between this post and its predecessor, Main-ly Murals. ‘Cause we’re now in the East 7th & Main parking lot — bounded on the west by Gallery Lane — where, on Saturday, I showed you all those parking slots being turned into works of art.

Yes, cars are back in the lot, but the art still dances.

And yes, the women I photographed lifting the stencil off their car-slot left behind something terrific.

And yes! It turns out those kids creating the text mural knew all about apostrophes after all.

I fussed away, in the previous post, at their initial “Its” instead of “It’s.”

Well.

I am happy to show the world that I misjudged them.

A short conversation with a woman who carefully parks in a non-decorated slot & wields her own camera, and then on I go, north again in Gallery Lane.

I stand at East 4th, look back south, and have to stretch wide my eyes.

Behind the parking lot on the right, Andy Dixon’s big mural. Wrapped all around the building on the left, mural work by a team: Bronwyn Schuster, Lani Imre, Tia Rambaran, Amanda Smart.

One of the things I like best is that all this art becomes part of the working city. The alley is purely functional: vehicles block your view, mural segments painted across doorways disappear every time a truck has to drive into the garage.

And, all around, City workers are collecting trash, and pruning trees — here at the Main St. corner of that blue mural-wrapped building shown above.

I spin on my heel, head north again, bounded on my left by Jane Cheng’s blue-&-white fence work.

Across East 3rd, and I’m in Bunny & Bear territory.Thank you Carson Ting.

Also — did you notice? — another ripped T-shirt hanging on a utility pole.

I’ve noticed 4 or 5 by now, so it wasn’t the one-off that I thought on Saturday when I saw, literally, only one.

And the T-shirts are not all pure white, the art limited to careful rips & tears.

Which reminds me: I am hungry.

I head home.

I Dally with Dance

7 July 2017 – But first,  I Dalí with dance.

As in Salvador; as in Dance of Time I.

I’m not even a Salvador Dalí enthusiast, and have seen more soft-clock iterations over the decades than I care to think about … but, still … there is something arresting about this whopping (390 kg, 213 cm high) bronze sculpture smack downtown near Howe & West Pender.

And I am quite charmed when I read the plaque. First, it’s the real thing, not a knock-off: one of an edition of eight (+ six proofs) first cast in 1984. Second, it is well-travelled: it has already been exhibited in such cities as Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Mexico City, Venice & Taipei. Third, the Chali-Rosso Art Gallery here in Vancouver has arranged for it to be on display in this city for 150 days, to celebrate Canada’s 150 years of nationhood.

So that’s all good, and anyway (fourth…), I’m always in favour of public art.

Which explains my delight just a day later, when I’m again scurrying through downtown, this time to dally with dance.

It’s opening night of the 29th annual Dancing on the Edge festival, a performance by the Beijing Modern Dance Company of their work, Oath-Midnight Rain.

I cut through the alley just south of West Hastings off Granville … and look! It’s public art! Even better: alley art!

Vancouver-style.

I’d seen this alley once before, during my winter visit, but had forgotten where it was located. Now, in summer warmth, I can linger comfortably.

I’m not the only one lingering, or the only one with a camera, either — but the rest are more into selfies & each-other shots.

Are you following the dynamics here? Yellow Shirt Guy is taking a picture of White Shirt Guy … who is too busy watching those young women to mug for the camera.

But the young women are oblivious to his interest …

because they are too busy checking their own photos.

This is good! It shows that Alley Oop is doing what it is supposed to do: turn an ugly, strictly utilitarian, unpleasant alley into a place that welcomes people, and encourages them to use it, and have fun in the process.

Thank the DVBIA (Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association) for the idea & the funding; thank HCMA Architecture + Design for the transformation.

This one opened in September 2016, apparently two more are planned.

Before the project, this alley averaged 30 people per hour; now, 73. Before, 6 vehicles; now, down to three. Before, mostly men walked through here; now, the gender split is pretty well even.

Not the kind of alley art I’m used to, and that’s just fine, too. What’s the point of going somewhere else, if you want it to be exactly like the place you left?

I check my watch, realize I better copy this fast-moving couple …

and get on with my own Dance of Time.

Time to meet Sally, have a quick pub supper, and head for the Firehall.

As in, the Firehall Arts Centre, which was Vancouver’s first firehall when it opened in 1906 and stayed in use until the mid-1970s, but has been repurposed as an arts centre since 1982.

We dally on the patio for a moment, with its bright picnic tables and end-wall mural …

and then move inside for the performance.

Oath-Midnight Rain is really, really good. (Photo from Dancing on the Edge website.)

To keep something like this going for 29 years? And to have this level of quality?

Bravo, Donna Spencer and team.

 

 

Swell, Scruffy, Swell

25 June 2017 – And all in one day, too, neatly sandwiched. No surprise about the “swell” that began & ended the day: I’m talking about yesterday, which was Doors Open Vancouver, a day designed to showcase notable city buildings for residents & visitors alike. The surprise was the “scruffy” in between — and an even more surprising (to me) correlation with the later “swell.”

I leave home with a limited Doors Open agenda, limited by the fact that I’m not free to trot around town all day; I am an afternoon DOV volunteer, and decide I can only fit in one morning visit — the very swell Orpheum Theatre. A 1927 movie theatre with the exotically luxurious details of the day, it followed the usual arc of such theatres & by 1973 was on the verge of being gutted & turned into a hive of mini-theatres. Various public & private sector heroes rode to the rescue; it is today completely refurbished, a National Historic Site, and a much-cherished, well-used theatre.

My afternoon shift is in an equally swell structure, the Scotiabank Dance Centre, which opened in 2001. This, by contrast, is an example of a 1920s building (a branch of the bank) that was gutted, save for the façade, with the footprint brilliantly reinvented by Arthur Erickson and Architectura as an 8-storey complex of dance rehearsal and performance studios.

So as I head south on Seymour St., late morning, I am still dazzled by the Orpheum and eager for the Dance Centre. My mind is in Swell Mode.

And then I see this.

Oh, my dears.

Even though I strongly suspect the whole thing is a joke, a carefully spelled-out joke, it’s a terrific joke & I laugh. The black-gloved broad is pretty terrific too…

So my humour is even better as I loop around a bit, and find myself on Granville nearing Davie — and therefore the Dance Centre as well. My mind is back in Swell Mode, I an anticipating the architectural pleasure to come.

Then I glance to the right, where there is a staircase down into a sunken sliver of parking lot. And I see this, and of course I nip right down those stairs.

We are back to scruffy! Not recently-commissioned, high-class parking lot street art by a name-brand artist. No. Definitely old, & peeling. Scruffy.

But it still has charater.

With a space ship, for example, or perhaps bumble bee, take your pick …

and some kind of critter, beckoning me on.

And he really does lead me on, because he is at the corner where this parking lot feeds into an alley.

I peer around the edge, looking toward Davie.

Perfect!

There are parrots soaring over skyscrapers …

and an inscrutable face over a dumpster …

and a bit of Alley Philosophy, to Make You Think.

I’m laughing like anything when I emerge on Davie — all the more so, given I am almost dead opposite the entrance to the Dance Centre, and I like the juxtaposition a lot. I even consider jay-walking (will I never renounce my bad Toronto habits?), but opt for a demure legal crossing at the street corner instead.

And look, virtue is rewarded.

I discover why those two parrots are fluttering around the alley.

At the time, I’m just pleased to get the reference. And admire another bit of neon art.

Later, online, I learn that the ground floor of this 1890s building was the Bank of Nova Scotia local branch from 1912 to 1929.

When it moved to the Bank’s fabulous new building, right across the street.

Which, in the 1990s, was donated by the Bank to the project that was to retain the façade, incorporate the name, and transform the footprint into the new Scotiabank Dance Centre.

Where I spend a very swell afternoon.

 

 

 

Art & Art, High & Low

17 April 2017 – I’m not too sure about that “high & low” distinction, but I stand by “art & art.”

And every molecule of it breathes Toronto.

Henry Moore’s Two Forms, for example, an icon of the Art Gallery of Ontario, long resident at the AGO’s N/E corner (and due to be relocated to Grange Park).

Fine art, “high art,” that inside the Gallery would be guarded & untouchable.

Out here on the street corner, it is beloved by all, stroked by all, sat upon & slid through by many, and never vandalized — except by all that love. “It’s worn through to the rivets,” a conservator once told me ruefully. “One of these days, we’ll have to have it repatinated.”

Inside the AGO, I revisit one of my favourite rooms, a quiet little room tucked away in a corner of the 2nd floor, housing only two works by Inuk artist Jacoposie Oopakak.

I love the simplicity of the caribou skull, title Family, its antlers delicately carved with images of people, a family tree.

I love, too, the painted line of caribou slanting down the wall, refracted by the case to dance with the skull as they walk and keep it company.

I’m back outside again, dog-leg into an alley just N/W of McCaul & Dundas — and look at this!

Street art featuring a high-minded quote by a brand-name thinker.

(Ignore her. She is not contemplating the art. She’s on her cell with her boyfriend, comparing their respective holiday weekends.)

I am impressed. I look up the Voltaire quote later on, back home. Many sources agree, it’s by our man Voltaire all right. One disagrees. Nah: Pierre de Beaumarchais said this in 1775, while working on the 2nd scene, 1st act, of Le Barbier de Séville. (Well, strictly speaking, no. What he said was: “Aujourd’hui ce qui ne vaut pas la peine d’être dit, on le chante.”

Really? I have no idea. Click here & decide for yourself.

Or ignore all that, and instead contemplate this next bit of alley-art philosophy, cheek-by-jowl with M. Voltaire/deBeaumarchais. No authorship dispute here: it’s the work of Blaze Wiradharma.

We are spoiled for choice. We can say something, sing something … or just spray it instead.

 

Cat Tales (& Tails)

14 April 2017 – It’s a bright afternoon.

Neighbourhood pussycats are lying in the warming earth of front yard gardens …

stretching their bodies — from toes to belly to ear-tips — to the sun.

I leave the groomed residential street, & tuck myself into a nearby scruffy commercial alley.

Unless something dire has happened, I am about to revisit one of my favourite pussycats.

And there he is.

Wet City

18 February 2017 – “Wet City.” That’s a clue. Make a guess.

Oh, never mind. The answer is: Vancouver, B.C.

I’m back in Vancouver, and, currently at least, this art gallery in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood has exactly the right name.

art gallery, Main St. nr East 6th

Moments later, in a near-by alley, I see some hot art.

alley s. of East Broadway at Quebec

Though perhaps not exactly what the gallery owners had in mind.

It’s a damp, drizzly sort of Saturday, the moisture so soft & diffuse I mostly don’t notice it & never put up the hood on my jacket. A landscape, & seascape, of gauzey grey.

But… so mild.

Cambie & West Broadway

See? Bare legs. And my jacket is half-open. (I mention all this diffidently. A pet peeve among eastern Canadians is the flood of photos this time of year from BC-coast friends, flaunting their crocuses & snowdrops & lattes out on a café patio.)

On the other hand, pooches must be pampered, even in mild weather.

down near False Creek

I this this warning unnecessary — at least, today. Surely the attraction today would be unguarded expensive umbrellas!

nr Columbia & Broadway

So far, I’ve been looping around East & West Broadway Ave. Now I head on north to the water, to False Creek. Lots of people out & about — with dogs, with kiddies, with their FitBits & serious running gear, with snazzy bicycles — drawn to the parks & the Greenwall (seawall) that define south-east False Creek.

People out on the water as well. Dragon boats skimming in all directions. From ‘way out there somewhere, I can hear a cox barking at his crew, “Just think about what you’re doing!” But that’s the cox’s job, is it not? To bark?

And here’s another dragon boat, just about to set out from Spyglass Place Dock, by the Cambie Bridge. Though that’s not why I’ve stopped. I’ve stopped to enjoy the art.

Spyglass Place Dock, False Creek

Emily Gray is the artist, and if you click, you’ll get an aerial view of this mural.

I like the details all along the edge, including this fat little bumble bee.

detail, mural at Spyglass Place Dock

I walk on east a bit along False Creek, into Hinge Park, admire yet more art. This time on wooden posts out in the water.

just off Hinge Park, looking east along False Creek

But, this time, I can’t tell you the artist. Or anything else about it. I just like it, I like it in combination with the tall towers & the spherical World of Science to the east. I’d like it with the mountains as well — if they were on offer. Which they aren’t.

Because, even though we’re having a moment of watery sunshine, the atmospheric theme du jour is, pervasively, droplets of rain.

pedestrian walkway in Hinge Park

When I reach Olympic Village, I make another stop. This one you can guess…

Of course. For a latte. (Some rituals travel so easily!) Then I walk on east & a bit south, angling to Main Street and my temporary home just beyond.

With a passing glance, on Main near East Broadway, at an editorial comment on life in Wet City.

shop window, Main nr East Broadway

Should I go back & buy it?

 

 

Three Dog Alley

13 February 2017 – Not that I particularly followed Three Dog Night in its heyday, but the name does pop to mind, as my feet lead me into yet another alley.

My friend Chloe & I have just come from the Michael Snow exhibit at the Christopher Cutts Gallery on Morrow St. She is off to work, but me … I have time to follow my feet.

Into this alley, just north of Dundas West before it smacks into Roncesvalles.

Dogs One & Two!

alley e. from Morrow, n. of Dundas

 

I really love this. How silly these woofs are, how ragged the artwork, how raffish the garages; all the elements all floppy & happy together.

And a bit farther down, Dog Three. Different mood.

alley e from Morrow n. of Dundas

Maybe he’s not grumpy, maybe he’s just yowling in happy anticipation of that cup of coffee.

Then again, maybe he really is grumpy. (See that “beware of dog” sign on the fence at the corner?)

I round myself back out onto Dundas, and –bonus — one more dog.

Dundas W nr Howard Park

Except that I, in knee-jerk reaction, true downtowner that I am, I read him as a raccoon. Only later do I see that, no, he is not our wily Urban Bandit with opposable digits, he’s a dawg.

A Tease

Next post will not be from Toronto! I’m off on another adventure … You’ll see.

What the Leopard Spotted

6 February 2017 – Leopard. Spotted. Get it, get it? (Painful nudge in the ribs.) Painful play on words, too, but as seasoned readers know, I am linguistically shameless.

And he is one terrific leopard.

detail of mural, n. side Gerrard just e. of Broadview

I’m walking east on Gerrard, just east of Broadview, mildly surprised to find myself here since I’d meant to get off the streetcar at Danforth but … um … for some dozy reason bailed several stops too soon.

And I am rewarded with this leopard! Detail of a larger mural, the rest of it depicting Chichén Itza, but all I want is the leopard.

So now let’s pretend that he is our guide, our spotter, for the rest of the walk.

A whole flurry of words comes next, as many words as a leopard has spots, you might say.

n. side of Gerrard, e. of Broadview

I confess I still haven’t read every last syllable. So you don’t have to, either. We can still enjoy the conviction, the exuberance, not to mention the steady hand, that transferred all that verbiage from someone’s whirlygig brain to a convenient wall.

And now the leopard & I pad our way softly north to Danforth, and eastward again.

Where we meet more words — but only a chosen few. By a master of words. And curated by an institution devoted to words.

in front of Re:Reading, 548 Danforth

We pause at Greenwood now, leopard & I, just north of Danforth, edge of an alley, and spot another mural. Lots of activity in this one, all of it advertising Lucsculpture School and Studios (“relief through creativity” says the home page).

I like this detail best. Luc himself, I assume.

on alley wall side of Lucsculpture, Greenwood just n. of Danforth

Into the alley.

For a hit of pure alleyscape. A not-very-accomplished red face (or something) on a scruffy doorway, framed by other graffiti scrawls & a chipped black grill locked around a rear staircase. Plus a demure, nicely polished, good-taste, late-model automobile.

alley e. fro Greenwood n. of Danforth

I can’t justify it. I just like it. Sometimes — for me anyway — it’s the juxtaposition of independent elements that creates the art.

Farther down the alley, for a couple of moments of cliché that transcend cliché.

The first cliché is the image, a scrawled face that I have seen on oh-so-many alley walls by now. It’s the gate that rescues it. I dance back & forth, hurriedly adjusting — oops — for the ice beneath my feet, and find the spot that amuses me.

same alley, farther east

Peek-a-boo!

The second cliché is the phrase uttered by a man passing by, who, having called out “Hullo!” then urges me to “Have a nice day.” And he is so cheerful, so meaning the words, that he rescues the phrase. I find myself saying it right back to him.

Then we both smile, and walk on.

 

Magic, Reality, & the Meaning of Life

30 January 2017 – There it is, the meaning of life, aero-sprayed on an alley doorway.

But that comes last, an editorial gloss on my discoveries in this dogleg alley, just south-west of College & Spadina, wandering my way into Kensington Market territory.

I’m in the alley by whim (as I so often am), a momentary detour as I walk home from a Hot Docs presentation of Gabo, an extraordinarily moving & informative documentary about the life & impact of Gabriel García Márquez.

Given the evocative brew of magic & reality in which I have just been immersed, I am perfectly happy to be welcomed into the alley by a pair of very large bunny-rabbits.

Poser bunnies, alley between Oxford & Nassau, S/W of College & Spadina

Poser‘s work, of course.

I notice, too, the neat message (by another hand, I think) in the upper left corner: “Tante Terri, stay strong!” The bunnies are magic, the message is a sliver of someone’s reality.

I barely have time to think about this; I become aware of the growing decibel level of a background voice, clearly drawing closer. I also become aware of a … well … a sound. Hard to define.

Until I look over my shoulder, to see that it is a tire-turned-hoop, rolling merrily in my direction as man-behind-the-hoop yips with delight.

same alley

I yip, too. How could you not?

‘Round the bend in the dogleg, into the public parking segment, & I muse at Lovebot & ANSER, up there with the parking rules & regs.

Muse at the remnants of the artists’ work, perhaps? A very partial little Lovebot, up high, and just the one element of the famous ANSER face below. Did he, or someone else, reduce it to eyes? I think of eyes framed by a veil, with a bindi in-between.

Lovebot & Anser, same alley

Or maybe I’m making far too much of it all. Still, that’s art at its best, right? Art that sets you musing, interacting.

Enough musing; time to laugh.

And what better stimulus than a shocking-pink Poser bunny.

Power-cum-Chagall, same alley

There he is, floating over the city. I think of Marc Chagall’s Over Vitebsk — only a 21-st-c. street artist version, armed with spray-can not knapsack — & I start to giggle.

All this, packed into such a small space!

Everything so unexpected, so engaging, that this final image, as I leave the alley, offers the perfect philosophic framework for it all.

same alley

Meanwhile, Mr. Man With Hoop is still rolling his hoop. We cross paths again as I head out to Spadina. A final shared laugh, a final thumb’s-up, and I’m gone.

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

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

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