Colour Blocking

15 February 2021 – Snow, surprise-surprise; then rain, no-surprise; and always colour.

I think about Colour Blocking and then — the way it sometimes works out — the idea takes over.

So, eyes & mind, I go along for the ride, and make an afternoon of it.

Online

“This design technique is all about showcasing curated combinations of colour,” says Google, adding that it arose during the modernist art movement of the 20th century.

In Museums & Collections

… by Piet Mondrian, for example, with his 1935 Composition C (courtesy of http://www.piet-mondrian.org).

Or, back here in my own real world…

In Window Displays

… for a local art supply store.

On Neighbourhood 1920s homes

On Alley Walls

Underfoot, in Street-Café Decor (the puddle a temporary embellishment)

and finally…

On a Winter-Mossy Tree

I say “Finally” because, whatever human beings care to think, Mother Nature always has the last word.

Fazes, Flatz & Catz

9 December 2020 – I am zed-obsessed, you will have just noticed, and it’s all because my feet turn right instead of left and send me on a tour of Zedland. (As in, South Flatz-with-a-zed.)

But before the Flatz, a face. (I’m back to proper spelling. Aren’t you glad? A little cute goes a long way.)

This image is just where it should be, in an alley betwixt garbage bin & hydro pole, and I like it a lot. Partly for the message (“It’s okay / to let things / feel a little / bit easier”), mostly for the line strength and enigmatic stare. The power of this graphic brings to mind the face by Toronto street artist Anser that became a city icon.

See what I mean? Not the same, but reminiscent.

I see the face again as I enter an alley down between East 2nd & East 1st, right where my feet turn me right instead of left — unexpectedly toward Emily Carr University and away from my intended visit to False Creek. Eyes even more powerful this time, framed by that rusty railing. (The artist signs as DATA, and I can find nothing helpful online.)

On East 1st now… and yet more faces! Each one presumably giving you a reason to drink Red Truck Beer.

And now, closing in on Emily Carr University of Art + Design, I hit the Zed.

South Flatz will be an entirely legit and valuable campus of high-tech buildings close to Emily Carr. The branding, however, meant to establish creative, street-smart creds for the development, has drawn heavy sarcasm online: “spelled with a ‘z’ because it’s cool!” snipes one review; “so hip it hurts!” I have to confess, my own lip curls at the sight.

But my humour is restored when, in the midst of that glossy line-up of images, I spot Sir Wilfrid Laurier Cat.

What do you mean, you don’t see any resemblance to our country’s 7th prime minister? Look at the collar.

Another cat, but this one more Parking Lot than Parliament Hill. He’s on a service pole in the parking lots stretching on east from Emily Carr. Train tracks to the other side and, here, trucks and tents associated with location shooting for a new documentary film: Managing the Pandemic Risk. (Sigh.)

Also in the parking lot, more faces and — perhaps — another cat. Faces on the back of that colourful van, showing the eponymous Two Nice Guys ready to move your belongings; Perhaps Cat scrawled on that white van right-forefront.

And on I go, as far as Clark Drive, and then south (uphill, pant-pant) until I turn west again on East 10th.

Where I meet two more cats.

In a manner of speaking. Black cat high; gold cat low; neither deigning to acknowledge the other or passers-by. Well, they can’t, can they, because they’re not real. But the behaviour is real …

And just when I think I’m fresh out of cats, and into Starry Trees instead …

I get another cat. In among the branches. White polar bear on the left, more vivid, but red cat nicely visible as he prowls above that star.

Above them all, tucked in the crotch of the tree, a fairy door and a heart with the first phrase of Dr. Henry’s mantra.

“Be kind.”

Nothing to do with faces or cats or Flatz or the letter zed — but always appropriate.

Detour

7 November 2020 – I’d planned to stick with West 4th, all the way to Cambie, but roadworks force a detour. I angle through a parking lot just past Manitoba St., to catch the nearest alley.

First glimpse of the alley, and I think: “This could be fun.”

Turns out that guy isn’t pointing at Grecian Goddess there on the wall: he’s concerned about a stack of boxes inside the doorway beside her, and wants his buddy’s opinion.

I hit the alley and stand stock-still, mesmerized by all that it offers.

Finger-Pointing Guy asks, with kind concern, “Are you okay?” I reassure him. “I’m just stunned by all this art.” He blinks at me. Art???

Yes, art. Look.

If the style of those writhing creatures seems familiar …

perhaps you’re remembering the wolf sculpture by Paige Bowman (‘birdfingersss”) I celebrated in my Animal Flow post. This is also her work..

Human being to the left is suitably horrified.

Soothing waves just a bit farther west …

and a musical pirate opposite. (A lute-loving pirate! Not to be confused with any loot-loving pirate you may happen to know.)

Beyond the pirate, a dead ringer (or so I think) for Sammy Davis Jr., flying from one adventure to the next, the length of this entire mural …

from his first brave leap, upper left …

through repeated moments of great concentration …

to a confrontation with some Force of Evil, upper right.

Swivel head back across the alley, and … change of pace.

Something Escher might do, were he alive now and more fascinated by tubing than by fish and birds.

A few more steps (a few more paces, ho ho), and … change of pace.

I hit Columbia St., the next intersection, and look back with appreciation. Lots of surprises, in amidst all that scruffiness.

I decide to stick with the alley for one more block, but expect nothing more from it. After all, how do you top technicolour LOVE?

You write an erudite pun in neat blue letters on a white wall, is how.

Clever, but — I am happy to report — without any evidence, either visible or olfactory, to back the claim.

Surprise!

15 October 2020 – So satisfying: happy surprises, even when I’m walking a not-wildly different variation on a pretty familiar route.

I’m not surprised by moss on this tree trunk, as I head south on St. Catherine around East 10th, but I stop to admire it, you know I will. And while I’m at it, I salute the bike-share racks across the street. At a time when so many bad possibilities threaten, let’s treasure everything that looks unreservedly good.

Then… surprise! I notice that somebody has tucked a little painted stone into a crevice of the tree bark.

A micro-surprise, if you like, but lovable all the same.

Macro-surprise comes later, as I pass an alley between East 18th & 19th, by Carolina. First surprise is that, by total chance, I’ve just rediscovered Bee Alley. I first shared it with you last 24 May, under the pretty obvious title, B Is For Bee.

It’s a whole alley-block of pavement art, celebrating bees.

It still has those wagglers to lead me in …

and there is still bee motif all along the way, but there are some additions, some new images.

Surprise!

A butterfly …

a salmon (I think) …

and a whale.

Still no artist signature I can find & no explanations, so I can only wonder, and guess. The butterfly looks generic to my uneducated eye, but both the salmon and whale surely come to us from the rich Coast Salish imagery of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh people.

On I go, already very pleased with the day, as you imagine — but it just keeps handing me more discoveries.

I’m on East 18th, near St. George, okay-residential-not-amazing, and then I see this plaque set in the walkway to an infill house. The house is fine — modern in a clean-lined, minimal way, and in scale with & respectful of its setting.

But the plaque interests me more.

“Certified passive”? I build up a whole scenario of a bone-lazy house that won’t even pick up its underwear from the floor. Alas, I do realize (though regretfully) that is probably not the explanation.

And it’s not.

Still … surprise!

Well, for me. I didn’t know there was a world-wide Certified Passive movement, let alone metrics and civic support right here, for homes that meet specific standards for occupant comfort & energy performance.

On down the block, and stop to admire a slightly but lovably dishevelled older house, with a slightly but lovably overgrown garden inside its picket fence, and a Little Free Library box out front.

I check out the books, and only then notice — surprise! — this welcome to passers-by, hung in the protected archway of the gate.

I like that very last bit especially: “Be completely silent, and that will take you to the depths of your spirit.”

The Open-Air Gallery (Year 5)

5 September 2020 – We’re talking street art, but organized street art, with the street as part of the art. Which justifies the invitation on the Vancouver Mural Festival home page: “Discover the city’s open-air gallery of murals.”

Now in year 5, this non-profit event has to date added more than 200 murals to the cityscape and made them a welcome, a vaunted, part of our identity.  It’s a little different this year — no street parties, for obvious reasons — but even so, 60 new murals, and an expanded presence in nine neighbourhoods.

Armed with the app, friends & I descend on three of them: West End + Robson one day, and my very own ‘hood (and birthplace of the VMF), Mount Pleasant, a few days later.

In a regular gallery, the art dynamic is between you and the work of art. Out on the street, it becomes a three-way conversation: you, the work of art, and whatever’s happening in that bit of the city at the moment you three collide.

So, standing in Pantages Lane behind Davie Street, eager to see Pearl Low’s Precious Fruit, we wait patiently while the Steam Works Brewery driver climbs back into his cab and methodically — oh, so methodically — organizes himself to drive off.

We chat, comfy in the shade. Then the door slams, the engine catches, lights flash on, and he’s gone.

Start looking at the murals, and you look at everything else as well — all the other visual cues to where you are, and to the rhythm and values of the part of town where you happen to be standing.

Maybe it’s signage right here in Pantages Lane at a cross-alley …

or a memorial next to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just off Davie St. on Jervis.

The whole city is an open-air gallery, not just the murals.

A few days later, we’re in Mount Pleasant, where the Festival began and still its epicentre. We prowl more streets and alleys, this time in an 8-km curve from north/west-ish to south/east-ish.

In the alley just off Columbia & West 8th, artist Carole Mathys talks to my friend about her mural, Reclaimed. Finishing touches still to come, but the work already proclaims that we humans are just one small part of the eco-system, and not, ultimately, in control.

Right opposite, a work still so much in creation I don’t even have a name for it, and artist Cara Guri hasn’t yet arrived to satisfy our curiosity.

By the time Year 5 rolls around, the legacy of previous years is all around you. At Columbia & West 7th, we bounce with the energy of Magic Music Ride, a 2018 work by American artist Bunnie Reiss.

The car this side of the street bounces with it as well. See how its windshield and gleaming hood throw reflections back at the mural?

Makes me goofy-willing to see art in everything.

Ohhh, that yellow van is so perfectly framed in these blind-spot mirrors, high on the wall where Manitoba meets the alley just north of West 7th … And look, the green of the wall complements the green of the trees… (Sigh… )

Down the alley, something more substantial than traffic mirrors!

A succession of murals, but we stop longest at Entangled Flow, by Abbey Pierson, a Cowlitz/Mexican/European artist based in Olympia, Washington.

It covers a long stretch of wall, the artist statement as powerful as the work itself. “Each new generation faces the effects of neglect that spreads through the world like poison in veins. It takes form in our hatred, our carelessness and in our environment …”

A sombre message, with an optimistic call to action. “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

Another 2018 favourite of mine, at Ontario & West 7th — a wall-full of people (many modelled on local residents), cats, dogs, wine glasses and seething activity. It was created by all seven members of the Phantoms in the Front Yard collective, but seems not to have a name.

Every time I look, I see something more.

Like this cat (yet another cat), peeking ’round a window bolted shut.

Sorry cat — my head swivels.

Right across the street, a 2020 mural-in-the-making, Gabriel Martin’s Presence.

At first it seems the opposite of its neighbour — where the Phantoms’ mural pulls you close, to search for every detail, the one by Martin pulses from afar. You almost feel the need to stand back, as if it can only be read from a distance.

Which would be a mistake.

Because, A to Z, in deliberately ghost-pale lettering, Martin neatly prints a dictionary of emotions to either side of the figure. The mural pulses with more than radiant colour; it pulses with the ebb & flow of human emotions.

Later, in a Main Street café, we talk about the art, the city, and how lucky we are. Despite all the threats — medical, political, environmental — there is also laughter and art and generosity and possibility.

Abbey Pierson got it right, didn’t she? “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

 

 

The Crock Croc

7 July 2020 – Could it get any better?

An alley made happy with a happy crocodile head (or so I see it), those great jaws curved in a smile …

and, and, the croc is made up of crockery.

Gazillions of tiny shards, placed with great deliberation, colour/texture/design all orchestrated for stand-back visual coherence.

But come in close.

To the croc’s eye, for example …

You see?

The croc is not all alone, in his alley corner.

Other shapes & designs are also pressed into the retaining wall (and on up the steps of the adjoining home, so there’s one mystery solved).

I particularly like this design, because Mother Nature has added her own rose-petal embellishment, upper left.

B Is For Bee (& Buttercup)

24 May 2020 – Walking south through quiet residential local streets, as usual, and, again as usual, head-swivelling to check out each back alley as I pass. Because there might be something to explore.

And, oh, this time, there is.

A brightly painted bee-trail the length of the block.

It starts with that one bee, then leads you hippity-hop forward …

 

to a node with two bees, to keep you motivated …

and a final twist of hippity-hop …

 

to the three-bee finale.

And then the magic spell is broken.

Or perhaps intensified, depending on your attitude to cityscape.

I turn my head to the right, and take in the boarded-up old house, the beater-car in the yard — and what explodes all over the rest of the yard.

B is for buttercup.

 

 

Off-Main

24 December 2019 – I’m weaving around that Main St. axis, mostly not on it but orienting with it even so…

“Palimpsest!” I think as I pause at this E. Pender alley corner, always happy to use the word (it’s such a wonderfully crunchy mouthful).

Look closer, and no, it’s not some one-time iconic brand. It is, well it says here, “Good Company Lager.” It also says, “What’s Up Fool,” but let’s ignore that.

just below it, a graffito correction for the old-fashioned washroom signs also painted on the wall. “Non binary” it scolds, the lettering faded but the 21st-c. message clear.

Right, shame on you, there are more gender options than male & female.

(My personal “WTF?” is all about the signage convention that men get to be men, while women have to be ladies, but each to their own obsession.)

Another message, this time full of beauty and spirituality, at E. Hastings and Gore — no. 21 of the 31 mosaics embedded in downtown sidewalks, especially here in the Downtown East Side.

I love this series, love discovering the squares at random. I’m always amazed that people can walk right over them unheeding, but stubbornly confident that many other people do notice, do enjoy, do feel energized by the civic display of beauty.

I especially like this particular mosaic, of course, for the raven…

 

… and for that message of survival, still defiantly there despite the beating inflicted on this explanatory sign by time and vandals.

From underfoot to overhead, as I veer back along E. Hastings to Main.

Vintage neon! There since this café opened its doors in 1942.  (Brings to mind “The Goof” in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood…)

More neon in the doorway, a cup presumably brimming with Ovaltine.

I waver, I do, I confess to a long-standing fondness for chocolate Ovaltine … but… naaah.

I go home for coffee.

 

 

Dull Day Bright

1 December 2019 – Images from 30 November, a suitably overcast last day of a traditionally rainy month. But bright even so, bright with art and words that brighten the mind and spirits.

This great pop of art for example, lighting up a grey-scale alley just off West Broadway & Ontario Street.

A corner signature tells me the artist: Stefan Raupach — and later exploration tells me more. This is Morning Sun, created in 2015 in collaboration with the City of Vancouver and Tunari Gumi, a grassroots organization serving the Japanese-Canadian community. (Indeed, it is on the alley wall of the organization’s offices.)

No clear shot possible, such is alley art life, but lots to admire in bits & pieces. The flautist’s head and nimble fingers, for example …

and the morning sun itself, along with mountain peaks, waves and (inevitably) crows against the clouds still pink with sunrise.

I even like the sight lines up that staircase — a reminder that street art lives within its larger urban context. The macro urban-art installation, if you like. (Well, only if you like artspeak. Sorry.)

On I go, I am in fact heading for somewhere (though not with any sense of urgency). Next time I stop to cock my head, it is at a different kind of “macro urban-art installation.” (Smirk.)

It’s not the old house itself, particularly …

it is that parliament of owls on the porch roof. (Yes, “parliament” is the collective noun for owls. Isn’t that wonderful?)

I leave the owls to their deliberations.

Still heading west, now on West 8th between Ontario and Manitoba streets, the southern border of Jonathan Rogers Park.

Nothing macro about this next art installation, it is gloriously micro, eye-level and eye-scale.

I love this series — by now some 60 utility-pole plaques dotted around the city, an initiative of the Reading Lights program that publicizes B.C. children’s book authors & illustrators and makes their work available through the library system. This particular plaque brings us a snippet of Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin (by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng).

I read the snippet …

and enjoy the illustration — and then I look north instead of south.

Straight across the park for another macro view of something bright on a dull day.

Very big, very bright — created during the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival, the work of Germany-based “SatOne” (as Venezuela-born artist Rafael Gerlach signs his works).

Up there on the horizon, something even bigger: the Coast Range. Not particularly bright as yet, but look, there is that one vivid tongue of white on the Grouse Mountain ski run…

And, with that bright promise of winter, trot-trot, on I go.

 

 

Ooooooo & Ouch

22 September 2019 – I’m crossing Cambie St. on West Cordova, deep in Gastown territory, lots of gloss & touristy flash and noisy patios and whatnot, and then … wait a minute …

Oooooooo

A patio, not noisy, and okay definitely glossy, but the gloss is on the table-tops and it makes their designs dance for us, even on this dull day.

I lean over the railing for a closer look.

Well, that’s fun. Bold lines, local references (“Gastown” and the iconic East-Van cruciform image…) and even, on that far right corner, some words.

So I lean even closer.

And I am happy.  Amidst all the Gastown tourist come-on, some real humanity. Not generic design work on these tables, but specific art by a specific artist, Alberto, who this time around had some help from Katarina and chooses to offer her a very public thank-you.

Oooooo-worthy, on all levels.

?????

Hah, not the heading you expected, but accurate to what I’m thinking — if confusion amounts to thinking — as I head south on Homer from West Hastings.

What is that image, there on the south-east alley corner? Surely not a green & white python, swirling up from its street-level basket?

No, of course it’s not.

It’s a woman, albeit quite improbably swirly in form, with a flower. Green, white and, I now see, lavender. (Nicely picked up in the lavender shade of the graffiti on the lamp post…)

I am no longer ???? about the image, but still pretty darn ????? about why it’s there.

The sidewalk sign tells me this shop is called Coalition Skin and, once I get past the scowling feline and read the small print …

the Ouch sets in.

 

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

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

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    "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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