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.

 

 

 

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.)

 

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?

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!

 

 

Theme & Variations

28 March 2019 – The theme is street art, more specifically murals.

A straight-forward example of the genre: down an alley, created by a street artist.

But think of the whole city as a kind of pulsing, collective art installation, and then the concepts of “mural” and “artist” become much more fluid.

Suddenly the theme is open to variations.

A mural may dance across the facetted mirror-glass of an office building …

created anew each moment by the play of nature’s sun & cloud on the human hardscape below.

Or murals, plural, may interweave their stories as they share a single space across time …

their once-vivid messages fading to a visual mumble.

Or, as you walk a viaduct and look down, a mural may pop in a pop-up park …

its graphics the semaphore of a complicated City/developer green-space accommodation.

 

 

X-Power

22 October 2018 – I’m not sure how to pronounce it, but I for-sure like the results when womxn street artists are invited to paint up a storm in a particular city alley.

I’m here thanks to a tip-off from Chloe, another onetime AGO colleague who has turned into a continuing good friend. She’d have cause to know about this 2018 project: apart from anything else, it’s virtually across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario — in the alley on the north side of Dundas, between McCaul & D’Arcy streets.

So right after Anthropocene, I cross the street and left-turn into the alley from McCaul. First up, a big black blank canvas — probably not part of the project, but something Chloe told me to check, since it is regularly repainted with another quote. Current version is:

One other person is prowling the alley, camera in hand. I mean, a real camera, with attachments and everything. Backpack Guy and I dance around each other very agreeably all the way down the block.

And there’s lots to see.

Down at the end of that long shot, you’ll see the multi-coloured suggestion of this (I think) leopard, who leaps right at me once I reach that particular garage door.

He’s in high contrast with an image more often associated with women …

I particularly like the jaunty angle of the needle.

There are eyes, twice over …

and dancing cranes …

and dancing water-babies. A splashy great mix of diving styles, complete with a couple of exuberant cannonballs.

As I head back to Dundas West, one final message.

Life philosophy all wrapped up in a tongue-twister. I twist my tongue around it a time or two, as I wait for my streetcar.

Time With Grit & Grime

15 September 2018 – Grab it all, drink it all in, right? Revel in eco-sculptures one day, but go prowl alleys & street corners the next …

And so here I am, back in Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, back on Main Street. Where I discover another click-clack-fall-is-back:

This street piano is still on the street, but locked up tight. (Only later, looking at my photos, do I see that piano keys are painted on the padlock.)

A silenced piano, but fair enough. There are not many people still patio-lingering to enjoy it, even had it been open for use.

I’ve been pretty sketchy about discovering this year’s Mural Festival contributions to the neighbourhood, so I double back onto Watson — looks like an alley, but it’s a legit street with its very own name — to go see what might be there.

If there is a new mural nearby, I don’t see it. I’m struck instead by this hopeful message — I interpret it as hopeful — on a dumpster.

Bit farther north, and I get to pay tribute to one of my all-time favourite Mural Festival offerings, this one a veteran from 2016.

Oh, I love this wolf. (And the companion wolf, out of frame.) It’s more than aesthetic appreciation, I realize: I stumbled on the 2016 crop of murals by accident, while visiting that year, not even knowing that a Mural Festival took place. So there’s a whole serendipity-lucky-charm current of warmth I feel, every time I see him again.

More wandering, and eventually I’m on E. Broadway (aka 9th Ave.), just west of Main. I side-slip into the alley & bend myself back-back-back, peering up-up-up, to pay proper attention to this glorious fire escape, with its entirely improbable cross-stitch of artwork, top to bottom.

All that, and one of those big boxy Vancouver hydro poles to complete the image.

I straighten up, and discover a Millennial right next to me, busy taking the same shot. “I saw you & wondered what you were looking at,” she confesses once she too is again vertical. “It’s cool.”

Farther west on Broadway, and a tattered poster I don’t understand, but the devil-baby graphics suck me in. Then I decide I like the larger composition even better: Manhattan Project + devil-baby + “Faro” +  the battered, barricaded windows + assorted scribbles.

The city — any city — just keeps throwing up these random art installations, the elements assembled by chance and disparate hands & intentions. Some cohere, some don’t. (Oooo, aren’t I playing the Deep Thinker! I’ll stop now.)

I don’t have any of these Deep thoughts at the time. I am immediately distracted by a bright red poster next to the devil-baby ensemble, and move in to read the fine print.

Later I find Expressions of Belonging online, and discover these events are being organized by a local Master’s student, not as part of her studies, just as a way to encourage human connections within the urban web. Coming up 23 September, so you still have time to mark your calendar if you’re local– but note the venue has moved to the Kitsilano Community Centre.

One last citizen of the urban web who demands our attention — a creature of many roles but, at this exact moment, playing parking vigilante.

There is always a crow.

 

Another Day, Another Alley

18 August 2018 – An alley was not the plan. The Tuesday Walking Society (Vancouver Division) was out in full twosome force, and the plan was to improve our minds with a hit of heritage architecture.

Specifically, a tour of the interior of this theatre, the largest in Canada when it opened in 1927 …

and once again a sparkling major theatrical presence in the city, following its restoration in the mid-1970s.

Scheduled tours all summer long, arrange ahead or just drop in; all fine.

Except when there is a film shoot that same day. As a polite little notice in the window informs us.

Never mind. We can adapt. If the theatre’s heritage interior is not available, we will console ourselves with its heritage alley right next door.

Welcome to Ackery’s Alley, nick-named for Ivan Ackery, who ran the Orpheum 1935-69 and helped visiting celebrities slip out a side door into the alley when they wanted to avoid adoring fans. Like the theatre itself, the alley deteriorated over time, and stayed scruffy a lot longer.

Until this very summer, in fact, when it became the second of the City’s downtown paint-the-alley projects. It may still be a service alley, but it’s now snazzy as all-get-out.

Good information, yes? Though perhaps you didn’t really need to have that last bit spelled out.

Great waves of colour undulate their way right up the walls …

and all over the recycling bins.

Anti-pigeon spikes are firmly attached to every horizontal surface.

Which, as Mama Pigeon discovers, makes them the perfect fence to support her nest and keep the babies from tumbling out.

I am not sympathetic to pigeons — the sight of them has me humming Tom Lehrer’s ditty, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park — but I catch myself applauding Mama P. for her ingenuity.

We repeatedly have to stop gawking at the alley’s paint job and leap out of the way of delivery trucks, threading their way through the narrow space, guided by Useful Guy working the film shoot.

He gets a moment to breathe between vehicles; that gives us a moment to admire his arms. He’s as snazzy as the rest of the alley!

And then finally away we go, Frances & I, walking on north through town, vaguely planning to reach Burrard Inlet somewhere around Canada Place, where we will then — probably — follow the seawall west for a bit.

An hour or so later, the time accounted for not by kilometres walked but diversions enroute, we reach Canada Place. The cranes on the Port of Vancouver’s Centennial Pier punch a dramatic orange through the haze, but the Coast Range Mountains, just across the Inlet, are almost totally obscured.

It is not a romantic mist, it is not Rain City about to have a rainy moment. It is wild fire smoke.

More than 500 fires are burning province-wide as I write this. We pause a moment, think about all the displaced people, all the exhausted fire fighters, all the terrified wild life, all the trees … all the loss.

We are sombre as we walk on.

Our mood doesn’t lighten until we pass this notice on a blocked staircase.

Oh! Sorry! is that one image too many? Am I boring you?

I apologize…

Murals! and a Festival To Go With ‘Em

14 August 2018 – It’s been wicked hot around here, but politely cooled of to low 20s for the big Mural Festival weekend. It also politely didn’t rain, so we are all happy.

Murals are everywhere, well everywhere in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the Festival’s traditional home, radiating all around its Main Street spine.

Big new richly complex murals, covering three walls …

sassy cartoon-image monkeys, bright-eyeing you over some alley wheelies …

even the whole side wall of a house on a residential street.

But a mural festival is more than murals, it is also a festival. With people! and dogs! and food! and games!

Start with a dog. Waiting so patiently while his owners linger over coffee in the pop-up café painted into place on E 14th at Main. Once you’ve sufficiently adored the dog, run your eye up the left side of the photo, and locate the tiny little head immediately below the grey car, last in line parked there on the right hand side of the street.

Got it? Good.

 

That’s the head of this pianist at the far end of the pop-up café. Undoubtedly another reason Fido will have to wait a while for his owners to tear themselves away and start exploring again.

 

Never mind, I’m exploring. Including food options, for later.

There is some good food on offer, including Venezuelan arepas that tempt me mightily. Then there’s  day-glo cotton candy. I gag slightly, at the sight — but I remember lapping it up as a kid.

Which is what this toddler is about to do. She has turquoise smeared across her face in no time flat.

Farther down Main, a young girl is totally absorbed in an artist at work …

while, elsewhere, a besotted couple are totally absorbed in each other and ignoring an artist at work.

One girl stops in an alley to take a photo of the bright hanging streamers …

another stops on Main Street to make some art of her own …

and everybody stops to chalk up some creative time on this E 8th wall & sidewalk at Main.

Trim white tents line 3-4 blocks of Main (car-free for the event), with some very fine displays of artists’ crafts.

There’s the other kind of retail stuff, too. What would a festival be, without it?

Nifty cats or not, there are better things to do with your legs.

Bald-guy-with-beard, for example, has just leapt high to drive a power shot that sent his opponent  scrambling to retrieve the ping-pong ball. With everyone watching & smirking like hell as he scrambles.

Even better use for your legs: hop onto the Sínulhkay & Ladders board, and sharpen your ability to decolonize your actions. The work of Squamish artist Michelle Nahanee, it invites players to notice the post-colonial thinking rewarded by a ladder boost, and old-era colonial thinking that slides you down a sínulhkay.

I’m heading for home, walking west along yet another alley, over by Quebec St. near E 7th.

Liz & Phil! How nice of them to turn up.

I spend a moment wondering how many people who understand hash tags & selfie references will also recognize the very young Liz & Phil. A quite splendidly cross-generational challenge, I decide.

A few more steps down the alley, and … no challenge here. Everyone will get this. (And jump in for a selfie.)

This is Rain City, after all.

 

 

 

  • 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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