Along the Spine

11 September 2021 – “Yes,” we decide, studying the print-out of a Mural Festival neighbourhood map, “Strathcona’s a good choice. Nice cluster of murals along that Cordova/East Hastings spine between Heatley and Campbell.”

We each have some familiarity with this east-of-East-Van neighbourhood, my friend much more than I, but it’s the first time we’ve come here focused on murals. Not that we care that much — it’s good walking territory, no matter what.

But, oh yes, there are murals!

We stand on Campbell, laughing with delight as we stare westward down the alley between East Hastings and Cordova.

Flowers to the left of us …

dancing aerosole cans to the right …[

after that a three-storey building painted top to bottom, side to side …

and just a little farther along, this bold triptych, its cheerful style in stark contrast to the fencing and razor wire that protect it.

Strathcona is a decidedly mixed neighbourhood, with problems as well as gaiety. All the more reason to admire and salute everything they do so well, while dealing with their other realities.

Same alley block, yet more charm. This time an ocean-to-mountains-to-ocean mural, starting at this end with a leaping whale and (off the lower-right corner of the window, by the downpipes) a yellow pop-up seal …

and ending, on the far side of the mountain range, with the world’s most adorable little otter, waving his paw.

We’re out of the alley now, on Cordoba itself & heading for Heatley, thinking everything else will surely be an anti-climax.

Wrong!

That VW bug need offer no apologies. Even if the pigeon is unimpressed. (He’s there. You’ll find him.)

Barely onto a city street proper and we’re off it again, pulled into yet another alley to investigate flashes of colour obscured by the street-front buildings.

This is what we wanted to see close up, my friend telling me the history of this old family company while I go goofy-happy about the colours, the typography, the peeling paint, the paint-brush image on that open door.

Another voice, unexpected and unexpectedly close, urges me to take a picture of that as well.

I look up. The workman, carefully balancing his take-out coffee in one hand, points across the alley with his chin. “That,” he repeats. “Look!”

Yes, wow, look.

I ask if he’s a fan of street art. He waves aside the abstraction, sticks to the reality of this alley. “I work here,” he says. “Watched them paint that. I like it.”

I catch up with my friend, who is talking with some Harm Reduction workers down at the Hawks end of the block. I contemplate this … what? tea ceremony? … mural.

We emerge onto Hawks, look back down the alley, bright murals of assorted eras to both sides and there, on the left, the alley end of the East Van Community Centre garden that stretches up to and along East Hastings.

As we skirt the garden, we exchange nods with a middle-aged man at one of the picnic tables by the sidewalk, and then fall into conversation with him. He looks like he has known a tough life, but there is peace and dignity in his posture and he describes current produce in relaxed, clear, well-chosen language. He knows a lot about gardening, we later agree.

“Go look at the pumpkins,” he urges us, and crinkles his eyes in farewell as we nod agreement and head off down Hastings, to look for the pumpkins.

A while later we’re at Campbell and East Hastings, waiting for the light to change so we can claim the car and go have lunch at Finch’s up on East Georgia.

I stare kitty-corner across the intersection at the housing development on the other side. It’s Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 reborn right here in Strathcona, we agree — but a lot more colourful. (And more affordable.)

We fall into city-as-art-installation mode. Look: the colours of the building reflect the colours of the banner and the traffic signals.

Enough art appreciation. We’re off to Finch’s.

Murals & Time Travel

10 August 2021 – I have murals on the mind and in my eyeballs; the 2021 Vancouver Mural Festival is underway. I am wandering around Mount Pleasant, epi-centre of the Festival that began as a small movement in 2016 and now — with a magic happy combination of civic, social/artistic and local business support — has 300+ murals to its credit in 11 neighbourhoods, with another 60+ due to be created this year.

But not created yet, so my time travel is spent with works already in place.

And it starts with one that, far as I can see, has no connection with the VMF, no signature of any kind. Well, that doesn’t matter, does it? Especially since I’ve never noticed it before.

I prowl around it happily for a while, and then notice, down in the lower-left corner, that its sight-lines shoot my eye on down West 7th toward a flash of colour near Ontario Street — colour that I know is another mural, and one that definitely is part of the VMF family.

See? ‘Way down there?

But there’s another mural treat along the way, two tucked into that same block between Manitoba & Ontario.

We’ll get to the one on the right; first please admire that garage door. Like the first mural I showed you, not signed, but isn’t it terrific? It belongs to Green Works Building Supply, and seems a logical fit with their environmentally responsible sensibilities. I’m especially fond of the slogan on the door:

Enough of that, on to Cosmic Breeze down at Ontario, the work of Olivia Di Liberto for VMF 2019.

This next image is not a mural, doesn’t in any way fit my apparent theme, unless you’re generous enough to slide with me into my larger “city-as-art-installation” theme. If you are that generous, we can make a case for “berries ripening on wild vines climbing all over chain-link fence beside barbed wire & scruffy wall.”

Back to murals. I’ve loved this one since I watched Atheana Picha painting it during VMF 2018, love it still, and love viewing it in its alley-corner framework, here on Ontario south of West 6th.

This next one is streetscape, not mural — wall plus front façade, framed sides/top/bottom by textures of grey and photographed through construction fencing. The only ID is that austere Tierney Milne lower right, so elegant I wonder if this is the branding of a design house.

No it’s not, I later discover: she is a Montreal-born, Vancouver-resident designer/artist. She also, I further discover in the VMF Mural Gallery, has participated in several of the festivals, though this building seems unrelated to all that.

That diversion had me back on West 6th between Ontario & Quebec, now I’m climbing south on Ontario toward West 7th, taking in the whole long frantic madness of an epic 2018 creation by a collective with the world’s best team name: Phantoms in the Front Yard. The work is the whole side-wall length of this long building, jammed with people, cats, dogs, wine glasses, action & attitude. I’ve shown you bits before, and I see new bits every time I walk past.

This bit, for example, bottom left corner, with the woman all thumb’s up in gesture but thumb’s down in face:

Always so satisfying to see something new!

I look across the street, and while the image isn’t new for me, I’d guess by body language that is both new and fascinating for that lanky pedestrian just entering frame on the left.

He is puzzling out Animalitoland, a VMF 2020 creation by Graciela Gonçalves Da Silva, which features — along with that puckish face — an A-Z list of neatly printed adjectives, running the gamut of our emotions as we lived that year of isolation and pandemic.

In describing her mural, Da Silva comments: “Street art is so much more than paint on walls. It has a unique way of connecting people…”

I don’t know this quote when I pull out my camera again, deep in the alleys S/W of East 7th & Main. I’m not thinking murals at all at this point; I am just captivated by that H-frame, rearing up into the sky. (I love them all, you know that — but this one especially, the way it pivots smartly at a 45° to accommodate the intersection.)

Then I’m back in mural-gear, because a mural wraps that corner as neatly as the H-frame beside it.

This is Why Can’t They See Us? by Doaa Jamal, VMF 2018, the rendering in Arabic square Kufic script of a verse from the Qur’an: “We have created you from male and female and made you into tribes and nations that you may know each other.”

Connection. Despite tribes and nations and pandemic: connection.

Back to Baffled Brains

Several people were kind enough to send me definitions of blockchain, including Lynette d’Artey-Cross. Here’s an excerpt from her contribution (which you can read in its entirety in post comments): “essentially a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated across the entire network of computer systems on the blockchain.” Since that post, the Vancouver Biennale has been advertising for volunteers to train on the AR/blockchain aspects of Voxel Bridge, who will then serve as serve as hosts at the installation, and help the rest of us enter into it more fully.

H-Frames

23 February 2021 – In my recent Alley Eyes post, I was all “H for hydro pole” — but I have learned so much more since then.

Not least that, in this part of the country, people talk about power poles, not hydro poles: “hydro” seems to be eastern-Canadian usage only.

I’ve also learned that some of you share my admiration for the look of these two-legged monster poles, the way they march down the alley and, block by block, frame everything it contains into a deep-downtown alleyscape.

Like this.

I didn’t just stumble on that, I went looking for it. I went looking for it because of what I had just learned during the “Discovering Heritage Places” virtual tour offered online by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation as part of its Heritage Week events. We virtually-visited a number of buildings in older neighbourhoods, each one with history and meaning for its area and the city as a whole.

And then, next image: one of these power poles. Identified by name: H-frame.

The city began installing them some 80 years ago, therefore in the older neighbourhoods, and is now gradually replacing them with underground lines instead. The speaker then invited us to broaden our definition of “heritage.” Why limit it to buildings? He mentioned the attachment some communities have to these old poles, and, yes, there is a preserve the H-frame campaign underway right now in Chinatown.

See? H-for hydro (my eastern usage); H-for-H-frame (local); and H-for-heritage. And that, all that, is what took me into the alleys of Mount Pleasant, looking for H-frames. The photo above is from Ontario Street, looking east toward Quebec, along the alley between East 2nd & 3rd avenues.

Those H-frames just keep framing the alley into segments as they (and you) march along, creating context and visual punch.

Mind, it helps to have interesting content for them to frame.

That sassy yellow & black Dog Taxi on the right, for example, one of a small fleet that picks up woofers for their day at the doggy hotel… And on the left, a bit farther down, that back-tilted face…

Walk closer.

Yes! The face, the hand. Summer 2019, I watched Argentinian street-artist duo Medianeras create that work as part of the year’s Vancouver Mural Festival.

A few days ago, I was a bit farther south in the neighbourhood, around 18th-22nd avenues. This part is newer than the more northern stretch, and its hydro … sorry! … power poles come from different parts of the alphabet.

There’s the T-frame …

and the L-frame …

and even, to my giddy delight, the occasional hybrid.

Meet H-L-L. (What the H-l-l??)

But… no. Com’on. Nothing matches a majestic H-frame, rearing into the sky.

Especially when you get a colour-block building thrown in for good measure.

Crow Bingo

I know. Total change of subject. You could get whip-lash. But since I am as obsessed with local crows as I am with H-frames, I have to do this.

June Hunter is a local artist who translates her deep love of urban nature into prints, photos, calendars, scarves, tote bags, jewellery and more. She obviously has a website, and she also has a newsletter & blog, to which I subscribe. The latest issue features her very own creation: Crow Bingo.

Play beginner level or intermediate, and while you’re on the site, I encourage you to click on her Crow Therapy as well.

We all need therapy these days, and we might as well get it from the crows.

  • 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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