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.”

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

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

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