Doin’ the Details

1 April 2019 – It’s a day for details all right, out here in the Strathcona neighbourhood of east Vancouver, first solo and then with Frances.

A black bird (crow?), for example, riding high above a doorway, with an artist’s brush in his beak.

Riding high above other doors as well, including the one on the white house on this cheerful line-up of homes along Keefer St. approaching Hawks.

But, cheeky/charming as crows are, there are many other ways to express yourself.

With a toboggan above the door, for example …

or a great wave of metal and glass in the doorway itself.

Or, instead, you can throw yourself into repurposing mode, and plonk a bathtub in the sidewalk verge, just waiting for spring plantings.

Why stop at a bathtub? There must be an old wringer-style washing machine lying around somewhere … or, if you’re lucky, two of them.

Behind the tubs, the red awning marks the home of The Wilder Snail Neighbourhood Grocery and Coffee, right at Keefer & Hawks.

Frances & I meet here for lunch before heading off to the day’s one planned event: a visit to the Catriona Jeffries Gallery, farther south and a bit farther east, on East Cordova.

We’re looking forward to visiting the Gallery, not least for the opportunity to see how Patkau Architects (the same Vancouver firm that designed the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver) has repurposed the old Pilkington Metal Marine workshop.

The patio entrance to the Gallery has a severe, calm beauty, tucked behind a tall black wall that shields it from the sidewalk, and echoing other corrugated metal claddings all around.

After that, it’s back out to fun on the streets.

Lookit this trompe l’oeil mural, for example! Those apparently structural yellow beams and pink alcoves frame blue paint, not blue sky; that is all solid wall.

Later, we play Spot-the-Special — after my walk up Sophia Street, my eye is in for Vancouver Specials. We see a number of them, all somewhat modified over time and well maintained.

This one on Union shows how the street cuts across a slope — the houses on this side are below sidewalk level, but on the north side rise well above it.

And now … and now I offer you an exceptionally boring grey bird house, on a politely pin-striped tree.

Hmmmm, you say.

I’d’ve passed it without a second thought, but for the plaque beneath. (Ever since the years of marching around Toronto with Phyllis, my Tuesday Walking Society colleague, I’ve been a great reader of plaques.)

This isn’t any old pin-striped tree, it is a Snake Bark Maple.

And it isn’t any old Snake Bark Maple — it is in the Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, though cared for by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Why?

Because it is part of the Palas Por Pistolas project of Mexican artist Pedro Reyes. In 2007 he began trading food vouchers for firearms, which are then melted down and turned into shovels, which are then used to plant trees. Ours, planted in 2008, was the first installation outside Mexico.

Speaking of installations-on-the-street … One last example, back at Main Street, under the Georgia Viaduct.

“Blank walls invite graf. Let us put nice art instead,” says the tidy block lettering — and, after thanking the city for this “fresh new canvas,” that’s exactly what the artist does.

A very satisfying last detail, to crown a very satisfying day.

“Being near water …”

6 January 2018 – The quote continues: “well … anything is possible.”

We don’t see the quote, or its context, until late in our Tuesday walk, but by then we have ample cause to agree.

The Tuesday Walking Society (West Coast branch) is out in full three-some force. Our first walk of the new year has us in North Vancouver, smack on the north shore of Burrard Inlet by Lonsdale Quay, about to explore the new Polygon Gallery.

New as Polygon — it opened last November — but with deep roots. It is the rebirth of Presentation House, which spent 40 years a bit farther up the sloping streets of North Van. Polygon sits between water and mountains and speaks to both: its south-facing glass alive to the Inlet, and its serrated roofline companion to the Coast Range at its back.

But the truth is, I don’t much notice the architecture until I am inside. Then I am wowed. It wraps us in the light-filled, warm minimalism that I love so much. All that quiet, highly functional beauty…

I fixate on the staircase.

Sally waves us on up, but I take an extra moment to admire the railing. Staircase railings protrude, right? Not here. This one, instead, is a calm, clean incision into the wall.

And it functions perfectly.

I scurry on up, discover the architect credits at the top of the stairs. Patkau Architects, I read — a Vancouver firm with an international (and award-winning) practice that emphasizes education and culture, along with their research projects.

Artspeak usually makes me itchy. Patkau’s capsule comment about Polygon seems exactly right: “Hovering, gleaming, framing the city of Vancouver, presenting a curated stream of photography and media art, reflecting the sky, flooded with northern light.”

And it is flooded with light. Provided by skylights, up here on the exhibition level. Even on this grey-brooding day, they fill the space with light.

And, occasionally, frame a construction crane on the building site next door.

Which works well with the exhibit, now that I think about it. This inaugural show, “N. Vancouver,” offers 26 existing and commissioned works by artists who have a history of engagement with north-shore themes.

My friends respond to the show as native Vancouverites: it brings back memories. I respond as the newcomer: it teaches me about this place, it builds dimension for me with backstory.

The works are strong. The archival pigment print of Kinder Morgan Sulfur Terminal, North Vancouver (Greg Girard, 2013/2017), for example …

or the hand-tinted black & white photos of Crossed Ski Poles Touching Shadows (N.E. Thing Co. Ltd., 1968).

I’m glad I read the small print. It explains how the shadows of these crossed poles shows them, instead, touching at the apex. (Never mind expanding the photo, here’s the story: the photos were taken at an angle.)

Brimming with curated North Van — photos, video, sculpture, weavings — we go out on the balcony for the physical North Van. Perhaps it is because we have just seen so many strong images, but we see this, too, as art. Nature’s art.

We’re looking south over Burrard Inlet, with the “Q” of the Lonsdale Quay logo here on the north shore to our right, and the city of Vancouver skyline across the way. With a line of cranes there on the left, marking the working port.

I orient you for a purpose. Things are about to go back-to-front. The Gallery’s glass wall behind us is either mirrored on the exterior, or, at this moment in the day, perfectly reflective. (How embarrassing not to have checked. Sorry.)

See? A slice of sharp-angled balcony floor beneath us, and a wall of glass that bounces the view on our right back at us from the left.

So we play with it.

Eternal nature meets 21st-c. electronics — Frances about to take a photo with her tablet; me with my phone to my eye, taking this very picture; Sally checking her tablet for the shot she has just taken. All of us facing north, aiming at the glass wall, and captured south.

More magic outside, when we rejoin the external world. The side wall of the adjacent building — and it’s not even an art gallery. It’s just (!!! “just”…) a working building, with a beautiful wall.

Lunch next, the weather raw enough to make us choose hot ramen over cold sushi at a neighbourhood Japanese restaurant, then along West 1st Street as we make our way back to Lonsdale Quay.

It takes us into Jack Loucks Court, a small & charming urban parkette dedicated in 2001 to the man who had served as North Vancouver’s mayor for many years. It contains attractive plantings, benches, water ¬†— all elements that welcome you, make you linger.

But what really makes us linger is the series of life-sized, metal sculptures, each with a incised quote from the person who (we assume) was model for that sculpture. They talk about North Van, what roots them in this place.

When we read this one, we find ourselves nodding at the figure, and at each other.

I look out at the ocean.

Being near water … well …

everything is possible.

It stretches your imagination.

Pretty well sums up our day. And, perhaps, the inaugural exhibit in that new gallery next door.

 

 

  • 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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