Mixed Messages

11 January 2019 – Oh, good grief, what are we to believe?

The “Boring Is Best” message on her bag …

or the message delivered by her lime-green hair?

 

A Moment at E 5th & The Drive

5 January 2019 – My mind is several blocks ahead of my feet, barely registering the intersection, but then I stop.

I do register the dapper young man, down on his knees.

In photographic ecstasy, not religious. He has a real camera, interchangeable lenses & everything, and he is carefully fitting one of those lens as I watch.

Where am I? What is he looking at?

Where = E. 5th & “The Drive” (Commercial Drive to map-makers).

What = the brand new, sparkling-bright mural all along the side wall of the D-YES office across 5th.

I’m glad Drive Youth Employment Services exists; I support the key words integrated into the mural (e.g. Compassion, Respect); and I think the mural adds energy and cheer.

Even so, I’m more attracted to the battered old mural wrapped all around VAP Auto Parts & Services, on our side of the intersection.

It offers only partial views, of course, interrupted by windows, ads, doors and parked cars.

Later I learn online what I should have known anyway: November IV (or, even, 4) is National Unity and Armed Forces Day in Italy. So of course it will  be on display here, heart of Vancouver’s Little Italy. (Look again at that intersection sign above: it includes a tiny Italian flag.)

I love this. I love how an inherently grimy business, auto repair, has wrapped itself in a mural of the homeland, now worn & comfy & companionably grimy as well.

Flowing around windows and door …

and around the garage entrance as well.

Bang-clang-smack-clatter!! bounces out at us from inside that entrance. They’re busy in there. Dog in truck out here doesn’t care. Yawn.

I un-mesmerize myself, and remember that I did have a reason, when crossing this intersection. And it involved coffee, not axel grease.

One last fond glance …

and I’m on down The Drive, ready for JJ Bean and a latte.

 

Here Kitty! (and Friends)

20 December 2018 – There she is, smirking at me with those clever-cat eyes …

and an elegant curl to her tail.

I’m pelting along Howe, crossing West Georgia, but I stop to admire Âstam minôs: Here kitty, one of the City’s bright photo-wraps on utility boxes, this one designed by Adele Arseneau with background by youth artist Krystal, Creativelife East Van.

Kitty, it turns out, is just the start of a day dominated by urban wildlife — a few of the creatures real, most of them art, and almost all of those out-on-the-street-for-free.

The next one, though, is indoors-for-a-fee.

I’m up on the top floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery with a friend, enjoying a show of works from the VAG’s permanent collection, selected by Senior Curator Ian M. Thom.

I’m particularly taken by unknown (to me) works by some artists I do know and and already love — Paterson Ewen, Pudlo Pudlat, Jack Shadbolt, Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow, Paul-Emile Borduas — and then I see ten neat inkjet printings on paperboard by an artist I know nothing about, Kim Kennedy Austin.

Including this rumination …

I laugh out loud. My friend looks, also breaks up, and soon we’re reminiscing about geckos and our gratitude that their clever little suction pads really do work and the geckos really do not fall on our heads.

Enough high-class art on a gallery wall! Back to the street!

Where, in my Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, I find a lion delicately sniffing a flower …

and his companion in full roar …

about to be tickled by a set of brave (or stupid) female fingers.

They are elements in an enormous mural stretching down East 10th just off Kingsway …

with the lion end by Gaidasheva Oksana, the octopus end by Emily Gray, and the whole painted during the 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival.

I turn around, and see I am not the only onlooker.

There is a shop called Birds on a Wire just a few blocks away,  selling regional artwork. It knows its neighbourhood.

I turn down Sophia, and meet more birds.

This time on a ventilator shaft (or something).

A whole menagerie fills the rest of the parking lot wall  …

with Antler Man declaiming, Ghost Triplets perhaps listening, and an audience of eavesdroppers & kibitzers stretching off to the left. This mural is a legacy of the 2018 Mural Festival, curated by Roxanne Charles and signed by Ahziyelli Gaia, Cayley Carlson and Andres SLZ.

One last touch of reality, as I loop around the library branch toward home.

I’ve always liked birds’ nests in winter, the sense of discovering something that lies so well hidden all summer long, and then, come winter, adds another sculptural element to all those bare branches.

Speaking of urban wildlife…

That Springbok I showed you, in my post of 26 November?

He isn’t.

“Definitely not a Springbok,” says a friend who knows his African wildlife, “but probably a Gemsbok or Oryx. The question is, what inspired someone to paint this on a Vancouver wall?”

My guess is, all these artists inspire each other, and that’s reason enough. Whatever the inspiration, I’m grateful.

 

Honk-Honk, Kiss-Kiss

10 December 2018 – There you are, deep downtown, whacked by noise & jostle. The usual cacophony, with a seasonal extra thrown in.

Horns, sirens, brakes, tires, walk-light tweets, a passing cement mixer, feet, bikes, sharp elbows, sharp tongues, cliché Christmas music on scratchy PA systems  …

Then, waiting for the light to change, you look up.

Up into the tangle of poles & wires & signals.

Right up to …

the mistletoe.

Kiss-kiss.

Oblivious. And Observant

5 October 2018 – These people are oblivious …

to the whole busy other world going right here next to them, all around Norman’s Fruit & Salad market .

They’re put to shame by these Plum Birds, who are so observant they’re practically falling off their wire.

See? It’s a world of activity, all stretched out, right beneath those bright beady eyes …

layer on layer.

All quite fanciful, too, with a certain ornithological flair.

That’s a cardinal on her head, I like to think, and on his finger, oh, let’s call it a cockatoo. (The rare crestless variant.)

Perhaps distracted by the wine, they are oblivious to the scrutiny from above.

Up there, an observant trio, who watch what’s happening below …

despite their own distractions of book, apples and, I’m willing to guess, a daffodil. (Clearly they are not the least bit distracted by untied shoe laces.)

Beside them, a second trio, the sleeping cat nicely counterbalanced by two watchful crows.

Beside them, yet another trio. A trio of trios! This time it’s a sad clown, a perhaps-concerned crow and, underneath, an I-have-my-own-problems sad civilian.

I confess. This is not where I began. Not what first switched me from oblivious to observant.

I was hiking right along at that street corner, when the young Joe Stalin caught my attention.

There he was, back from the dead to glower over a box of cabbages.

It took me a long while to notice the — what? Benedictine monk? — reading his breviary in the background.

What I noticed next was the bad-tempered cat, there at young Joe’s feet, giving that Plum Bird on the pole a hard time.

Or, perhaps, Joe & the cat are just ticked at whoever scrawled all over them.

Street artists should respect existing street art, right?

 

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.

 

The Pick Up

18 June 2018 – Of course you follow responsible pet etiquette.

You don’t need signs …

to remind you to carry plastic baggies when you’re out walking with Fido.

But suppose Fido isn’t a dog?

Suppose Fido is your pet elephant?

Well then!

maybe you’d better bring a backhoe.

 

 

“This Is Toronto”

9 March 2018 – I borrow the title and, in a bit, will show you the source.

What a good time I am having, in this visit to my old home town! Above all, for beloved friends. But also for the sheer pleasure of once again prowling the city’s alleys & streetscapes.

Enjoyment comes naturally. I don’t need this command to STOP and enjoy.

I enjoy …

Mural cat, with balloons …

and porch cat, with Jesus and a pair of cardinals …

and a pair of dogs …

a pair of caterpillars …

and a whole birdo animal fantasia.

I enjoy the long-view impact of one exuberant garage …

and the up-close impact of a love letter to Pete …

and a tribute to Baxter.

There is life guidance on offer.

Lower-right, tucked into this alley-corner mural, for example:

Here I must stop shooting photos at you and add a few more words.

The quote is beautifully lettered, and attributed to Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. I carefully say “attributed,” because I cannot find it online. Which doesn’t disprove the attribution and, either way, I am charmed. Charmed to see the loving reference to Lawren Harris on a downtown alley corner.

Also charmed by the quote itself, which includes the lines: “It is blasphemy / to be merely moral … / to succumb to second-hand living”

Let us never succumb to second-hand living.

Less elegant, just as urgent, the guidance offered in the upper-right corner of this cinder block wall, over there in black, above the black grill and the black car.

I see a doorway tribute by someone who follows that advice, who explicitly promises never to give up on love …

and an implicit, and unexpected, message of respect.

Yes! Respect. The mural covers the wall and touches upon the parking sign, but — deliberately and carefully — does not obliterate it.

I usually curl my lip at stencil work. I make an exception for this statement, and I am delighted to run into it twice, in two days.

Later, I stand mesmerized on a street-corner, dancing my eyes around this big, bright, multi-coloured, multi-imaged proclamation of joy.

Can you read the inscription? Small letters, above the artwork, just to the left of the wooden hydro pole.

It says: “This is Toronto.”

And so it is.

“Everything talks…”

16 July 2017 – Apparently mum used to waltz toddler-me around the place, crying “Everything talks, in our house!” and inventing dialogue among assorted inanimate objects to prove her point. It surely amused me, seems to have imprinted me: I have a vaguely animist view of the world, and now amuse myself with multi-stream messages as I go about my day.

A row of Muskoka chairs at Spyglass Dock on False Creek, for example.

Happy messages, starting with the visual — bright & cheery on a bright, cheerful day. A slew of memory-messages as well: Muskoka chairs by lakes in Muskoka itself; more of them in Toronto parks bordering Lake Ontario; now here by tidal False Creek in Vancouver; all of them an invitation to relax & enjoy. And so an emotional message of gratitude: how lucky I am, to live where public space offers such enjoyment, and it may safely be enjoyed.

Walk-walk eastward along False Creek — my Tuesday walking ritual appears reborn, here on the Left Coast — and eventually we run out of water, continue along East 1st Av. into a once-grungy part of town being reborn with art galleries, studios, housing & (surely the magnet) relocated Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Another message, a wall mural, talks to us. Or, perhaps, at us. We are befuddled.

It is large, in clear text, and in English. What’s our problem?

I am still befuddled about the word-message, but I like the Look-At-Me message. Something well-executed, provoking (best sense of the word) and in public space? All good.

Into a gallery, where there are some painting-paintings, and then there is … well… another example of a message delivered large, in clear text, and in English.

We are not befuddled. But we do break our museum-cool sufficiently long enough to giggle.

Don’t answer that.

Jump forward a day. This time I’m on my own. I’d planned to walk back up to the VanDusen Botanical Garden (worth many visits), but get diverted. As I often do.

I find myself in Shaughnessy Park, a small and simple lozenge of tree-hung space on a height of land near Granville Street. No amenities except benches, under the trees.

I lean back on a bench, relax into the bench, look overhead.

What talks here? Eye and ear messages, both. Sun shimmering through the trees, dancing green air, occasional background rattles of crow or squirrel. Occasional car-whooshes, too, but dialled ‘way down to insignificance by my calmed & peaceful brain.

A different sound claims my ear, when, eventually, I pick myself up to head home.

Do-mi-la.

Not a human whistle, definitely mechanical, but still sweet not harsh. (And so much more interesting than do-mi-so would have been!) Again. Do-mi-la. And again …

My eyes follow my ears to a young City Maintenance worker at an open sewer grating. The three tones die away yet again as she reads the instrument in her hand & calls out, “Got it.”

I follow her to her truck. “?????” I ask.

One worker sends the tone from one open grating, she explains; the other waits to receive it at the next. If, when and how the tone arrives tells them if there is any blockage in the water line, where, and how much. No need to drop cameras into the system any more. (Let alone small children with goggles & fins, as my Dickensian imagination would have it.)

Music is the message. It talks. I love it.

I am in a seriously up-market residential neighbourhood, I suddenly realize. All subdued anglo-elegance. Complete with a sense of civic responsibility.

I admire, as I am surely meant to do.

Next sign? Not so friendly. But delivering an equally clear message.

Right. Got it.

The rare gate (locked, of course) that doesn’t have a dog-warning sign to go with its intercom system has this kind of sign instead:

Right. Got that, too.

It is a relief, some blocks later, to find myself in less-elevated — all senses of the word — terrain. Where a sidewalk offers me quite a different message.

I hop my way through it. Of course I do. Thank you, chalk-on-sidewalk! Good humour is restored.

And then, ooooo, another dog-related message. Except this time it is to the dogs, not about them.

As I get up from my photo-taking crouch, I see an approaching woman sink to her own crouch at a companion sign at the other end of the garden. I wait for her to read it. She gets up. We grin at each other. Nice.

I turn left at the playhouse at the corner (itself a kid-happy message) …

and think: “That’s it.”

I put away the camera, lengthen my stride.

And stop short for one more message.

‘Cause any time someone wants to love the whole world, I’m happy to help them spread the message.

Symbol City (T.O. Version)

11 April 2017 – I’ve given you one Symbol City already — an array of Vancouver images that, to my delighted visitor’s eye, stood for the Vancouver I was beginning to discover.

Now I’ll offer the Toronto version. A delighted, fresh eye here as well, partly because I am recently back from a 5-week absence — but much more because, in just a few weeks’ time, I shall move from Toronto to Vancouver.

So I am acutely aware of sights that are symbols of my own personal Toronto.

Here are a few.

Riverdale Park, straddling the Don River, with its 1840s Francy Barn attracting hordes of visitors this mild spring day …

William Lishman’s exuberant sculptures, cascading down the river-side face of Bridgepoint Health Care …

a random example of railway underpass street art, this bit on Logan south of Gerrard …

a silly sign!

Jimmy Chiale’s great, pulsing wall mural on Queen St. East, adding energy to the city all around it — from parked cars to streetcar stop, pedestrians, hydro poles trailing wires, vines about to bud on the brick wall …

a whole mural celebrating the city’s distinctive red streetcars …

and a real streetcar, pulled up next to yet another wall mural, this one by Elicser and proclaiming one of the city’s east-end neighbourhoods …

and of course a café!

An attraction in itself, but, really, also just one component of an entire downtown streetscape: patio, traffic sign, bicycle, parked car & all.

I go in, assuming I’ll order a latte. Don’t I always?

Except, this time, no I don’t. I am beguiled instead by an organic hot dog (I always eat a hot-dog in spring, it’s a ritual), smothered in mashed avocado & salsa. Soon my face follows suit, smothered in the generous dressings, ear to ear and nose to chin. The man next to me, knocking back his tortillas, observes the state of my face with some awe. “I’ll try that next time,” he decides.

I loop back west toward home, angle through a scruffy laneway just off Parliament & Queen.

I am here to pay homage to …

Golden Girl!

and to …

Famous Dog!

I don’t know why he is famous — but, come to think of it, he is famous with me.

I’m just happy both murals are still with us, they’ve been around for years & years, and they are part of my Toronto, yes they are.

Here’s lookin’ at you, dawg…

  • 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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