The Street, The Beat

24 August 2019 – I’m hardly the first to muse about the way “the street” so often leads “the beat” — i.e., the way many big-name creative people, big-name brands, politicians etc. keep tuned to what’s happening out there on the street, and then adapt it for their own vocabulary and objectives.

But here I am, musing a-fresh, in the aftermath of the Vancouver Mural Festival which, as always, is centred around my neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant. It took shape here because some artists lived & worked around here already, and because enough local building owners resonated with the idea and offered up their walls.

So now street art is part of the image of the “new”(moving from sketchy to quirky/interesting/trending) Mount Pleasant.

References to the Festival hit vacant walls, and don’t need further explanation …

and already amazing murals have received their final knock-out element. Here, it’s the 3D hand to go with the face in this now-complete work by the Medianeras duo.

It’s not just the Festival, though.

Street art, playing with what’s on the street, is in the local vocabulary.

Right here on a pedestrian-walk button, for example.

That’s playful, modest, & definitely “street.” I begin noticing the influence on our local “beat” — how up-market merchants want the connection, want the street-art cred, though of course suitably translated into up-market terms.

A picture-framing gallery includes this shot of alley-art in its classy window display …

and a new luxury condo tower builds this imagery into its façade — part of a corporate strategy to attract with-it, design-conscious, urban/urbane residents.

Yes.

Well.

On the other hand.

The street does not like being co-opted. It has its own opinion about new luxury condo  towers, whatever their design may include.

It’s an old, old story, isn’t it? Artists move into broken-down neighbourhoods, since that’s what they can afford, and through their energy & creativity make those neighbourhoods newly vital & interesting — whereupon the Brand Name Boys take note, become interested, and move in themselves.

Whereupon, too often, the artists can no longer afford to live there, and have to move out. I hope it doesn’t happen here.

The street, the beat.

 

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?

High Alert

21 June 2019 – Solstice, the summer version in the northern hemisphere, and, here in very-seasonal Canada, it’s street-festival season.

No wonder even dogs & cats are on high alert…

Well, that was a shameless segue if ever you saw one, wasn’t it? But there really is a kind of link between image & theme, not that I suppose you care a lot.

I’m walking back south on Ontario Street from False Creek, enjoying breeze & sunshine, and about to turn left on E 5th for a latte. I pause at the corner to properly enjoy the dog & cat — and the other two cats on the dog’s back, and the whole rest of this mad mural.

But that’s not the “whole rest.”

It’s just another chunk of this 2018 example of Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF) art work, whose epicentre is still this Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, and will be again, come 1-10 August.

So I enjoy the wall yet again, including the name & signature style of the phantoms in the front yard collective …

and go get my latte.

I sit in the café thinking just how festival-drenched we are: Main Street Car-Free Sunday just past; jazz and folk festivals warming up; VMF looming and the Vancouver Bach Festival as well (30 July – 9 August). To name a few.

But dog/cats/etc. have me thinking street art in particular, and the rest of my walk home supports that train of thought. (I almost wrote “visual thought.” Is that possible?)

A little farther south, a little higher up the hill, left turn into the alley between E 7th & E 8th, and whappp — big octopus eye stares me down. I look on east, past the rest of that mural, ‘way down the line to the pink blob in the distance, framed by hydro poles.

I reel in my visual field, focus up close again, see the octopus credit line.

Except it isn’t, I later realize. It’s acknowledging the 2018 VMF overall curator, Scott Sueme, a Vancouver-based abstract artist who began with a fascination for graffiti and skate-boarding, attended Emily Carr University, and is now hung in and represented by very fine galleries indeed.

I don’t have a credit for little girl with heart, alas, though I think this mural dates from the 2016 VMF. Query: does anybody else look at that and think of Toronto’s lovebots?

Eastward down that alley, past Quebec St., up close to the pink blob. Which is still pretty darn pink, but less blobby, even if I still can’t quite work out which body bits go where.

Right turn at the cross-alley.

But not before admiring another 2018 mural, one I’ve always liked for its cool, ordered contrast to the more typical street-mural turbulence.

For the first time, I read the complete credit line, not just the year. And I discover why this work is so cool, ordered and geometric.

See? If you keep looking, you keep learning.

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.

 

It’s Chris-A-Riffic!

30 May 2018 – Well, I have some nerve. That is a totally misleading title for this post, Chris barely gets a walk-on, and not for ages yet.

I just like the name.

Even though I start with Caroline.

I’m prancing up Main Street, southward from False Creek, noticing tiny scraps of street art as I go. (Every now and then I am up to here with stunningly beautiful nature, and I have to go bang my head against street art instead.)

Though, mind, you, I seem to be noticing nature in the street art …

Witness that red flower above. And this blue bird below, bottom left corner in a parking lot mural at Main & E. Broadway (or so).

This is a detail of Community Tree, by the GHIA (= Growing Hope Into Action) Collective, a group of Emily Carr University students, one of the 2017 Mural Festival creations.

Yet more nature! Sunflowers!

This time an upper corner of Emily Gray‘s Cycle Mural at Main & E. 10th. I look her up later, pretty sure she is the engaging young artist who led a public-art tour I joined in downtown Vancouver last summer. And yes, not only that, she is also responsible for other murals & street art I’ve been enjoying around town, including all the gloriously loopy stuff all over Spyglass Dock. (“My” ferry dock. as I like to claim, on False Creek.)

This mural at E. 10th deserves its title, with cyclists & skate-boarder whooping around the scene, but it also pays whimsical tribute to False Creek, complete with dragon boat racers and the distinctive Golf Ball (oh all right, Telus World of Science) at the east end.

Not to mention all that asparagus and an eggplant or two …

At Main & E 13th, I back up for the whole shot rather than a detail.

Woman in all her languid glory, by Loretta Lizlo & Cam Scale, draped across the side wall of this Forty Ninth Parallel Coffee Roasters location.

We’re on to a bike theme now, have you noticed? First Emily Gray’s mural & now the real thing.

And a coffee theme as well.

I cleverly (but only in retrospect) combine the two by trucking west to Heather & W. 16th, where I order my latte in the Tandem Bike Café.

Coffee & treats this side; bike repair that side.

Along with the café menu and those bike tires looped overhead — genuinely for sale in the bike repair shop, not just for décor — along with the menu & the tires, as I was saying before I interrupted myself, yes, along with them, there is a poster for a Chris-A Riffic launch party.

We finally reach Chris.

Did you notice? Flick your eyes back up. Bottom left corner …

Alas, the party was two months ago. So much for a date with C-A-R.

I’m still into details, perky signs, and silly words.

Like this city-reg announcement barring cars on this stretch of Yukon …

with some citizen’s happy-face addition, and very polite words of appreciation. (Oh, he must be Canadian.)

One more bit of citizen action, this time on Cambie just south of Broadway.

Go for it.

Bright on Grey

27 December 2017 – Oh, it’s a grey day. All socked in. Grey sky, even the drizzly air is grey. Which makes every burst of colour all the more dramatic. Pow! Sock-o!!

I’m on Watson, an alley-width street immediately east of Main St. in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Main is epicentre of the city’s yearly Mural Festival, and Watson, like other surrounding streets, accumulates more and more artwork every year.

Right here between East 10th & 11th, for example.

Talk about bright on grey!

I wheel around, move into the L-shaped space, check out that north wall…

More than a whiff of Déjeuner sur l’herbe, wouldn’t you say? Let’s call it Déjeuner sur mur.  Both works are chock-full of busy participants — albeit more consistently clothed in Mengya Zhao’s 2017 mural than in Édouard Manet’s 1862-63 painting.

We have Reclining Ladies …

and Lady With Shoulder-Bird …

and Flopped-Out Lady.

Even larger, the Ben Frey wacko world splashed across the east wall.

Everything from, yes-really, the kitchen sink …

to Coffee Dog …

and Ladder Dog.

Then, smack on the next street corner, there’s another punch of bright-on-grey.

I break up every time I read this building’s overline: “Keep Vancouver Wet”!

I’d been vaguely (very vaguely) thinking that the building must be a car wash. Makes sense, right?

But, no.

Tap-tap I go on the keyboard once back home, and I learn the line first appeared on an unadorned, dead boring wall on 6 June, 2013 — a riff, apparently, on the slogan, “Keep Portland Weird.” Artwork has sprouted since then, this latest version being the work of Johnnie Christmas.

But wait …

There’s more.

Another burst of colour, in front of an apartment building at E 11th and Kingsway.

It is small scale, single image, and, to my newcomer sensibilities, even more amazing.

Fresh-blooming roses! In late December.

I stand there, camera in hand, clearly impressed. Some guy, clearly not impressed, edges past me. “I’m admiring the roses,” I explain. You can practically see the “Whatever” thought bubble over his head, as he disappears into the apartment lobby.

Whatever!

Gallery Lane

18 August 2017 – Not named on any City-issued map of Vancouver, but right there on the Muralfest map: “Gallery Lane.” I’m back, the day after the big party, to explore what I missed the first time around. Judging by all the bright red dots on the map, I missed a whole lot, up and down the Lane.

So in I slide, dropping north from East Broadway into the alley between Quebec Street & Main. Right away I love it, it’s all grungy and eye-popping at the same time. A poster for the Mural Festival, its backdrop a tired old fire escape on the corner building…

Two more steps into the alley, and paff! A dumpster. A dumpster as set upon by Oksana Gaidasheva and Emily Gray, leaping with colour and life.

I practically fall into that corner owl, as mesmerized as any unlucky field mouse by those glaring eyes.

This starts well! I am happy.

On down the alley I go, prowling, pausing, cocking a head & a hip, again  & again.

Side trip just north of East 8th, to the Wrkless face at the end of a short cul-de-sac.

Look how it’s framed! Every element just right, stairs & security lights & wheelies & litter & windows & walls. The perfect streetscape art installation.

And now, just for the next few images, I want you to flip between this post and its predecessor, Main-ly Murals. ‘Cause we’re now in the East 7th & Main parking lot — bounded on the west by Gallery Lane — where, on Saturday, I showed you all those parking slots being turned into works of art.

Yes, cars are back in the lot, but the art still dances.

And yes, the women I photographed lifting the stencil off their car-slot left behind something terrific.

And yes! It turns out those kids creating the text mural knew all about apostrophes after all.

I fussed away, in the previous post, at their initial “Its” instead of “It’s.”

Well.

I am happy to show the world that I misjudged them.

A short conversation with a woman who carefully parks in a non-decorated slot & wields her own camera, and then on I go, north again in Gallery Lane.

I stand at East 4th, look back south, and have to stretch wide my eyes.

Behind the parking lot on the right, Andy Dixon’s big mural. Wrapped all around the building on the left, mural work by a team: Bronwyn Schuster, Lani Imre, Tia Rambaran, Amanda Smart.

One of the things I like best is that all this art becomes part of the working city. The alley is purely functional: vehicles block your view, mural segments painted across doorways disappear every time a truck has to drive into the garage.

And, all around, City workers are collecting trash, and pruning trees — here at the Main St. corner of that blue mural-wrapped building shown above.

I spin on my heel, head north again, bounded on my left by Jane Cheng’s blue-&-white fence work.

Across East 3rd, and I’m in Bunny & Bear territory.Thank you Carson Ting.

Also — did you notice? — another ripped T-shirt hanging on a utility pole.

I’ve noticed 4 or 5 by now, so it wasn’t the one-off that I thought on Saturday when I saw, literally, only one.

And the T-shirts are not all pure white, the art limited to careful rips & tears.

Which reminds me: I am hungry.

I head home.

Main-ly Murals

15 August 2017 – Well, if they’re going to throw a mural festival all around Main Street, how can one resist the pun? I’m doubly eager, both from my fascination with street art, and from my delight in the murals I saw here last fall, legacy of the 2016 festival.

So bring on the paint, is what I say.

And there is lots and lots, some wielded by an individual human hand …

and some by a whole team of people, with rollers and aerosol cans and whatever-else.

The name Ben Frey is on this mural on Watson Street, an alley-like street parallel to Main, but, I discover, he worked with a group. Including Jiromu, here vamping for a friend while he mans the booth encouraging us all to take part in the $$-raising eBay auction of hand-painted shoes.

Lots of murals, both painted and in-progress, but lots of other arts-related activities as well.

I follow Ms Mannequin down a side alley to the Public Disco, with its glittering disco balls and promises of “daytime dancing on the streets of Vancouver.”

Don’t see any dancing, I have to tell you, but there are lots of tents with lots of crafts, and disco music does fill the air.

Here someone with thriving houseplants on offer; there a sculptor …

Some 3-4 blocks of Main Street are blocked off, tents lining each side with more artisan work, more not-for-profit organizations, more start-ups & mini-businesses that strike the right cultural note.

I start imagining nada grocery, but am distracted by a small knot of cyclists, one of them with a very cool shirt.

And soon I am further distracted by all the happy activity in a parking lot, turned over for the day — thank you City of Vancouver — to artists.

Some of whom are painting newspaper boxes …

while others paint individual parking slots …

 

among them artists who prefer words to images.

I  think this will say, in its entirety: “its [sic] almost like we’re trying to be sustainable”

Too bad about that missing apostrophe. I’d like to believe it’s (note the apostrophe) beyond the powers of the stencil, but, no, I don’t think that’s the explanation. Sigh.

Meanwhile, we visitors are pointing our cameras in every direction.

I deliberately catch this woman doing a selfie in the corner of my shot of the distant mural — and then hear her exclaim, “Oh! I didn’t have it on selfie!” So I grin at her and say, “Ah! Then I got you, and you got me.”

She is underwhelmed. I giggle. She doesn’t.

Never mind, moving right along, here’s a little girl with a mean shake-rattle-roll on an aerosol can. With daddy’s encouragement, she is taking full advantage of the TAG-T offer: “blast your T with paint guns”

T-shirts are also art over on Watson Street — but no blasting with paint is involved. Here it’s all about the art of the carefully placed rip.

And then … SCOOT.

There’s lots more to see, but I’ll have to come back. I’m due at the Taoist Tai Chi set-up back out on Main Street, where I join other members in an afternoon of public demonstrations of the set.

Le-Anne has caught instructor Doug and me at a moment when no passers-by are involved, but that’s not typical. I swear, Doug was a carny barker in another life: he pulls people into the middle of our group and there they are, monkey-see-monkey-do, getting a taste of the art.

“Oh, that‘s what it’s like,” their faces say, and they go on their way with a smile and a pamphlet.

  • 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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