Fuel and Empathy- Cormorant Street Mural
April 2016, Victoria, BC, Canada ( between Blanshard and Quadra )
This mural is part of the Create Community Colour Mural Program, a partnership between the City of Victoria and the United Way of Greater Victoria. The project goal is to beautify six downtown graffiti hotspots, and match a professional artist to mentor youths. I was teamed up with aspiring artists Jocelyn Zhao and Sarah Jim. They were great and assisted me to make this a very rewarding public art project. Thanks also to Gary Pemberton, our liaison with the city.
Beauty and colour are accessible components in public art. Most people get pretty stoked to see a rainbow in the sky, because rainbows are beautiful and colourful. However, I like to explore duality in my work and pay attention to the rain clouds too. This particular wall for the mural was considered an eye sore by the city and neighbourhood. I wanted to look beyond the wall’s surface and consider the story behind it, to work with the texture and subtly preserve it. To show respect to the past, have fun in the moment, and gesture moving forward for the future. To find beauty in it’s ugliness, to re-contextualize the graffiti like a collage into the work. This wall has a connection to people and place, and these are ingredients to beauty and colour. Aside from the illegal activity associated with this wall, it had years of hand gestures attached to it. To simply paint over it with my idea of beauty, seemed abrasive to me. Metaphorically, I think everyone needs a spot to scribble, a wall to get up on, but such walls are under bridges nobody sees, back alleys nobody walks down. It’s not to suggest always hiding or covering up such expression, but when insular markings are shared in public space, it’s not received for the betterment of community health. I am not in favour of preserving the ego and territory of vandal tagging, but am interested by it’s expression and energy. I dabbled in tags and stencils when I was a teenager, and realized it was better to open doors by not tagging on them. I invited artists Shawn O’Keefe and Erik Volet to contribute tags during the mural process. This challenges the context of the tag, because tags are generally uninvited. Graffiti defies rules and institution, and it makes me think about how graffiti is created out of rejection, but within the graffiti culture, there are so many ironic rules about territory. I invited these artist friends, not because they are rejected taggers, quite the opposite, as they are celebrated and accomplished artists who’ve also explored street art and graffiti. This intention is a nod to a local community of artists I have connected with over the years. The idea to collage sections of old tags, with new tags is not a gesture of disrespect, but meant as a suggestive challenge for creativity over destruction. To work with all the elements around us, because everything in existence may not be welcomed, but it’s there for a reason and purpose. This community project intrigued me, because it supported the pairing with youth to inspire a positive outcome in creativity. I really enjoyed talking about art with the team, bouncing ideas off each other and listening to their input when needed. Showing them the steps to make a mural was fun, because I usually jump in and don’t reflect on what goes into such a project.
This mural was also influenced by the juxtaposition of working professionals, and working addicts who used the parking lot where the wall is located. I had empathy for the workers tip-toeing around addicts shooting up or urinating on their cars. I also had empathy for the addicts huddled and shaking on the cement with no one to comfort or help them. I’ve seen addicts get very creative with how they fuel their addiction. Maybe it sounds naive and hopeful, but I believe we all have gifts and abilities, we just need to be shown compassion and guidance to fulfill our potential. I don’t see how disdain and judgement to these people is helping the problem, but I understand people’s frustration and exhausted patience. Obviously, these are very complex topics associated with life in the city, so I wanted to express layers and texture in this mural. We can’t always paint over things we deem as ugly, so I hope my argument is supported by the sensitivities of this particular neighbourhood. Like such complexities, this mural shows fragmentation and togetherness, displacement and dissection. To view art in nature, to have love for the city and get out of it too. To be in the landscape of life. There are no people painted in this image, because people are represented by the graffiti left behind, the viewer is also considered to be a person in the piece. The islands represent individuality and they are connected by place. The dissected orca shows how people destroy things to understand what is inside them, the orca calf shows promise for the the next generation, the flying orca is about the weird and wonderful- to take flight when we only think we can swim. The trees on the rocks and islands isn’t to suggest scarcity, but to promote growth. Outside of our ego and territories, tagging and hash tagging, is a community we all live in together. I hope this mural touches on this and gives a smile to a passer-by, or curiosity to contemplate up close. During the making of this mural I listened to people who walked in different shoes, or no shoes at all. I must mention that they all expressed an appreciation for art in public space. As chaotic as this location looked like at times, myself and the team felt comfortable. Maybe we had art angels looking over us. Neighbours offered us food and drinks, people went out of their way to care. Robins Parking took down the private property signs from the wall, all in the name of art. I think there is something meaningful in this. This property is owned, leased, parked on and pissed on, and whether people connect to it or not, the art is personal, but it is not private, it is for everyone.
Thanks to the City of Victoria, United Way of Greater Victoria, Gary Pemberton, Naveen Bains building owner, Mo Jessa and Robins Parking, Jocelyn Zhao, Sarah Jim, Shawn O’Keefe, Erik Volet, Sean Shepperd, Mike Isacson, Sean Partlow, King, JR and Jean, the Cormorant Street neighbourhood and businesses and all the artists and friends who came by.