Meet the artists behind several of Vancouver's most vivid works of public art
No matter where you live, there’s a tradition of local public wall art.
From prehistoric cave paintings in Lascaux and the politically charged work of Diego Rivera and other muralists in Mexico City to New York’s visual hip-hop, public wall art is as varied as the communities it decorates.
In Vancouver, murals brighten walls at Powell and Clark and stretch along BC Place. But who are the artists that create these exhibitions?
Thanks to the Internet, many muralists now tag their work with websites. Following these links, I connected with two artists involved in local wall painting: one from the graffiti tradition, the other from fine arts. Here are their thoughts:
(See his work at New Brighton Park and Commerical at 6th Ave.)
After years snowboarding in Whistler as a sponsored amateur and teacher, Tobin landed flat off a 45-foot cliff, breaking his back. Months spent staring at the ceiling rekindled his interest in the art that inspired him as a child: that found in 1980s skateboard magazines, on the sides of buildings in Toronto and Montreal and in the back pages of Reader’s Digest.
“It was important for me to make art that benefits those that don’t necessarily have access to a gallery. Since the dawn of time, I think art on walls has definitely been of the most benefit to everyone [since] it’s totally accessible,” he said.
Tobin’s eight-foot by 150-foot New Brighton piece was completed over five days this winter as part of the City of Vancouver Mural Program. Following a storybook theme of “creatures and critters,” Tobin worked to communicate his “Visual Antidepressants.”
“I feel like if you can break up architecture with perpetual gardens, no matter how grey and dreary the buildings are, literally or figuratively, hopefully the art picks you up a little—that’s what it did for me… After a serious breakup, I spiraled into a huge depression… A friend got me some canvases to cover the walls of my tiny basement dungeon apartment. I woke up one day and painted a giant rose on one canvas. It made me feel better, so I did another one, and another, and soon my little dungeon was overwhelmed with brilliant giant flowers.”—Tobin
Tobin’s suggested graffiti documentaries:
(See his work on the side of Beaumont Studios at 316 West 5th Ave., along Commercial Drive and just west of the Renfrew Skytrain Station)
Steve Hornung arrived at mural art from another perspective—while he respects the culture and loves the form, Hornung is “not a graffiti guy.” A professional artist who also creates customized commercial murals as The Creative Individual, Hornung points to the freedom and community-oriented nature of public art.
“With fine art on canvas, I let loose and just start to paint, and the story unfolds. With my commercial murals, I consult with clients, create designs and do a lot more pre-planning. Mural painting blends these two techniques. I love painting big, I love working outside, I love the process,” he said.
For his work Growing New Wings, Hornung painted in front of 200 or so people who attended the Vancouver City Limits Music Festival in September. The mural was done in collaboration with the City of Vancouver’s Spread the Paint program.
Hornung loved interacting with his audience—a change from the at-times solitary life of an artist:
“Last year I felt relatively isolated, working on my own stuff and building my company, but in the last six months, I’ve felt more compelled to connect with people… I love Vancouver and think it’s a beautiful city, but I think there’s room to grow for public art and murals and really want to be part of that process.” —Hornung
One of Hornung’s muralist inspirations:
Eric Grohe: “I’m not huge on the patriotic subject matter, but respect the work and his career.”