The Creative Individual paints the town with public art

Of art and graffiti, with The Creative Individual artist Steve Hornung.

Credit: Steve Hornung

The Creative Individual’s “Welcome Tree” on The Artiste building’s front lobby walls.

What does Vancouver’s public art mean for the community? bcliving talks with Steve Hornung of The Creative Individual

If you’ve seen one of Vancouver’s more colourful building-sides, chances are you’ve seen Steve Hornung’s work. Steve is a professional muralist and a Vancouver proponent for painting the city with public art. He’s the creative director and artist at the helm of The Creative Individual Company, a troupe of self-professed “creative individuals” who envision and bring to life some seriously mind-blowing wall art.

Our cityscape is peppered with Steve’s creations: building murals, artistic billboard ads and unique pieces like the 250-foot, train-station themed mural visible from the Renfrew Skytrain Station. Steve’s been hired by businesses—and by the City of Vancouver—to paint in the name of the community and reclaim the walls from graffiti artists and vandals.

Anti-graffiti program mural at 665 Smithe Street by artists Jaxon Butchart and Jeremy Wong.

Public murals versus graffiti in Vancouver

Murals eliminate tempting blank canvases and effectively deter the spreading of graffiti. Public vandalism is a community problem that extends beyond the issue of unsightly aesthetics, it also perpetuates a feeling of instability in the neighbourhoods and neglect from the watchful eye of law enforcement.

Creating public murals does double duty by taking neighbourhood walls back from graffiti artists and creating a sense of community through public art.

When painting these murals, Steve has found that he gets a chance to bring people together in the community. “People in the neighbourhood seem to come out of the woodwork, and I get to meet them and they meet each other. It’s very good for community building.”

Steve Hornung painted the Renfrew Skytrain Station project, spanning 250 feet, entirely on his own. The work is stunning and a real asset to the area. (Click here for the full effect!)

City of Vancouver anti-graffiti program commissions murals from local artists

Recognizing the effectiveness of commissioned murals, the City of Vancouver started an anti-graffiti program in 2004 called Spread the Paint. The program helps facilitate community paint-outs, wherein local residents—or lone artists—gather to beautify the stark walls in their neighbourhoods that are potential targets for vandalism.

Time-lapse videos

Two of The Creative Individual’s murals take shape in under two minutes each

For the Renfrew Skytrain Station project, Steve was approached by the building’s owner to transform the enormous canvas on behalf of the city’s anti-graffiti program.

“I actually painted this one by myself with spraycans and a piece of wood,” Steve says, describing the building as a particularly challenging surface to paint on. (The mural is located at 2811 Grandview Hwy.)

Not every piece of public art has the scope of Steve’s impressive train station mural, but they all bring something unique to the community. “It creates an opportunity to add character to the neighbourhoods,” Steve told bcliving magazine. And since completing the train station mural, the surface has yet to be tagged or vandalised.


Public art more than just graffiti abatement

The Creative Individual's Dream Garden at Vancouver's Beaumont Studios

The Creative Individual’s “Dream Garden”

on the wall of Vancouver’s Beaumont Studios.

But adorning buildings with murals isn’t just a defensive reaction to vandals. Business owners and members of the community view public art as meaningful contributions and recognize them for more than just their aesthetics.

“I’ve received only positive feedback from business owners and the community.  We’re creating landmark buildings for the city while preventing further vandalism,” Steve said.

The Vancouver Police Department is conscientious of the difference between commissioned works and unwanted wall art, calling graffiti “a crime, not an art form.”

Two Constables from the VPD’s anti-graffiti unit started a restorative justice art program—restART—within the City of Vancouver’s anti-graffiti initiatives. RestART works with former graffiti artists by helping them understand the consequences of their actions and providing the opportunity to give back to the community through commissioned public art.

Another of Steve’s anti-graffiti contributions can be found on the side of Vancouver’s Beaumont Studios (located at 316 West 5th Ave). The stunning mural, titled “Growing New Wings,” is another stepping stone in the the city’s mission to eliminate vandalism.

City budget cuts eliminate funding for mural anti-graffiti programs

The Creative Individual, Steve Hornung.

Progress has hit a road block, however, as city budget cuts have left the public program with zero funds for future projects. And Spread the Paint isn’t the only program facing this unfortunate setback. RestART has also been left high and dry.

“I was very disappointed to discover the city axed the mural anti-graffiti programs,” said Steve.

Both programs are without funding and many are worried about what this means for the city’s heavily vandalised areas. As older murals become weathered and blank building-sides sit vulnerable, the city could see an influx in graffiti.

It’s unknown at this point whether the City will reinstate the anti-graffiti programs, but artists like Steve are eagerly waiting in the wings to get back in action.

Check out the videos below to see a time lapse of Steve making some mural magic around Vancouver