The public art of Richard Tetrault’s Vancouver

A tour of Richard Tetrault's Vancouver through the vivid public murals that decorate its walls.

Credit: Photos by Jenn Perutka and Esther Rausenberg, edited by Jenn Perutka

Vancouver artist Richard Tetrault and his favourite murals

Vancouver artist Richard Tetrault takes Granville on a tour of his city through the vivid public murals that decorate its walls, and speaks of the funding cuts that threaten the local arts community


As a Vancouverite, you have most likely been in the presence of artist Richard Tetrault’s art. His vivid translations of the city and its culture through his murals are key pieces to the identity of Vancouver.


“It’s a real struggle to keep murals up on walls,” Tetrault says. “We’ve all lost a lot of murals either to renovation, demolition or just the deterioration of the murals.”


The artist recently spoke to Granville about his favourite murals around Vancouver, the lack of arts funding and the site that he would consider his ideal canvas.

Orwell Hotel mural by Richard Tetrault

Richard Tetrault’s latest mural project covers all 8,000 square feet of the Orwell Hotel’s west side.


‘Through the Eye of the Raven,’ Orwell Hotel

I sat down with Tetrault at The Orwell Hotel, where he was working on his most recent and ambitious project. Unveiled on August 19, 2010, after 36 days of work, his mural ‘Through the Eye of the Raven’ spans 8,000 square feet across on the west wall of the hotel, on the 400 block of East Hastings, and is the largest in Vancouver.


Vancouver artists Richard Tetrault and his Orwell Hotel mural
The Orwell Hotel mural, ‘Through the Eye of the Raven,’ was unveiled on August 19.


Commissioned by Vancouver Native Housing Society, the mural has also received support through BC Housing, the City of Vancouver’s Great Beginnings program and donations from the Royal Bank, Strathcona BIA, Britannia Community Services and General Paint. Coordinated by Tetrault, the project involved local Aboriginal artists Jerry Whitehead, Richard Shorty, Haisla Collins, Sharifa Marsden, Don Howell and Nicola Campbell.


East Side Mural Project, Fratelli's Bakery
The mural at Fratelli’s Bakery, “Celebrating Life on the Drive,” was created as part of the Eastside Mural Project and based on interviews conducted with local business people on Commercial Drive about the street’s “Little Italy” past.


Eastside Mural Project

When asked about his favourite murals in the city, Tetrault’s first response was the Eastside Mural Project for which he was project coordinator and lead muralist. The project comprises four large-scale murals made to mark the Centennial of Britannia High School.


The sites of the project include the Russian Hall, Fratelli’s Bakery, Adanac bike route and the Britannia Community Centre.


Richard Tetrault's mural at Russian Hall in Strathcona
Strathcona’s Russian Hall, originally constructed in 1937 by the Croatian community, houses several artist groups and art festivals. The mural is the largest of the four Eastside Mural Project pieces.


Crossings, mural at Adanac bike route in Vancouver
Crossings,’ found along the Adanac bike route, portrays: cyclists crossing railway tracks, as appropriate to those passing by; the Militant Mothers of Raymur’s successful protest efforts that resulted in the Keefer Street Pedestrian Overpass; and a 19th-century Chinese railway worker, as a tribute to the legacy of the labourers who created important infrastructure in the province.



Britannia Legacy Mural
The ‘Britannia Legacy Mural’ depicts the hallmarks of Britannia High School, from sprinter Barbara Howard (who is still active in the community) and the Britannia rugby team to symbols of ethnic diversity and hints at the importance of art.


Community Walls on southern Commercial Drive

Tetrault also lists Community Walls as one of the most ambitious projects he’s done, taking a year and a half to complete and with the support and involvement of more than 300 people.


“That one represents a lot of community groups,” Tetrault says. “A lot of the projects I do involve a whole cross section of people.”


Any avid Skytrain-er will have seen the Community Walls project during the commute between 29th Avenue and Commercial-Broadway stations. The mural spans two blocks along Commercial Drive, just south of 15th Avenue along Clark Park.


Community Walls mural near the Croatian Cultural Centre along Commercial Drive
Located along Commercial Drive, near the Croatian Cultural Centre, the long red Community Walls mural comprises 26 unique circular mosaic pieces created by approximately 300 community members.


The Molson Brewery on Burrard Bridge

So, is there a space in Vancouver that Tetrault would love to get his hands on?


“The Molson Brewery on Burrard Bridge. It’s so prominent and everyone coming over the bridge would see it,” Tetrault says.


BC arts funding cuts and supporting the community

However, recent arts cuts to the provincial budget have left many artists struggling to continue their work and embark on new projects.


“Any arts cuts are dreadful,” he says. “They’re not going to save money in the long run, and to put a huge hole in the art community funding [has] organizations who have been around for decades scrambling to stay alive.”


The muralist is continuing to keep the arts community alive in his own way by being involved in community workshops and with children. When I asked how he felt to be exposing kids to art, Tetrault said, “It’s the best thing. I’ve been teaching mural painting for 25 years, and now I teach a program through UBC, which is working through student teachers and working in the schools… You have to start kids young.”


Richard Tetrault in his DTES studio
Richard Tetrault in his studio on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.


Tetrault’s passion for art spreads all around the world. His murals have become a signature to the streets of Vancouver and have expanded to countries such as Chile, Argentina, Mexico and soon will be seen in Cuba.


“One of the great things [about art] is that it crosses all ethnic and language barriers,” he says.


So wherever you may be in the world, you just might see a signature piece of Vancouver there with you.


Learn more about the artist at


Jenn Perutka

Jenn Perutka is a fourth-year communications major at Simon Fraser University and will be earning her degree next year. She is a freelance writer and photographer and has contributed to Vancouver Is Awesome, Granville Online, Stereogum, Discorder and Beyond Robson. Blog