Artists are painting the town red (and green, blue and yellow)

Saturday marks the the first ever Vancouver Mural Festival

August 19, 2016

By Julianna Sonntag / Photo: Pellvetica

“Street art is an opportunity for people to achieve things bigger than themselves,” says Sandy Pell, one half of the Pellvetica team that is painting a mural for the inaugural Vancouver Mural Festival. “When you have a canvas that is gigantic and in such a public space, you really get to take a flat wall and turn it into an experience for people.” The festival, which takes place this Saturday beginning at noon, will showcase over 40 local and international artists by way of 35 murals throughout Mount Pleasant. But for the artists getting things ready, work—indeed, a lot of work—must come before play.

Having never before painted an outdoor mural, Pell says it’s been “a really amazing challenge” for her and Steve, who are more accustomed to creating office murals. The team began conceptualizing their idea during the past few weeks but didn’t actually start on the wall until Monday morning. Pell took the week off from her job managing corporate communications and PR at Hootsuite (for a “muralcation,” as she calls it) to devote her time to the piece and has been pulling 15 hour days in order to complete it in time for Saturday’s unveiling. The strategy? “Steve’s working in pencil and I’m following behind in paint,” Pell explains. Steve, a graphic designer by trade, is responsible for the grid, math, and structure of the piece. Before they started working together, Pell’s illustration style was “organic, flowing line work—very doodlesque. Steve has created these beautiful opportunities to align patterns to structure. People don’t realize it, but there is an underlying grid to everything we do.”

If that’s got you interested in the end result, Sandy and Steve Pell’s mural can be found on the front facade of Kafka’s Coffee and Tea on Main Street. “The whole front of Kafka’s used to be red and now it’s white and black, all the way up,” Pell says, laughing. The cafe had recently undergone an interior facelift, updating to a clean monochrome palette with a metallic silver accent. The festival organizers tried to “fit artists’ styles with different building aesthetics,” according to Pell, which worked perfectly, as classic black-and-white is what Pellvetica typically works with. Plus, Kafka’s doubles as a local art gallery, so it seemed only fitting that art would extend to the building’s exterior as well.

The 'Before'
The ‘Before’
Sandy working on the mural
Sandy Pell working on the mural

And Pell’s excitement extends beyond just her own contribution to the festival. The Hootsuite headquarters on 8th Avenue—the largest piece in the festival, with a mural done by Scott Sueme—has already become “such a landmark for Mount Pleasant,” Pell says of her office, but now it’s transforming from “a cream-coloured bunker to a gorgeous block of colour.” While she says originally there was a bit of controversy surrounding some of the pieces, with people being afraid of change and with the Hootsuite building in particular, Pell believes that the art “is making Mount Pleasant so beautiful. Every single time you walk down an alleyway, you could pop by a 100-foot piece of artwork.” She asks, “How could you complain about that?”

The Vancouver Mural Festival features both bike and walking tours with tickets available online, but you can also just download the festival app for your own self-guided tour. In addition to the murals, there will be live music, local market vendors, other art installations and a street party all in celebration of public art (Main Street will be closed between East 7th Avenue and East 12th Avenue for the festivities). In other words, you’re bound to have a good time. As Pell puts it, “our favourite thing about the styles of murals we do is that they become memorable moments for people.” And if you can’t make it out this weekend, yet another beautiful thing about these murals is that they are a permanent exhibit.

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