Summer 2019 has been a particularly exciting time as Burrard Arts Foundation Presents the Surface Series 2019: Shepard Fairey in collaboration with VMF. The world famous Los Angeles based artist recently celebrated his Obey 30th Anniversary world tour murals and is now here in Vancouver painting a 20-storey mural on W. Georgia at Burrard Street. We got the opportunity to get a closer look into his experiences, challenges, and opinions on the art scene both internationally and locally in Vancouver.
Having internationally renowned artists like yourself create a mural in Vancouver is hugely inspirational for local artists. As a city that, until very recently, did not have a street art/mural culture (opportunities to paint in public spaces), Vancouver Mural Festival places a strong emphasis on training/supporting new artists.
What were some of your biggest challenges when you first started painting murals? What do you feel is most important for a muralist to learn/master?
SF: At first, the challenge was to determine how to translate my aesthetic onto a larger wall best. I thought about projecting and transferring the images through that technique, however I eventually figured out a grid system using one-use stencils and, with the help of assistants, I cut the stencil directly onto the wall, paint it with spray paint, and then do touchups as needed. This system that I use is very effective in translating my aesthetic but it is expensive to create the black and white stencil printouts and therefore, might not be an easy technique for emerging artists to use based on cost.
The advice I would give to aspiring muralists is to find techniques that work within their budget to effectively translate their aesthetic. I’ve seen so many different methods employed in person and in videos, that I think the options for any artist to explore can be found online. I went through a lot of trial and error with the techniques that I use for my work, so sometimes it might take a few failures before one finds the right approach, but the satisfaction of creating work on a large scale is worth the effort.
In many cities, including Vancouver, street art is still often associated with vandalism. In its 4 years, Vancouver Mural Festival has come a long way in destigmatizing graffiti in our city.
How have you seen art on walls and in public spaces change/impact a city?
SF: I’ve been making the argument for almost 30 years that public art has value and is much more than vandalism, especially when it is sanctioned or supported and the artists can take their time to do their best work. I’ve seen amazing cultural transformations in places like Miami’s Wynwood District, and the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles, those places have become destinations, and they could be almost be called outdoor galleries. Those two areas are very dramatic examples, but I’ve seen the ways that public art builds community in many cities.
Congratulations on 30 years of Obey! You’ve been doing murals for a long time now. What drew you to the medium in the first place and what keeps you creating these large scale pieces?
SF: I was attracted to street art from the beginning because it democratizes art…it puts art in front of people where they live their daily lives, rather than asking them to go to a gallery or a museum. As I’ve become more known, and am offered more large scale opportunities, I’m excited to do pieces that even more dramatically transform the landscape. The challenge of making strong pieces on a large scale always excites me and I think the experience the viewer has stumbling upon a huge mural is extremely powerful.
Over the past 4 years, Vancouver Mural Festival has added over 200 murals to Vancouver. Showcasing diversity (styles of art, artist backgrounds, local/international) is an important part of our curation process.
Are there any up-and-coming muralists you’re excited about? Any Canadian artists?
SF: I like AD Fuel from Lisbon, Portugal a lot. I also like Axel Void. I recently saw Fluke’s art and thought that it was pretty good.