Synonym paints the town

Annual mural festival sees massive public projects


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/11/2017 (1770 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

“It appears to be monumental only because it’s art.”

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff said this — in a 2002 interview with Eye-Level — about the massive environmental pieces that he and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, were famous for installing around the world. His point was that rarely do bridges, skyscrapers or highways cause us to stop and stare—it’s public art that demands attention, whether it is the size of a postage stamp or many kilometres long.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Andrew Eastman and Chloe Chafe have transformed the city with their collective, Synonym Art Consultation. SAC aims to employ artists and make art accessible to the public, and their annual Wall-to-Wall mural festival is responsible for some of the city’s largest and brightest pieces of public art work.

Alana Trachenko The New West Hotel on Main Street is one of Wall-to-Wall’s biggest and most elaborate projects this year.

“It’s the most exciting thing that could happen for our city because it’s not about what Andrew and I want to do at all anymore,” Chafe said. “It’s figuring out what the community wants to do.”

ALANA TRACHENKO / LIFE / TOGETHER is a collaborative mural inspired by harmony and community, located on Main Street.

September 2017 marked Wall-to-Wall’s fourth year, which finished with a total of over 30 murals that SAC has commissioned from both local and visiting artists. The West Broadway-based collective focused its efforts in its home neighbourhood as well as the North End.

“It’s really exciting to have those two neighbourhoods… to use as different curatorial opportunities for us,” Eastman said. “Some (murals) wouldn’t translate to the North End. They would get swallowed up by the greyness, whereas here (West Broadway), we can paint an eight-foot mural and it’s almost the same effect as a huge wall in the North End.

“It’s important to tailor projects to communities themselves and we’re not just plugging anything in.”

The festival’s most notable creations include the New West Hotel on Main Street, which was first entirely whitewashed in preparation for a group of artists who used only black paint, and a neon-bright mural on a wall of Élan Hair Studio on Sherbrook Street.

“It’s something that people walk by every day and associate with their lives,” Eastman said.

For that reason, Chafe and Eastman spend a lot of time consulting with the community before getting to work each fall.

“In West Broadway it’s more consultations with business owners and in the North End, it’s conversations with elders and organizations like the North End Community Renewal Corporation,” Chafe said. “There’s so much magic that comes out of those conversations that it’s basically impossible to not keep going.”

“The amazing connections we make really just picks us back up when we’re knocked down,” Eastman added. “The artists we’re working with, getting them employment is so important to us. To keep providing those opportunities, we just want to keep going.”

ALANA TRACHENKO / Local artist Gabrielle Funk works on LIVE / TOGETHER, a two-part mural on Main Street.

From the outside looking in

Approximately half of the artists who took part in this year’s Wall-to-Wall festival were visiting, primarily from other parts of Canada.

Rachel Ziriada (26) and Mikhail Miller (32) make up collaborative team NASARIMBA, and they came in from Calgary to work on the brightly coloured geometric piece on the side of Élan Hair Studio (156 Sherbrook St.). The massive size required four 10-hour days for the artists, who work in sculpture, printmaking, installations and painting.

“There’s other festivals, similar, going on in Canada and around the world but we found that here, we really think their programming is very thoughtful,” Miller said.

“It was amazing to be an artist involved with (Synonym) because they were super supportive of us and the fact that we’re travelling artists as well, they were awesome about that,” Ziriada added.

The pair said visiting other places and art festivals throughout the country, it’s clear that Winnipeg has its own vibe.

“Winnipeg is unique in the way that it’s getting contemporary art murals, that’s the style we noticed and that’s pretty cool,” Ziriada said.

NASARIMBA’s piece certainly fits the contemporary theme, and the pair says their values align with what SAC aims to do as well.

“In the art world there’s a shift towards public engagement and moving outside the gallery space, so I think we fall into that category,” Miller said.

Their piece on Élan incorporates art deco that Miller says can be found in some of Winnipeg’s architecture.

“Art deco is a style of art and architecture in the ‘30s, ‘40s. There’s some of that in the architecture in Winnipeg for sure. So it’s kind of a reference to that time and it was a time of creativity after the First World War,” Miller said.

“But also we’re joking that it’s influenced by Sunice, a company from the ‘90s that made neon clothing from Calgary, so it’s like a combination.”

ALANA TRACHENKO /Jill Stanton’s surreal still life plays with themes of nostalgia.

Jill Stanton came in from Edmonton to create a small, surrealist mural that is now on display outside of the Tallest Poppy (103 Sherbrook St.). It was her first time in Winnipeg, which she says is like Edmonton’s slightly “grittier” twin city.

“In a good way, in a way that I really appreciated,” Stanton said. “In the ‘70s we got the oil boom and there was all this money to take down old buildings and build newer, less nice buildings. All of these, suddenly, people with lots of money and not a ton of taste did whatever they wanted.

“But in Winnipeg, for better or for worse, it never happened, so you get an interesting mix of beautiful old architecture and wonderful ghost finds. Just the city itself is really beautiful.”

She says her mural is inspired by Winnipeg’s ‘alternate dimension Edmonton thing,’ and incorporates surreal still life with colours that Stanton says you could find on an old vintage paperback.

She says she got hooked on murals because of the public aspect.

“They are public artwork. You’re really thinking about all the kinds of publics you’re putting this artwork up for. There’s people that live in the area, work in the area, and people that just pass through, and all different walks of life.”

ALANA TRACHENKO / Sun Ice Spirit Level by Calgary duo NASARIMBA incorporates art deco and ‘90s colour schemes. The piece took four days to complete.

Community canvases

The New West Hotel (786 Main St.) was once brown, drab and, at the gateway between the North End and downtown Winnipeg, a place that some people might avoid.

During the Wall-to-Wall festival, cars and pedestrians alike stopped in their tracks to take in the massive transformation that the old brick building was undergoing: hip hop music blared from speakers as artists carted spray paint and brushes up and down ladders, while area residents chatted with artists and newfound friends on the sidewalk.

During that warm, sunny week in September, the New West Hotel suddenly became a landmark.

Recreation and wellness liaison for the North End Renewal Corporation Andrew Sannie said it’s an example of how public art can bring together people and communities that might not otherwise interact.

“Beautiful art is exactly the same to you living in the south end as to anyone living here,” Sannie said outside the New West Hotel. “We’re all humans, we’re all people… bringing diverse communities together is what are does and what art has always done.”

He was the project manager for this year’s Wall-to-Wall festival, and he said that some of the memories that really stand out from that month are the comments they received from locals.
“Just walking through and hearing people talk about it and being inspired by what’s on the walls. It’s just really livening this community up,” Sannie said.

ALANA TRACHENKO / One side of the New West Hotel.

“They say ‘(the Mending mural), she’s talking to me, she’s telling me to straighten up.

“We got this amazing email from someone, I don’t know which building she lives in, but she sent this phenomenal email saying thank you for changing the way my block looks… It was really amazing to hear her thoughts, and it was on a really rough day. We were mid-week, needed a little pick-up and got that message.”

And in changing a block or street at a time, Wall-to-Wall is changing the face of the city.
“People have been falling in love with Winnipeg when they come here, and toying with the idea of moving here because they love it so much,” Eastman said.

“Just because a community’s buildings are dilapidated, doesn’t mean the people are,” Chafe added. “It’s important to show the city that this is a community full of so many types of people and (they’re) so welcoming, and excited and love art, and deserve this type of art.”

Eastman said while our art scene may not be on the same level as Montreal’s or Toronto’s we’re catching up quick, and the amount of mural real estate, coupled with businesses enthusiastic about working with artists, is a match made in heaven.

“What’s really exciting artists is how much space we have here and how there is actually an openness to content and styles and stories,” Chafe said. “Because the scene isn’t as big, you might think that people don’t want it here, but I think that’s totally wrong.

“Whenever something happens here, the community is so thankful about it.”

ALANA TRACHENKO / Nibaa by Mike Valcourt is located at 171 Princess St.

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