by Evan Duggan
VANCOUVER, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- Artist Michael Abraham stands back to assess his work with two other members of the Phantoms In The Frontyard arts collective. The painters relocate their ladders and continue to paint the wall of a two-storey industrial building in the heart of the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.
For 24 days, the group of seven local artists have been working on the massive mural that depicts the interior of a whimsical art gallery. Called "Strange Bedfellows," the mural features dozens of people and animals. Some of the people in the mural are famous, and others are local residents.
"It looks a little bit like a quirky art gallery scene," Abraham tells Xinhua, taking a break in the shade. "All of us are figurative artists. We're all different but we're all doing people or characters. That's our main connection."
Abraham's team was commissioned to do this mural as part of the annual Vancouver Mural Festival. Over the last few years, the festival has transformed more than 50 buildings, walls and alleys in Mount Pleasant into public works of art.
The weeklong festival includes walking tours, art shows, discussions, parties and a massive musical concert to cap-off the week on Aug. 11.
For this piece, each member of the collective came up with ten to fifteen drawings and then Abraham combined them into a single composition.
"We thought it would be fun because we do group shows as a collective [and wanted to] show off our work with a museum setting," he says.
He says more visibility in the community is something every artist wants and the festival is helping with that.
"It's nice to have something that's visible on the street that's going to stay for a while," he says. "Most shows you have, come and go and [then] go into private collections, so this a fun way to work."
Overall, the organizers are expecting about 125,000 people to view the murals and attend other events throughout the week, says Dave Vertesi, the festival's executive director.
Vertesi stands next to another new mural a few blocks away from Abraham's. Here, American artist Bunnie Reiss is three storeys up on a jack lift, using stencils to spray-paint flowers onto a bright blue and green scene covered with bunnies, birds and trumpets.
He says a group of likeminded artists in the community wanted to create a lasting work of public art in a neighbourhood that is developing quickly. Mount Pleasant is transforming from a former industrial area into a hub with several craft breweries, high-tech companies and quirky restaurants.
As he talks, several small groups of people and a couple of individuals pause on the sidewalk to enjoy and photograph the massive mural.
"This is where we've lived for a long time," Vertesi says. "This is a big hub of artists in Vancouver. It's also an area where there is lots of change. Lots of development [is] happening and I think it's more important than ever to make artists' presence known in a really visual way that you just can't ignore."
He says the festival expands each year.
One alley has more than 50 works of art alone, he says. Some murals cover the entire exteriors of buildings. Some are tiny and tucked in next to loading docks or backdoors.
The festival is funded through sponsorship, art commissions and from grants from the government, Vertesi says.
He says the organization scouts walls and buildings and reaches agreements with landlords and tenants, but often it's the building occupants who come to them about having their building painted.
"We sometimes see ourselves as a weird dating service for artists and buildings because there is this delicate dance or ritual going on where we're trying to figure out what works for those buildings, and what works for those artists," he says.