By: Sara Wong, Peak Associate
Vancouver hosts a lot of festivals in the summer, and while I appreciate the ingenuity of event organizers in making festivals such as the Vancouver Pride Festival and Powell Street Festival work online, the energy of an in-person event is difficult to translate to a laptop screen. Thankfully, the Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF) is carrying on as per usual, with the exception of eliminating its street party. 2020 marks the fifth year of this massive street art event, with 60 new murals being created across nine Vancouver neighbourhoods.
To me, the most enticing part of the VMF is being exposed to new artists who are invited to contribute each year, allowing an ever-expanding pool of talent to be recognized. Additionally, as every artist is expressing a message through their mural, the VMF serves as a giant platform for unveiling stories that reflect the city’s social fabric. Thanks to the new VMF app (available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play), I found it very easy to discover and learn about the festival’s newcomer artists, one of whom being Laura Kwok, who I was already familiar with from seeing cards from her stationary brand Art + Soul Creative Co. at the SFU Bookstore.
Kwok’s piece for VMF is titled Late Bloomer. The mural, located in Strathcona, is a white wall that bursts to life with a colourful variety of flowers. Running in between the two diagonal crops of flowers are a couple of animal guardians. In an Instagram post, Kwok shares that her mural “is super close to [her] heart and reflective of [her] art + life journey.” Curious, I asked her to expand on this journey in an email interview.
“I loved art as a kid but throughout my teen and university years, I stopped drawing and didn’t have much direction in my life. I didn’t even think being an artist was a possible career choice,” Kwok explains. “After a decade-long drought, I rediscovered my passion for painting and started making art again. I gained confidence through creating and am continually learning to improve my art and grow at my own pace. After all, there is no standard timeline for growth.”
Every flower depicted in Kwok’s mural symbolizes a moment in her life. As the artist explains, “the flowers in the top left corner represent memories from my childhood — the purple clover that speckled the school fields, the white moonflowers that crept along the alley fences, and the majestic sunflower in my childhood home that grew alongside me and my siblings.” Meanwhile, “the blooms in the bottom right corner are ones that [Kwok] observed this year throughout the evolving seasons — from the budding crocuses and irises of spring to the dewy snowdrops of winter.” Together, the separate groups of flowers portray the theme of duality which, according to Kwok’s artist statement on the VMF app, “explore[s] the notion that two seemingly opposing forces can coexist harmoniously, forming a delicate and beautiful balance.”
The mural festival generates a lot of hype on social media, and with many Vancouverites craving an outdoor adventure this summer, artists began garnering an audience while they were working on their murals. “I really appreciated all the people passing by who would yell out encouragement,” Kwok says. “One particular driver stopped in the middle of the alley, got out of his car, and gave us a huge smile and a big thumbs up.”
Kwok is no stranger to creating murals. Nevertheless, painting for VMF was new territory for her. At the start of the project, Kwok had some volunteers working with her and noted that “one of the challenges was actually having extra help. I normally work alone so when I map out a design with a rough sketch it’s easy for me to follow [ . . . ] I had to work a bit differently. I learned to delegate tasks and clearly communicate instructions to my lovely helpers while keeping the big picture in mind.”
Now that her mural for VMF is complete, Kwok is jumping straight into another project. “I actually start a new mural for the City of Richmond this coming week at West Richmond Community Centre so the painting streak continues!”
You can follow Kwok’s journey on Instagram at @artandsoulcreativeco.
In addition to Kwok, here are a few honourable mentions of first time artists to the Vancouver Mural Festival scene this year:
Annie Chen (Instagram: @lemonni) – Chen has created not one, but two murals for her VMF debut. Each represents a popular Vancouver locale. The first mural — found in the Strathcona neighbourhood — is dedicated to the Sea to Sky region. The second mural symbolizes the West End with an image of Joe Fortes (the city’s first official lifeguard and namesake of a popular seafood restaurant off Robson St.) featured prominently, along with images of bicycles and local wildlife.
Oakland Galbraith (Instagram: @oakland.galbraith) – At twelve years old, Galbraith is the youngest artist to ever contribute to the Vancouver Mural Festival. His piece is going up in the Mount Pleasant area. In cartoon style, the mural depicts a future city of Vancouver that is greener and more inclusive.
Ocean Hyland (Instagram: @dropletformthesalishsea) – Hyland’s mural, which can also be found in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, narrates the interaction between colonial settlers and Indigenous peoples in Vancouver from an Indigenous point of view. The settlers are seen as the alien group, quite literally as they arrive via spaceship.
Pearl Low (Instagram: @fumichun) – Queer Afro-Asian artist, Pearl Low, known for her work on the Oscar award-winning short film Hair Love, has painted a mural in downtown’s West End showcasing Black joy; a portrait of a smiling Black woman is front and centre, with a deconstructed sun behind her and branches of orange trees surrounding the portrait.
While the festival itself is nearing the end, these murals and more will be found all across the city and can be pinpointed using the VMF app.