Unknown Victoria

Victoria: The Unknown City is a guidebook to an eccentric town on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This is the author's blog. Look here for Victoria lore, updates and additions to the book, and hate mail.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Art in Transition

The Times Colonist reported some sad news today: sculptor Roland Brener died of a brain tumor. Brener, who was Canada's delegate to the Venice Biennale in 1988, taught students at UVic for 28 years. His work was comical yet elegant: consider his giant swinging businessmen at left. You can see more of it at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria until April 16.

Another sad disappearance concerns a work by Hans Fear, a.k.a. "Ghost," a legendary grafitti artist who died in 2003. Monday Magazine arts editor John Threlfall was looking over galleys of The Unknown City, and told me that a piece of Ghost's mentioned on page 126 had just been painted over by the building's owners. (At right is a photo of what it used to look like.) The boneheads in the insurance offices at 1580 Cook are in for it now: by failing to show the proper respect for Ghost's creation, they've ensured that their building will be regularly bombed by every spray-can artist in town.

There's no justice. Good work disappears, and lousy work lives on. Consider the "Victoria Panorama" mural in the parking lot across from the public library. Why doesn't someone paint over that ? I'm not the only one who finds it appalling. Several years ago, when Canuck humourist Will Ferguson was in town, I showed him the mural. This was his assessment, in his Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw:

This isn’t simply the worst mural in Victoria. It may very well be the worst mural in Canada, perhaps even the world. I have walked by it several times earlier without really noticing it, but now that I do – man, oh man. This mural, an ode to “the perfect Eden,” has everything crammed into it: angelic children, wise Indians, a sunset on the beach, city domes, a totem pole, frolicking animals. It is schmaltz. And not even adept schmaltz. The arms of the Indian princess are too short, giving her a weirdly disproportionate appearance. The Thunderbird atop the totem pole looks like Woody the Woodpecker in war paint, and the female fiddle player has impossibly HUGE hands. The crowning glory is the cherubic little boy in the lower corner. Holding a maple leaf. With a teddy bear. In his pocket.
I stagger back like someone overcome by fumes. “Point taken,” I say. The weight of that mural cannot be underestimated. The unbearable lightness of being Victoria.

UPDATE (June 24, 2006): Some Victorians do appreciate that graffiti can be the most interesting public art in town. This week, eager beavers from Esquimalt’s public works department painted over all the unauthorized spray-can murals around the Trackside outdoor gallery (page 123 in the book) – and neighbours actually complained about the good deed, writing letters to newspapers saying they liked the grafitti better than the blank walls!

It’ll take a little while for the unofficial art to grow back at Trackside. In the meantime, the best place to see Victoria’s street style is the Wild Fire bakery at 1517 Quadra downtown (photo above right). Someone could do a great photo essay on how its walls have changed over the years, thanks to its permissive owners. For a sample, see a Flickr slideshow here.

UPDATE (July 3, 2010): A contender for the best mural in town is Land and Sea, which is steadily growing along the length of the Ogden Point breakwater. Painted by First Nations youth, it was documented in a fine photograph for today’s Times Colonist by Debra Brash:


At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Holden West said...

Ha ha! Worst mural ever! It defies all known laws of anatomy, perspective and aesthetics! Surely we musn't paint over something so unmatched in all the world? Let's give it heritage status!

Hey, wait! Isn't that mountain lion Steve French???!!! Look at his expression! He's stoned alright.

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous aastra said...

I notice the cougar's eyes are fixed on the violinist. Perhaps this mural was meant to be a public service announcement re: the dangers of practicing musical instruments in the wilderness?

At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Justin said...

Yes, the Worst Mural definitely needs to be donated to the Museum of Bad Art

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It IS Steve French!


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