Arts

B.C. painter finds inspiration in tunnels deep below Vancouver

Every day for six months, Dylan Humphreys descended below ground, roller in hand, to paint the inside weld joints of a water treatment tunnel in North Vancouver, B.C., and a hydroelectric dam in Revelstoke. Industrial workers are generally invisible to the art world, if not the world in general — it's easy to lose track of people who do their work underground. But Humphreys, a recent Emily Carr University graduate who took the tunnel painting job to make ends meet, was fascinated by what he saw.
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      Every day for six months, Dylan Humphreys descended below ground, roller in hand, to paint the inside weld joints of a water treatment tunnel in North Vancouver, B.C., and a hydroelectric dam in Revelstoke.

      Industrial workers are generally invisible to the art world, if not the world in general — it's easy to lose track of people who do their work underground. But Humphreys, a recent Emily Carr University graduate who took the tunnel painting job to make ends meet, was fascinated by what he saw.

      "For something like the water treatment, it's very easy to forget where the water coming out of your tap comes from, or where it goes."

      At night, after his time in the tunnels, he returned home to sketch and paint the people, places and stories that he encountered underground.

      Humphreys' resulting series of acrylic paintings, "A Good Day Above Ground," submerges viewers into B.C.'s subterranean tunnels and shines a light on the workers who build and maintain them.

      His works are evocative, atmospheric snapshots that document a world rarely seen by most Canadians. The hazy casts of artificial light, shadowy scaffolding, glowing neon construction wear and lights at the end of tunnels (literally), evoke confined spaces that invite the viewer to step inside.

      B.C. painter Dylan Humphreys took a job as an industrial painter, and made a series in his artistic practice inspired by the stint. (Katie Huisman)

      Painting the tunnels alongside his fellow workers, Humphreys gained a deep appreciation for what they do. He says, "One of my goals is that people consider deeply the world around them, and how things got here or how things happen, and just the value of our work, and of our time."

      He's proud to bring attention to the industry and its workforce, and says that his co-workers are big fans of the series. "They love it. The [company] has print outs all over the office. Some of my coworkers have actually purchased artworks."

      Humphreys plans to continue working as an industrial painter and furthering his education in the trade, while also maintaining his fine art practice. In addition to inspiration, working in the tunnels gives him an appreciation for what he describes as, "the preciousness of life and the worker's life in these environments."

      "The lengths that people go to, not only to support their families, but to also help the world function, is pretty mind-blowing."

      Dylan Humphreys. Jul 25-Aug 15 at Initial Gallery. 2339 Granville. Vancouver. 604-428-4248.

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