Artist collective mixes pop culture with surrealism for Vancouver Mural Festival

Artists create permanent, large-scale public murals for the annual Vancouver Mural Festival.

'There’s like a Princess Leia fighting a dripping, melting man,' artist says

Artist collective, Phantoms in the Front Yard, prepare their entry for the Vancouver Mural Festival. (Margaret Gallagher)

The blue and grey two-storey building at West 7th and Ontario in Vancouver is fairly easy to forget as a structure. 

But the unremarkable building is undergoing a transformation that will leave it with a very memorable feature. 

It's the site of one of 26 murals in this year's Vancouver Mural Festival. 

The annual free public art celebration runs from Aug. 6 to 11 and will feature 23 artists or groups creating permanent, large-scale public murals, mostly around the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. 

Phantoms in the Front Yard (FITFY), an eight-person Vancouver-based artist collective, is the group responsible for livening up the wall at West 7th and Ontario Street. 

Artists trace over a projection of their ideas with a grease pencil. (Margaret Gallagher)

Strange Bedfellows

The collective says the mural is titled Strange Bedfellows because it mixes the artists' independently conceived drawings into one scene. 

"My role in the mural project has been to assemble a lot of different artists' drawings together to create a composition that, in the end, turned out to be an art gallery scene with a bunch of fun scenarios happening," said Michael Abraham.

"So the top grouping, there's like a Princess Leia fighting a dripping, melting man … and then there's like a bathing suit clad model sort of stopping the action." 

Abraham said the composition combines 130 elements, and will take nearly two weeks to complete. 

He said the artists start the process by tracing their drawings onto the building using a projector and a grease pencil, after which it will take 12 days to fill the outlines with colour. 

Using lifts and ladders, the artist collective fills a two-storey, 25-metre long wall with their designs. (Margaret Gallagher)

'A dream come true'

The mural combines many historical and surreal figures, like Venus de Milo, a rooster in a rainbow sweater, a polar bear wearing pants, and even Salvador Dali's head on David Lee Roth's body. 

"I'm really interested in dreaming up surreal situations and then trying to represent those fairly technically accurately," said artist Jonathan Sutton.

Sutton says it's really thrilling after eight years together as a collective to have the opportunity to work on a single composition for the first time. 

"I love to be in the company of this crew of artists personally, and then to be in their company in terms of our figures all being in the same frame, it's kind of like a dream come true," said Sutton. 

Sutton says he loves that the mural is public and can be appreciated by passersby. He hopes it will inspire the process of art making among others. 

With files from North by Northwest

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Cory Correia

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Cory Correia is a reporter with CBC Vancouver. Send him an email at cory.correia@cbc.ca