British Columbia

Subtle brushwork portrays downtown dwellers with dignity

Alex Sandvoss works at an art store on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and is giving the proceeds of her first exhibit to Megaphone Magazine and the subjects of the paintings.

Faces We Pass By Everyday showcases portraits of people in Downtown Eastside

The Faces We Pass By Everyday

5 years ago
Duration 4:41
Alex Sandvoss painted portraits of people she sees on the street

Patiently adding layers of paint with delicate brush strokes, emerging Vancouver artist Alex Sandvoss creates images of the people she's come to know on the Downtown Eastside.

They're the community members —  many of them Megaphone Magazine vendors —  Sandvoss runs into while working at Opus Art Supplies on Hastings and Cambie streets, across from Victory Square. 

A painting of Megaphone vendor, Teresa, by Alex Sandvoss, will be at Visualspace Gallery until July 12. (Alex Sandvoss)

"Every morning I'd pass a man selling Megaphone and we became friends and he sold me my first issue and that awakened me to the reality of people there and everywhere really. And I just thought he'd make a great subject for a painting."

Rick, painted by Alex Sandvoss, is a musician who has played guitar and mandolin for over 30 years. (Alex Sandvoss)

The exhibit, Faces We Pass By Everyday, has 11 portraits in oil in a variety of sizes. They're for sale with partial proceeds going to Megaphone Magazine and the subjects themselves.

This portrait of Raven (Pay-ka-a-gun) standing outside the Carnegie Centre will be at Visualspace Gallery until July 12.

Delicate work

Sandvoss uses a technique that results in realistic portraits. First, she takes hundreds of photos to find a natural representation of the person. Then she painstakingly applies paint with tiny brushes to build the images.

"So I can get eyelashes and pores and really detailed work. They take a few months and take a lot of layers and patience."

It's important to Sandvoss that her subjects like how they've been painted. She wants to offer them dignity along with admiration.

'Everyone knows and loves Arlene,' says painter Alex Sandvoss. (Alex Sandvoss)

Mindful of the message

She also wants the subjects to speak for themselves and tell their own stories. Some of them will be visiting the gallery during the exhibit.

But even if people just come to look at the portraits, Sandvoss hopes they take away a key message.

"I think it's important to look up sometimes. We are very much connected to our technology now. Just having a sense of community and connection and bonding with other people — that is something that is really important."

The exhibit is at Visualspace Gallery and runs until July 12.

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