Mix artist

From stuffed-toy pillows to inner-tube shelves, the work of Blim’s Noel Graves Macul defies categorization.

Pegging some artists is the easiest thing in the world. Then there are others, like Noel Graves Macul, who mix it up so much they defy all labels.

Sometimes the 28-year-old Emily Carr Institute grad is an industrial designer who receives commissions to make one-off furniture pieces. Other times he’s a sculptor, crossing the functional with the fantastic. Born in Maine, he spent time in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Ontario, before settling in Vancouver. It’s in our city that he produces graphic art, screen prints, and music (as drummer, trumpeter, and singer in the local band Get Dominion). And then there is the arts-resource facility Blim (197 East 17th Avenue, 604-872-8180), which he runs with his wife, Yuriko Iga. Experimentalist might be the most fitting title for Macul. But he’d prefer to do without it.

Now in its third year, the gallery/store is a showcase of local talent, with racks of cleverly designed clothing and original artwork, and a space suitable for the screen-printing and button-making workshops that the couple run weekly. “We wanted to demystify the art practice and get people in to work on projects they normally wouldn’t,” Macul explains in an interview at Blim. “Mixing local artists with the community, and making things transparent and accessible to everyone.” Every couple of months they also host experimental-music events.

In the Blim window display case sits a colourful cushion fashioned from once-loved soft toys, which he painstakingly picked apart, reconfigured, and sewed together. The resulting pillow—an explosion of stuffed tails, paws, limbs, and heads—messes with the distinction between the worlds of adult and child, and is symbolic of his concerns over consumer waste. “I’m not into creating new things. I’m interested in the reassembling.” The stuffed animals came from rummage sales and thrift stores.

It was in those stores that he found materials for a mammoth sculptural lighting piece in the shape of a dragon for trendy Kitsilano sushi restaurant the Eatery. He collected tiny plastic toys (from McDonald’s, mainly) for the project, which took him more than 200 hours to assemble; the resulting creation hangs at six metres in length and 80 kilos. “I liked the irony of that project,” he says. “This big Chinese dragon, made up of all these tiny toy products made in China”. The restaurant liked it so much, he’s making another in the shape of a tiger.

It wasn’t secondhand toys but tires Macul sought to make a shelving unit he sells through Blim. Again, the artist wanted to focus on discards—or “straight waste”, as he calls it. “I came up with the idea of layers of inner tubes.” He sewed two of them together and wrapped them around end pegs, creating a tension that gave the shelf a freestanding structure. He then added a wooden frame and an inner steel one to give the piece shape and a clean industrial appearance.

“I try to build things for disassembling, so the user can fix it themselves if need be,” he says. “A lot of things are designed as black boxes. So if something breaks, people don’t know what to do and throw them away.”

Macul also offers ongoing maintenance on his sold work. He sees it as a move toward fostering a local culture of producing and responsible consuming. “With custom work, you don’t reach a large audience. So gaining fame or wealth is almost impossible,” he explains. “But it’s not important to me.”