After adding more than 40 artworks to city walls last year, the Vancouver Mural Festival is upping the ante for its second celebration, Monday to Saturday (August 7 to 12). A full 60 murals will brighten up Strathcona and Mount Pleasant this year, culminating in a big daytime street party on August 12. In this series of profiles, we introduce you to a few of the artists.
Corey Bulpitt has been spending his days on a lift at Columbia and East Hastings, painting a flock of pigeons onto Pigeon Park Savings.
He hasn’t been alone. The Haida artist has had the help of his nine-year-old son, manning the lift and bringing him paint cans. And Bulpitt tells the Straight that people stop and talk to him all day long.
“It’s all positive,” he says. “People are happy something nice is going on the wall. It was kind of a grimy-looking building before.”
This piece, titled East Van Pigeon, is far from Bulpitt’s first mural. He’s been doing graffiti since he was 15, and Vancouverites will recognize his work under the Granville Street Bridge, as well as his two pieces from last year’s mural festival, at Main and Broadway and on the side of the Native Education College on East 5th Avenue. His Haida name, Taakeit Aaya, translates to “Gifted Carver”, and he’s perhaps best-known for his intricate totem carvings.
But despite his body of work, Bulpitt remembers a time when the crackdown on graffiti was so strict, he was almost ready to move—particularly because police wanted him to turn in the young street artists he was working with.
“For many years, it’s been a shitty city for doing public art,” says Bulpitt. “I’ve been to places like Paris and Montreal, where there’s lots of public art and it’s a better vibe. Murals create a sense of community. You see people enjoying themselves and looking up rather than just walking by and rushing to get past an ugly building.”
As one of the few artists in this year’s Vancouver Mural Festival lineup working outside the Mount Pleasant area, Bulpitt is especially conscious of the effect public art can have on people who rarely see it.
A few years ago, he installed his carving Urban Eagle at Main and Hastings, and says he was floored by the reaction.
“People were weeping with joy. I didn’t know it would have that impact,” says Bulpitt. “People were sharing their whole souls with me. It brought back memories for them, of fishing camps, their struggles to get sober.”
Urban Eagle was only up for a few hours, but East Van Pigeon—which will be unveiled at noon on Tuesday (August 8)—is here to stay. Bulpitt has been developing the design for a while, and it fits well with its locale. The pigeon pattern is a tribute to the neighbourhood, with variations in colour to show that all pigeons—and people—are different, with their own colourful stories.
Birds are a Bulpitt motif—large creatures of flight that make people look up. But he also comments on public art’s power to make people feel seen.
“Some of the bleaker places I think need it the most,” says Bulpitt. “It shows the city cares about its people, bringing it back to the ground level of human beings.”