Vancouver Mural Festival: Sandeep Johal finds her artistic voice after long journey

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      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.

      Sandeep Johal has had a busy year. When her maternity leave ended last October, she quit her teaching job at the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. to work as a full-time artist.

      “It was very scary,” Johal tells the Straight. “I’ve just been hustling. It’s been good.”

      Johal looks after her two-year-old son during the day and spends her evenings on her art. And it’s paid off. Her work can be found on a series of banners in Surrey, a concrete planter in Strathcona, and a 22-metre barrier in New Westminster. She’s currently preparing her first solo show, Rest in Power, at Vancouver’s Gam Gallery this September. And this week she’ll be painting as a part of the Vancouver Mural Festival, decorating the side of Chutney Villa in Mount Pleasant, the neighbourhood she’s called home since 2006.

      “Either it’s because they’re Indian or I love dosas, I don’t know,” she jokes. “But it’s a really cool spot. I walk past it all the time, so it’s going to be really cool to walk past there and see my mural almost every day.”

      Sandeep Johal
      Laara Cerman

      Johal is planning to combine her two signatures—geometric shapes and detailed black-and-white figures—for her mural while also incorporating colourful floral patterns. It’s another step in her journey to discover her developing artistic voice.

      Johal says the support she’s received after joining the female art collective THRIVE Studio has helped her build the confidence to apply for opportunities like the mural festival.

      “I think the biggest turning point was me actually believing I could do this,” says Johal, “that having a career as an artist was attainable.”

      It’s been a long road to get here. Johal has been drawing all her life, and pursued a diploma in fine art at Langara when she turned 30, but the daughter of South Asian immigrants says that her parents haven’t always been on the same page.

      “I had a lot of cultural struggle and a lot of uncertainty when it came to that,” says Johal. “I don’t know if my parents really understand what I’m doing, but they can see that I’m succeeding at it and they can see that I’m really happy about it, so I think that’s been good for them.”

      As she prepares to start working on her mural-fest piece, Johal has a lineup of friends, family, and peers at the ready to offer support. Her husband will be watching her son during the week, but he’ll be popping in every day to assist, possibly armed with a small paintbrush to make his mark on the work.

      “I feel like I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to,” says Johal. “Doors are opening for me. I’m working hard and I’m happy and my son gets to be a part of it. Seeing him interact with my art just gives me so much joy.”