Vancouver Mural Festival: Cristian Fowlie turns reality into reverie

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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.

      Local illustrator Cristian Fowlie knew he wanted to become an artist at a young age, but galleries and prestigious exhibitions were never places he visualized himself in. “Video games, films, comic books—they’re the works that I connected with the most,” he tells the Straight by phone. “And I felt that they were able to reach a greater audience while still being able to tell important stories.”

      Born and raised in Burlington, Ontario, Fowlie moved to B.C. five years ago, when he was accepted into Capilano University’s IDEA School of Design. He graduated with a certificate in illustration in 2015 and has since been employed as a freelance illustrator and part-time art director for the Capilano Courier. True to his aspirations, the artist partners primarily with publications and brands, so his playful, colour-driven works often find their way into the hands—literally—of readers, viewers, passersby, and even imbibers.

      A particularly notable project involved a collaboration with local design-and-branding firm Glasfurd & Walker that saw Fowlie devise drawings for the Banff-based Park Distillery’s line of bottled vodkas and rye whiskies. Bringing to life the picturesque mountains of Banff National Park with his soft, dreamlike strokes in a muted palette of blues, oranges, and greens, Fowlie earned the top prize in the packaging category of Applied Arts magazine’s Photography & Illustration Awards in 2016.

      A depiction of sushi and takoyaki from Fowlie's "Draw What You Love" series.

      His other works similarly paint reality as reverie, and feature figures like knitting millennials, ’30s swing dancers, and even local rock duo Japandroids with a delightfully imaginative quality. The artist creates digitally, sketching and conceptualizing with pencil as needed. “I’m taking subjects that are realistically depicted and putting them in a more surreal world,” he says.

      Most recently, Fowlie delved into public art when he transformed a Georgia Straight newspaper box into a cotton-candy-pink slice of Arizona desert replete with prickly cacti, cow skulls, and a tangerine-tinged sunset. Completed at the Vancouver Mural Festival’s Strathcona Street Party, the task was a warm-up for what Fowlie is tackling as part of the fete’s main event in Mount Pleasant: a 13-by-7-metre mural at 137 East 4th Avenue. Portraying a girl and her Boston terrier seemingly leaping into the galaxy—as illustrated by what the artist describes as “bright rings, planets, stars, and cool space costumes”—the mural will be the largest public piece Fowlie has ever designed and painted.

      Given his initial hesitation when he was offered the sizable space as a canvas, the inspiration behind the work is especially close to the creative’s heart. “I was almost too scared to take it on at first,” he admits. “But my friends and my family just encouraged me to take it. And my mom, specifically, said, ‘If someone’s asking you to take a leap…’ And that word leap became the theme of this mural. Taking a leap—taking a leap of faith.”