Vancouver Mural Festival: Priscilla Yu revels in geometry and colour

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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.

      Like many people, local artist Priscilla Yu spent countless hours during high-school math class doodling on the algebra and trigonometry worksheets she was handed. Little did she know, however, that the pastime would eventually give way to what has become one of her work’s most distinguishing traits: the use of sharp lines, layers, and shapes like triangles, rhombuses, and tetragons that, together, create dizzying, 3-D–like dreamscapes that draw the eye from one place to another—and another—at rapid speed.

      “I’m really interested in the kinds of surprises that come out from just adding more and more [geometric] constraints,” Yu tells the Straight by phone.

      A graduate of Emily Carr University of Art + Design’s visual-arts program, Yu traces the roots of her distinctive abstract style even further back to when she was a kid. Constantly arranging and rearranging her bedroom, she quickly developed a knack for pairing seemingly contrasting textures and patterns. “I was doing a lot of ‘visual merchandising’ at the time,” she says.

      Combined with her fondness for natural geometry, this skill is reflected in the plants, female figures, and architecture—anything from castles to convenience stores—she paints today. Limiting her depictions within the borders of hexagons, parallelograms, and more, she presents a vivid patchwork of textures, motifs, and shapes, so that a staircase is sliced with a confetti-specked black hole, or a television set is encircled by swaths of dual-toned squares.

      Priscilla Yu's The Showroom, which is illustrated in her signature geometric and colour-heavy style.

      Often, the results present multiple, overlapping scenes. Look one way and you may see a large, robotlike figure dangling a bushel of grapes above her lips, another way and you may zero in on an intersection of teal, highlighter-yellow, and orange roads. “I really enjoy puzzles,” notes Yu, “and creating different planes and different negative spaces.”

      If geometry serves as a constraint, then colours are where Yu lets loose. It’s rare to count fewer than 20 colours in one of the young artist’s works, though lately, she’s been exercising restraint when it comes to special projects. A mural she completed this spring for Yaletown’s Banter Room, for example, uses a dozen hues of powder blue, pink, and seafoam green, while a design she live-painted for local footwear boutique Six Hundred Four—for which she will decorate a limited-run sneaker this fall—features only four shades of red, yellow, and black.

      For the Vancouver Mural Festival, Yu will be creating an 18-by-9-metre piece titled Befriend Your Demons in the alley behind 154 East 8th Avenue. Following her now recognizable style, the mural will be shaped by geometric figures and a palette of lucid blues, olives, and salmons that illustrate a female figure standing opposite an alligator. According to Yu, the creature conveys “things that I’m afraid of or that could possibly harm me”.

      “I would like people to contact me if they’re wondering what it’s about,” she says, “or if they’re curious about my work at all.”