Trailblazers 2020: Artist Tierney Milne shows the positive power of murals

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      Vancouver artist Tierney Milne has been a maverick in turning mural-making into a career—and she’s been one of the key forces helping to beautify the city during pandemic lockdown.

      Trained in psychology and known for her playfully geometric designs and mood-lifting palette of colours, the muralist found herself uniquely positioned to help the community in a time of struggle. Milne ended up painting her brightly hued, bevelled texts across hundreds of square metres of boarded-up windows during the crisis: the soft-coaxing “DO THE BEST YOU CAN” on West Hastings’s Dressew Supply; the comforting “WE ALL SEE THE SAME MOON”, paraphrasing a quote from novelist Haruki Murakami, on Robson Street’s Plenty store; the reassuring “ÇA VA BIEN ALLER/IT’S GOING TO BE ALRIGHT” on the same street’s Indigo store; and several more.

      With all her indoor commercial projects on hold, she had felt like she had to do something. “I reached out on Instagram and said, ‘If anybody has a small businesses that they want painted, I have gallons upon gallons of paint,’ ” she tells the Straight,, then adds with a laugh: “The response was immediately overwhelming.” The artist was soon participating in the larger #MAKEARTWHILEAPART effort organized by the Vancouver Mural Festival, an event that helped the young artist realize her dream of painting on a massive scale, starting with her first public wall in 2016.

      Dylan Hamm

      The Montreal-born Milne had pursued science and psychology for her first degree, realizing her main interest was in applied psychology and the way it intersects with visual communication. That took her to the IDEA School of Design at Capilano University. From there, work at lululemon athletica led to her creating her first mural in 2015—a vivid black-and-white depiction of houses and stores in the yoga brand’s office waiting area.

      She was hooked on the large format that has become her main gig—at outdoor festivals, hip offices around town, and even private homes. “I love that every project is so completely different,” she says, pointing to the height or the texture of the surface. “All these factors come into play, so the mix is different every time. It’s so nice to have the impact of a big scale.”

      Among her favourite creations: the mural she and letterer JP painted on a circular basketball court on Great Northern Way (for lululemon), and the dizzying mix of shapes and patterns that dance across the 5,500-square-foot face of the three-storey office building at 877 East Hastings, part of the mural fest’s Strathcona celebration last June.

      At the same time, the artist has kept busy with other media, driving her business through her eye-candy Instagram account. She’s created everything from stop-motion animations for commercial clients to design collaborations with a cellphone-case company and laser-cut wood assemblages for galleries. But perhaps her most unusual commission of late is an abstract array of pink, turquoise, navy, and white on a toilet seat and lid for France’s artful Tohaa Design.

      “I got an email in broken English from a man in Paris who said he had a toilet company, and I was like, ‘Is this real?’ ” she recalls. “They looked so beautifully produced I said yes, and they let me do basically whatever I wanted.”

      Tierney Milne's design for Tohaa Design.

      As the world starts to open up and Milne prepares to go back to her steady stream of commercial mural projects, she reflects that five years ago, she never could have pictured herself spending most of her days on ladders and lifts, applying paint to giant walls.

      “I felt like I was more of a delicate-flower artist, and now I’m sharing a studio with guys who are really rough and tumble and I’m using these crazy lifts,” she says, speaking of her space near Olympic Village, which houses other mural artists. “We often hire each other to paint on each other’s projects, and we’ve all painted in the festival for various times. It’s been really horizon-lifting.” As for the rest of us, it’s been spirit-lifting.