Local artists add visual flair to Vancouver’s craft-beer scene

From gallery spaces in brewery tasting rooms to photography exhibits, local artists are helping to elevate the beer-drinking experience

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      Although brewer Evan Doan is dressed in a nondescript cap and T when he meets the Straight at Doan’s Craft Brewing Company’s East Vancouver tasting room, his likeness to one of three characters splashed upon the wall behind him—a bearded, rosy-cheeked fellow rocking a wacky checkered top and accordion amid a sea of personified evergreens, polka-dot mountaintops, and a hodgepodge of strange, doe-eyed creatures—remains uncanny.

      “It’s the first thing you see when you walk in, or when you’re walking by or driving by, and everyone is always like, ‘Wow, look at that,’ ” Doan says of the floor-to-ceiling mural, which was created and hand-painted by Vancouver artist Ola Volo. “It’s so different and unique—kind of like how craft beer is.”

      The large black-and-white painting, which depicts, in addition to Doan, big brother Jon and brother brewery co-owner Mike, is but one example of the local art scene’s increasing presence at craft-beer tasting rooms across the city. At Doan’s, Volo is also responsible for designing the brewery’s growlers and award-winning beer labels—a collection of whimsical illustrations that tell the story of the Doan brothers through the artist’s signature, folklore-inspired strokes.

      For May, Doan's featured an exhibit of paintings by Carolynn Doan, the co-owners' mum, in honour of Mother's Day.
      Lucy Lau

      Opposite the striking mural, a cozy nook serves as a gallery space in the modest 450-square-foot spot, where guests can peruse pieces curated by Vancouver-based illustrator Eden Cooke. The exhibits rotate monthly and have spotlighted everything from quirky robot watercolours by self-described “visual chef” Sunny Shah to moody travel shots by photographer Ryan Moore to scenic oil canvases by Carolynn Doan, the boys’ mother.

      “The nook is awesome; it’s a conversation starter, for sure,” says Doan. “And what better catalyst than beer to kind of thin Vancouverites’ social shells?”

      A vibrant painting welcomes guests into Callister Brewing Company's East Vancouver tasting room.
      Lucy Lau

      A short walk away at Callister Brewing, co-owner and head brewer Chris Lay echoes this sentiment. He loves listening from behind the bar as patrons discuss the meanings of the various photographs, paintings, and multimedia and sculptural works that line the bright, industrial-cool room’s walls.

      “They really bring up conversations about what you see,” says Lay. “And the longer you sit and look at them—whether you’ve had one beer or three beers—you get different interpretations of what’s going on.”

      Known collectively as the Goldmoss Satellite—a reincarnation of Roberts Creek’s now-closed Goldmoss Gallery—the show space is culled by Lay’s friend and contemporary artist Lee Roberts, who occasionally works from a studio situated on the brewery’s mezzanine level. Roberts pulls from a mix of homegrown and international names for the ongoing display, which currently includes pieces by Edmonton-born painter Jay Senetchko, Brooklyn- and Sunshine Coast–based visual artist Mira Hunter, and B.C. painter-photographer Bon Roberts.

      Narrative-driven oil-on-canvas pieces by Jay Senetchko decorate one part of Callister's space.
      Lucy Lau

      Like Doan’s, Callister even conducts openings for its exhibits, where guests have a chance to chat with featured artists and explore the brewery’s production and studio spaces. “Artwork and craft beer actually go really well together, because there’s a lot of creativity and work going on,” adds Lay. “And people love the behind-the-scenes aspect of both of them.”

      Art also plays an integral part in the day-to-day operations of Strange Fellows Brewing, located just steps away from the mammoth artists’ hub of Parker Street Studios. The brewery’s Charles Clark Gallery—a self-contained space separated from the tasting room by a flex wall—showcases monthly exhibits that go hand in hand with Strange Fellows’ so-called Strange Days, which recognize little-known superstitions from around the world through a collection of monthly events.

      March’s Carnival celebrations, for example, saw the space play host to a rainbow of snapshots taken at India’s equally vibrant Holi festival by Vancouver photographer Kyla Bailey, while May features a selection of cubist-style landscapes by artist Jessa Gilbert, who will later participate in a live-painting show for the Belgian fete of La Ducasse.

      The Charles Clark Gallery at Strange Fellows Brewing spotlights local artists for the brewery's monthly Strange Days.
      Lucy Lau

      Christine Moulson, Strange Fellows’ in-house graphic designer and the Charles Clark Gallery’s curator, notes that the exhibits typically “fall into place”, given the stream of submissions she receives from artists, who, at times, happen to be regular patrons.

      “We have a lot of customers that’ll approach me and say, ‘I really love your place. I love the beer; I love the gallery. Is there any chance that I could show?’ ” she explains. “And I say, ‘Yeah, sure. Let’s see what you have.’ It’s very organic.”

      Strange Fellows’ packed calendar of events suggests that the brewery, like many others, will continue to tap into the city’s creative drive. Soon-to-open tasting rooms, such as the Strathcona Beer Company, also promise an assortment of artistic elements, like dedicated gallery spaces and branded merchandise handcrafted by local designers.

      “I think what people really respond to well is just finding art in an unexpected place,” says Moulson. “It’s just the artist sharing his or her vision with you in a very unintimidating venue.”

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.