Homeless in Vancouver: Fairview’s annual Dumpster fire painting surfaces

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      Another wildfire season and another painting found in a Fairview Dumpster that arguably portrays a wildfire. I do believe I’m beginning to see a pattern.

      This year’s “wildfire” painting was found on Thursday (August 23) in a bin in an alley off Heather Street and 16th Avenue. It depicts, in thick strokes and bold colours, an inlet curving around choppy, blue water.

      The part of the painted inlet nearest the viewer is either covered in sand and brush, or smoke and a brush fire. (It is a very brushy painting!). The bit of inlet jutting out on the far side of the water from the viewer is covered in pine trees, which are silhouetted black—either against a flaming sunset and scudding grey clouds, or…a fully involved fire front giving off clouds of grey wildfire smoke.

      Are B.C. wildfires firing the imaginations of Vancouver painters?

      Previous Fairview “fire paintings”, from 2014 and 2017.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Fairview is a neighbourhood with no shortage of talented artists and I find my fair share of paintings in the garbage, maybe 10 to 30 a- ear. However, in five years of blogging, I have never found anything like a forest fire painting in the winter—only in the summer.

      The first such painting I found turned up in a Dumpster on July 20, in 2014, during a summer that saw wildfires torch 338,497 hectares—the fifth largest burn in B.C. history. The painting, on plywood, showed a scraggly pine tree against what looked like a maelstrom of fire.

      This 2014 painting inspired me to spin out a whole story about little “Jeffery Pine”.

      Then, during the wildfire season of 2017—simply the most destructive ever recorded in B.C.—I found two more fiery-looking paintings that had been fairly tossed off and then tossed out.

      The first turned up last year on August 17 and showed green conifers against a fire-red sky and the second I fished out of the trash later the same month, on August 27; it depicted nothing less than a forest in front of an active volcano!

      And now another painting using a palette of flame and  smoke has surfaced in the Fairview back alleys, during what is being described as the second worst wildfire season in B.C. history.

      Some may say that it’s coincidence that I find fiery-looking paintings in the garbage during the summer wildfire season, or that I’m seeing what I want to see. But I disagree.

      Art coming to terms with life

      Another view of the painting fresh out of its Dumpster off Heather and West 16th.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      There is no doubt in my mind that these four painting are a response to the indelible images of wildfire that Vacouverites now see on the news all summer, every summer.

      To put it into simply, artists often make art of things that they want to understand, come to terms with, or control.

      To give a famous example, soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, explicit visual allusions to the conflict—in the form of grenades, war planes, and other weapons of war—began unexpectedly appearing in place of stylized flowers, fruits and trees in the hand-woven designs of Afghan rugs. This was no commercial ploy (merchants would not, at first, sell these “rugs of war”), rather it was the honest response of artists trying to cope with the reality and trauma of being plunged into a war zone.

      An Afghan rug depicting U.S. drones, circa 2015.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The “war rug” genre has continued through the American occupation of Afghanistan—with United States Predator drones and other U.S. armaments joining Kalashnikov rifles and the like.

      Similarly, if the wildfires continue to ravage British Columbia every summer, I would expect to see more overheated paintings created by Fairview artists and fired into the Dumpsters—perhaps for no other reason than to get the overwhelming image of wildfires out of their systems.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.

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