Painting the town
An exploration of the city’s mural art scene
Winnipeg is home to many murals that tell the city’s tale. Artistic renderings of historical events can be found throughout the city, but as artists become inspired by other styles, they, and their murals, may be moving in a new direction.
When Bob Buchanan moved to Winnipeg in 2001, he became enamoured with the city’s murals. A year later, he and his wife decided to find them, photograph them and display them on a website.
“I wasn’t really an art lover,” he says, “but I knew right away that they rather fascinated me.”
Buchanan says the murals helped him get to know Winnipeg. As he sought out and interviewed artists, he learned the stories behind the pieces.
The West End BIZ conducts educational mural tours of the neighbourhood in the summer months. The BIZ’s Joe Kornelsen says the murals in the area reflect the history of the West End.
“Our tours are a really great way to show people what the West End is about,” he says. “Sometimes people get ideas through the headlines, which often sets a perception of the neighbourhood that really is more perception than anything else.”
Beyond the narrative images, murals can simply be about beautification or showcasing an artist’s aesthetic.
“Winnipeg is known for our historical murals. There have been extremely talented painters doing this for a long time,” says Chloe Chafe, co-founder of Synonym Art Consultation. “In saying this, the public and new business owners have been doing a great job being open-minded and supportive to new contemporary street art.”
Synonym Art Consultation works within the community to find employment for artists and create community-building art-based events.
Pat Lazo is responsible for some of the murals around town, in addition to being a tattoo artist and the artistic director at Graffiti Art Programming.
He has his eye on the international scene and visits Art Basel, an art fair in Miami, annually. He says Winnipeg’s progress toward contemporary styles is slow but steady.
“Our scene is moving in the right direction,” Lazo says.
He theorizes business owners may be less adventurous here, because they aren’t exposed to as much street art, compared to cities like Miami, or Montreal.
He’d like to see Winnipeg embrace spray paint as a medium.
“The range of work that you can get in a short amount of time is tremendous compared to what a brush artist or traditional muralist would paint,” he says. “Technology with spray paint is so insane compared to even five years ago.”
Lazo says spray paint (or aerosol painting) has come a long way from hardware store offerings. There are brands specifically designed for murals now that have incredible options for effects and pigments.
One of the oldest remaining spray paint murals in the city was done in Osborne Village by Lazo in 2000.
“The big, blue face. It’s above Wasabi,” he says. “Back then, we lucked out with the Osborne Biz. They were more adventurous, ’cause they let a series of murals go up that were all spray paint-based.”
Andrew Eastman, co-founder (with Chafe) of Synonym Art Consultation, says aerosol painting is an amazing skill.
“At the same time, however, we also feel that the more bold, colourful and clean look that latex paint murals create are greatly contributing to our city's unique visual identity,” he says.
The team at Synonym see Winnipeg moving toward a marriage between traditional and new art styles.
“Our hometown artists are improving every year and coming up with so many amazing concepts now,” Chafe says. “There is more of an acceptance on contemporary street art alongside historical murals.”
Buchanan welcomes change but is sad to see some of those historical murals disappear as they weather and fade. He says a larger budget for murals could help with maintenance.
Visitors to his website can see photos of pieces that have vanished from Winnipeg’s walls.
Keep up with Winnipeg's mural scene online:
Published in Volume 71, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 30, 2017)