When Jesse Campbell first saw the wall he was tasked with transforming into a work of art along Gorge Road, he thought it was kind of gross.
The wall was off-white, stained and dirty like an old shirt. It also contained a number of “tags” from graffiti vandals, but Campbell had a vision.
“We’d been looking for a sight for quite a long time and this one sort of screamed out. It was perfect,” said Campbell, who’s worked on six murals throughout the city, including the Unity Wall at Ogden Point and another at Rock Bay.
With aspiring artist Nathaniel Churchill, the pair came up with their own design that involves flowing water, waves, a colourful sunset, two arbutus trees and possibly some fish for the wall that’s three storeys high at one point and 60 feet long at the bottom.
The work is one of six murals being painted at graffiti hot spots throughout the city as part of the Create Community Colour Mural program. Announced in September, the program matches professional artists with youth interested in public art to create the murals and prevent tagging caused by graffiti vandals.
So far three murals have been completed at 835 Fisgard, St., 1211 Gladstone Ave., and 930 to 932 Pandora Ave., and three more are currently underway.
At 225 feet long and 24 feet at its highest point, the largest mural is at Mason Street and Pandora, which took 17 days to complete the “urban garden.” In another mural at Fisgard, the artist incorporated some of the existing colour from the graffiti into a painting of a unique West Coast landscape.
Although murals aren’t often hit by vandals compared to blank walls, the city’s downtown programs liason, Gary Pemberton said a vandal has already tagged a doorway on one of the new murals.
“It took one month before that showed up and we’ve taken care of it. It’s disappointing, but it’s ultimately part of the course and that’s why we seal these murals to make them easy to clean,” said Pemberton. “We have one or two fairly prolific vandals out there that are very active, so it continues to be a challenge on a daily basis.”
Graffiti has been an ongoing problem in Victoria for a number of years, with vandals tagging all types of infrastructure from power poles and mailboxes to walls and etching glass. Every week, the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) removes an average of 100 tags that come in all shapes and sizes within their downtown boundaries. Lately, the neighbourhoods of James Bay and Fairfield have become targets.
In an effort to create more art in the city and less graffiti, Pemberton is now taking an inventory of future sites from business owners who are willing to have a mural put on their wall when funding becomes available.
Depending on the size, the cost of a mural is typically between $3,000 to $12,000. Many of the walls Pemberton looks at when he receives inquiries from business owners are heavily tagged.
After several months of planning, Campbell and Churchill lugged their heavy cans of paint to the wall at 612 David Street Monday morning and officially began putting their design on their giant canvas. The key to a creating a good mural, noted Campbell, is perspective.
“There’s a lot of murals you see around that don’t really age well, so a big part of what I find is just proportion of the wall. You have to consider all these different angles so it’s difficult to really simplify,” said Campbell, who estimates he’ll likely go through 15 to 20 gallons of paint to finish the mural that’s scheduled to be completed by end of the month.
“A big part of it is remediating space and creating a space for public art that sort of relieves the cost on business owners to cover up tagging and graffiti. I feel pretty fulfilled it’s serving its purpose, but it’s also something that people will enjoy. In the end, you’re your own harshest critic, but if I can make people happy doing this work, that’s awesome.”