When you walk down Calgary’s alleys, on the walls of Beltline buildings you might see curious cats sneaking around a bird condo, island elements that make you feel like you’re on a beach or an accidental take on the Mona Lisa.
These creative concepts are part of this year’s Beltline Urban Murals Project, which runs Aug. 1-30.
The program is adding 20 murals to the city this year for a total of 51 since BUMP’s inception in 2017, according to Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, which founded BUMP.
“BUMP is a community-driven initiative that’s been transforming Calgary into an expansive open-air gallery, commissioning murals on walls throughout the Beltline downtown and it’s really about bringing art into the public and supporting artists and celebrating the arts,” he said.
The murals are more than just art.
“We’ve had instances of apartment buildings that have, after having murals painted, gone from having lots of vacancy to having a waiting list for people to move in,” Oliver said.
The following three Calgary-based artists are first-time BUMPers.
Sarah Slaughter appreciates that the festival makes art accessible.
“There’s no cost to see art, it really bumps up communities, and it just makes everything look brighter and cleaner, and brings attention in a positive way,” she explained.
Slaughter painted “Sneaky Peek,” a forced-perspective birdhouse condominium with a “successful, very sly looking bird right in the middle, surrounded by nine cats” on a wall of Beltline Cannabis. BUMP said wall selection results from year-round outreach and matchmaking.
Slaughter used the building’s texture in the design.
After adding the twinkles to the cats’ eyes and signing her name, she finished the piece on Aug. 19. She said it took about 115 hours.
Slaughter said that COVID-19 hasn’t really changed the artists’ processes.
“Looking at how successful BUMP has been, even with the COVID-19 pandemic running through, that they’ve managed to put up events to share things with everybody in their community, so I hope it really inspires other communities to do something similar,” she said.
Her partner and dad helped her with the mural, in the style of “paint by numbers” after her linework was done.
“It’s so helpful to have someone who’s patient enough to give you a hand with repetitive paint layers,” Slaughter said.
Celebrating Carribean culture
After applying to BUMP multiple times, perseverance paid off for Adrianne Williams in the creation of her first mural.
On the side of Simply Irie Caribbean Cuisine, located at 1510 6 St. S.W., you’ll get immediate beachy vibes seeing fruit and flowers, Bob Marley, the owner’s son picking a coconut and Williams’ daughter kissing a mango.
“When I talked to the owner Simply Irie, she said that a lot of people, when they come into the restaurant, they feel like they’re back in the islands, so she wanted that feeling to be on the outside of the walls,” Williams said.
“I just tried to add all the things that the islands are about and just kind of incorporate it on the wall and mash it up altogether.”
Williams incorporates her daughter into a lot of her work because when Williams was young, she didn’t see herself represented in art. She wanted to see people who “have the same hair texture as me.”
“I think maybe that’s why, as an adult, I use her so much because when I was a kid, I had that desire to see myself and people that look like me reflected in art. I didn’t see that very often,” she said.
It’s clear Williams is deeply connected to her roots.
“I was born and raised in Calgary, but every single thing that I do, I carry the Caribbean with me because I was raised by two Carribean parents, from the accent to the way they talk to the way they cook — that was my life,” she explained.
Getting to represent her culture in Calgary means everything to Williams.
“It’s always been there, but I feel like now we’re becoming more visible. We have more of a voice,” she said.
The interactions during her painting process were encouraging and overwhelming, aside from a man who lives across the street harassing Williams — yelling at her to “get the f*** out of my alley.”
“He would not move out of my way to let me do my job,” she said.
“I was quite discouraged in the beginning when I started because I was like, ‘This is really how this is going to start for me?’ But then I feel like the amount of feedback and love that I got the whole time I was doing it made up tenfold for that one guy.”
She said BUMP had her back and the number of good people outweighed the bad.
With Williams’ boyfriend at the helm of the lift, the mural took about 110 hours, she said.
“The thing that I’ve learned through this undertaking is that a wall is not a canvas; it is huge. The texture is way different, so I didn’t realize how much time it was going to take because I’m using a brush and I freehanded everything,” she said, saying never again.
“I put myself through, I think, 10 times more hours than I needed to, doing it the way I did.”
Painting a fellow artist
On the side of Mona Lisa Artists’ Materials is the portrait of a fierce Simone Saunders holding a blanket she made with her image on it.
“I wanted to use the platform to sort of shine light on one of my peers in the Calgary art scene,” said Alex Kwong.
“[I’m] an artist painting an artist on the art supply store wall, so it’s just sort of multilayered.”
Kwong said he wasn’t looking for a Black artist with whom to work; he had been wanting to work with Saunders for a while. This dynamic added another layer of meaning given current Black Lives Matter protests worldwide.
He looks up to Saunders and loves collaborating with fellow artists as often as possible.
“She was doing these insane textile works over the past couple of years. I was sort of blown away that they were even textiles. I thought it was all digital when I saw the photos because they were so vibrant,” he said.
Kwong photographed Saunders with her textile work and chose a picture from which to create the mural. Her pose accidentally resembled the Mona Lisa.
The piece is called “Simona Lisa.”
“It was just another one of those things lined up, one of those happy accidents, as Bob Ross has put it,” Kwong said.
Saunders feels honoured that Kwong chose to depict her.
“Being painted by Alex Kwong is the progression this city needs right now: Black women being represented in a positive light showcasing what we have to offer this city. Black lives are necessary,” she said.
Kwong said a lot of people walking by recognized Simone right away. The two artists surprised Saunders’ mom with it.
“It passes the test; if the mother recognizes and likes it, then you know you did a good job,” he said.
Kwong used a grid system to create the piece on his own, taking about 20 hours.
“I sort of trained myself to paint pretty quick, to just to be flexible with my time and all that because you never know what’s going to happen while you’re on the wall,” he said.
Kwong said the festival has more creative freedom than the commercial work he does.