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Downtown Eastside street artist uses work to heal addiction, residential school past

Click to play video: 'B.C. Indigenous artist creates canvases on streets of DTES' B.C. Indigenous artist creates canvases on streets of DTES
One week after we reported on Vancouver's Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden holding a special one-day show to highlight Downtown Eastside street art, one of the artists whose work was displayed invited us to visit his street studio. Kristen Robinson reports – Jun 25, 2022

Downtown Eastside street artist Edgar-Alan Rossetti has a very public studio: the sidewalk on East Hastings near Carrall Street in Vancouver.

The self-taught Indigenous artist has been living in a tent in front of 7 East Hastings for the past year and said he’s been homeless for a decade.

Read more: Public consultation now underway for Vernon, B.C. mural project

Rossetti’s work is done by free hand and he adds his own street flare to the traditional Ksaan style of northwest B.C.

“Art is just life in general, it’s healing, it helps people,” Rossetti said.

Creating art is part of the residential school survivor’s recovery.

Rossetti is originally from Prince George and a member of the Bear clan.

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More than a quarter-century ago, he and several other artists donated their time to help design a mural to deter vandalism in the northern B.C. city.

“It’s the largest piece I’ve ever worked on, especially on the scaffold up there,” Rossetti told Global News in 1996 as the project was unveiled to the public.

Read more: Metis artist creates art installation at Glanmore House in Belleville

Over the years, Rossetti said he got divorced and started using drugs.

“I smoked crack, quit crack cocaine,” he told Global News.

Now 13 years clean, Rossetti relies on the binning economy to buy recycled canvases, paints and brushes, which he said are sometimes lost in the city’s daily street sweeps.

Still, Rossetti perseveres.

“I do it because it’s a passion, it keeps me clean,” he said.

“The longer I do art, the longer I stay straight. If I’m not here doing my art, I’m using.”

After so many years living on the street, Rossetti said he had no idea his work was recently on display just two blocks away from the tent that holds his artwork and supplies.

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“It surprises me,” Rossetti said.

Read more: ‘Recognition they deserve’: Exhibit showcases Downtown Eastside artists

Three of his pieces: Standing up Bear, Raven Dancer and The Watchman were part of a June 18 public exhibition of Downtown Eastside art at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

The event was a partnership with High Hopes, which is supporting underrepresented Downtown Eastside street artists, including the four whose work was featured.

While the art show was temporary, Rossetti creates new work on the street seven days a week, but he doesn’t necessarily want others to join him.

“Don’t use drugs, stay in school,” Rossetti cautioned.

“[This] is not a place for you.”
Click to play video: 'Vancouver’s Chinese Garden hosts DTES art exhibition' Vancouver’s Chinese Garden hosts DTES art exhibition
Vancouver’s Chinese Garden hosts DTES art exhibition – Jun 18, 2022

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