“Sunshine! Come on, sunshine!”
Those are the words Paul Becker shouts at Vancouver’s dreary sky on a Friday afternoon. In a scene all too familiar to locals, the city has transformed quickly: from cheery blue to stormy grey. But the downpour cannot hold up the brilliance that is about to unfold in the parking lot of developer PortLiving’s Mount Pleasant office. As the saying goes, there’s always a rainbow after the rain. The colourful world of Okuda San Miguel (born Oscar San Miguel Erice) has arrived in Vancouver for the second-annual Art Rapture visual arts festival. Although one would hope the city’s most enjoyable weather would come out to greet the world-renowned multidisciplinary artist from sunny Madrid, he isn’t fazed by the gloom. What makes Okuda such a talent is his ability to take organic grey spaces and twist them into pop surrealist masterpieces. And now, Mount Pleasant has found itself home to Okuda’s first mural on Canadian soil.
“The most important thing in my work is to transform a space that doesn’t have a life,” the artist says, moments before his creation is revealed. “I give it a new life.” Gazing upon his work, it is evident he brings components and colours from his surrealist predecessors, including Salvador Dalí—a man he lists as an influence.
For 20 years, Okuda has been seeking out the damaged and abandoned. As he puts it, colour is his “brand,” and the explosion of multi-hued geometric structures and patterns used in his work has become his trademark. Whether it is painting an entire church in Morocco or a skyrise apartment building in Hong Kong, his work revolves around the conflicting balance of modernity and tradition, as well as the false freedom of capitalism, which he shows in the form of symbols, shapes, and even animals.
Of course, an uncountable number of wild animals roam the Pacific Northwest, making them a focal point for the artist on the 1,200-square-foot exterior wall of PortLiving. Featuring vibrant mountains surrounded by the likes of geometric bears and elk, the Canadian canvas is “very small” in comparison to what Okuda often works on. But he has enjoyed the process nonetheless, particularly thanks to the locals who stopped by, from the community’s breweries and cafes, to say hello. “The best thing about working in the street is all the people,” he says. “People interact with your work. It’s fun.”
And this is exactly why PortLiving commissioned the street artist: to help transform the Mount Pleasant community. “We’re not London, we’re not New York, we’re not Paris,” Becker, the curator of the mural and founder of Art Rapture, says at the unveiling. “Those are Meccas of art. Vancouver is getting there. We’re taking baby steps.” Moments before the blue tarp drops and a rainbow of colour enriches the wet streets of Mount Pleasant, Becker says, “Surrealism is bringing your dreams into the forefront into reality, and this particular Okuda work exemplifies that to perfection.” The artist has left his sunny mark on Vancouver.
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