Sep. 04, 2007 - Issue #620: DVAS
Muralist Ian Mulder works for public spaces that reflect public views
‘The hand of the individual disappeared from the public landscape,” states Ian Mulder. “Look at billboards—there’s no agreement between people. It’s up to the advertiser, not like in television or radio where there’s a relationship and agreement. Billboards posit themselves in public space. It can be asserted they’re on private property, but it is ‘public’ view. Same thing with retaining walls: what good are they, grey and ugly? Or public utility boxes? If anything else, graffiti raises these questions: who controls the space? Who makes the landscapes?”
A philosopher by schooling, a painter through disciplined self-training and an activist animated by idealism and relentless curiosity, it seems almost inevitable that Mulder would be drawn to the Utopian practice of constructing murals.
“A long time ago, I decided I wanted my life to be self-controlled and self-ordained,” Mulder recalls. “I wanted a degree of control over my time, since it’s finite. I’d always painted, and I could see this in the form I wanted my life to take.”
He credits his first commissions as products of chutzpah and persistence. His debut was an entire visual package for a dodgy bar (“logo, signage, portraits of gangsters ... ”), and Mulder’s next project found him badgering the titular owner of Chez Pierre until he agreed to see a mock-up.
“I knew it was a great wall,” Mulder says of the two-story brick building side on 105th Street just south of Jasper Avenue. His portrait of Pierre fills it, looking out at downtown Edmonton, jovially toasting the suits and beggars.
Several murals later (his latest awaits its official launch in Caboto Park), Mulder still understands the lure of a great public canvas.
“I don’t do graffiti, but State of the Art is an opportunity to bring different groups of artists together—street artists and mainstream artists,” he says. “All artists are welcome to participate, at any age or level.” Mulder and fellow producer/artist Clay Lowe envision State of the Art 2007 as equal parts local genre survey, conference, competition, workshop, fundraiser and party. The project begins with informal workshops inviting artists to explore and share techniques and ideas and includes a contest awarding five teams $500 mural commissions based on planning sketches.
Edmontonians can watch the murals’ completion at the new home of iHuman Youth Society, where they’ll remain until auctioned off to benefit the non-profit. Everything about State, including materials, is free, covered by a Culture Capital grant and sponsorship.
State is also a grassroots conversation-opener about public expression in Edmonton, as well as an argument for revisiting the status of street arts like tagging, stenciling, wheatpasting and even mural-making.
“The vast majority of this is not gang-related. People may not like graffiti, but these artists are community members too,” Mulder points out. “We can’t push people to the margins. We need more free walls and spaces where it’s okay for people to express themselves.”
Mulder adds that for Edmonton to claim any degree of cosmopolitanism, it must embrace a legitimate form celebrated by the international art scene.
“Graffiti and stencil work is pretty well established in contemporary design and art. There are images in magazines, they influence fashion—it’s not new,” he argues. “But State of the Art is the first foray into looking at what role graffiti plays in our city.“
The rise of non-commercial, non-committee-approved public art may be attributable to a collective dissatisfaction with the impersonal gloss of our increasingly privatized public sphere.
“As the structures in the world become more abstracted, there’s a stronger desire to see the person in the work,” Mulder muses. “Ultimately, I’m interested in making the city look better. Graffiti and outdoor art, done respectfully to the city and environment, adds to this.” V
Thu, Sep 6 (6 pm)
Caboto Park Mural Opening Party
Mural by Ian Mulder
Caboto Park, FREE
Sat-Sun, Sep 8 - 9 & Sep 15 - 16 (11 am - 4 pm)
State of the Art 2007: An Outdoor Art & Graffiti Workshop Series/Competition
Produced by Ian Mulder, Clayton Lowe
iHuman Building, FREE (open to artists at all levels; register @ 421.8811)
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