The rattle of spray cans and the smell of paint drifted up an alley west of Main and E. 5th on Saturday, as graffiti artists painted five meter sections of a parking lot wall.
Brightly colored — and often wildly abstract — letters in pink, blue and yellow took shape on a stretch of black-painted wall. An adjacent wall with a purple and red background had a large, black and white portrait of a smiling young man, his name spelled out in two-foot high white letters: Holden.
The scene was the site of the fifth annual Holden Courage Graffiti Jam, a now-regular part of the Vancouver Mural Festival, held in memory of Holden Courage, a young graffiti artist who died in 2015 at the age of 21.
“We were in contact with Holden’s mom and she works together with the VMF to put this whole thing together each year,” said local graffiti artist. Jnasty, who organized the artists for this year’s Graffiti Jam. “They asked if somebody like myself could get together some artists — and that’s what we did.”
Because graffiti is illegal, all the artists spoken to for this story requested that they only be identified by their graffiti tag names.
The project is funded by the Holden Courage Memorial Fund for Artistswhich was set up by Courage’s mother, Tara McGuire, following his death.
In a blog post From 2017, McGuire wrote about what graffiti meant to her son.
“Holden loved graffiti,” she wrote. “He loved everything about it. The creativity, the smell, the camaraderie, the rebellion, the music, the danger, the colour, the risks and the thrill.”
Jnasty, who is originally from Hawaii, said he has been painting for about 25 years. He appreciates the efforts by the memorial and the Mural Festival to promote street art around Vancouver.
“There’s a lot more happening now in Vancouver,” he said of street art, noting that cities like Toronto have a much larger street art culture. “I’m just happy that Vancouver’s starting to do things like that.”
Local graffiti artist Tars, who said he has been painting for over two decades, agreed, noting it can be difficult for local street artists to find opportunities.
“Vancouver doesn’t really give opportunities for graffiti writers too much,” he said. “This event is a really good opportunity to do our own thing.”
Virus, a local graffiti artist who said he has been painting since the late 80s, appreciated the opportunity to revisit early passions and connect with old friends, although he acknowledged concerns about gentrification.
“I don’t get to do this much. I’ve got other responsibilities now,” he said. “So for me, it’s just getting together with friends.”
He noted that large public artworks add value not just to the neighborhood but property prices as well. “I feel like the artists should get compensated for that.”
Victoria-based graffiti artist Theme, who has been involved with the festival on two other occasions, said he was impressed by the impact the festival has on the neighbourhood.
“Every year there’s new (murals) going up,” he said. “It’s crazy the transformation it’s had on the city.”
All the artists Postmedia spoke to said they valued the sense of community and camaraderie fostered by the festival.
“I haven’t seen these guys in a year,” Virus said. “We made it through some crazy times. And now we’re here.”
More news, fewer ads, faster load time: Get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites for just $14/month or $140/year. Subscribe now through The Vancouver Sun or The Province.