We are thrilled to be hosting so many talented artists in our lovely little town for the Nelson International Mural Festival. As the artists finish their murals throughout the Summer, we will be conducting interviews with them to learn more about their creative genius and how they came to be the artists that they are today.
TYLER TOEWS – Nelson, BC
How did you start making art?
I have always been painting and making art. I was always the artistic kid so I guess I fed off of that attention as a young kid and aspired to be an artist. After getting out of school, I kind of realized that might not be feasible or practical. I guess I was doing something right because it just kind of fell into my lap and I became a working artist. In 2000 I started working with the Downtown Vernon Association, a mural crew in Vernon, and it set me off to become more serious about it. We were a crew of young people working under an artist. I was hired and excelled and started doing my own murals after that.
The first mural I did on my own was for that organization on the hardware store in downtown Vernon, Fishers Hardware. It’s still there. Still looks great. It’s the old owners of the hardware store as boys. Old fashioned. A lot of historical murals, that was the mandate for that project back then.
Were your parents supportive of you wanting to become an artist?
My parents were both artistic and they were both very encouraging of me as an artist. My mom loves to tell the story of when I was little and my aunt was babysitting me. I drew on her wall. I guess that was my first mural. My aunt was pissed off. My mom came to pick me up and my aunt was like “He drew on the wall!” My mom went and saw it and was like “Oh, wow!” For my age, she was really impressed. It was an airplane and it had all the windows with passengers in it. It even had the 3D wings coming out of the side of the airplane. She was more proud of me than upset. So I guess I have been doing this awhile. My parents were both very supportive of me at all times with whatever. That’s the huge part of why I have been able to make a go at this.
How has your mural making evolved over the years?
It’s been 19 years now. There’s been a lot of different jobs, but some common threads. I got into some commercial jobs for the Prestige Inn. I did a number for their hotel chain. I also did a few private ones to expand the portfolio. Then, back into historical murals for the city of Trail. I did seven or eight for them starting in the year 2005, and a few others for other municipalities and then I got into more commercial work for a big corporation. For the store Cabela’s. That was working on a large industrial scale. And all the time, too, doing other jobs for private houses and working on canvases in my studio.
Do you prefer painting murals or doing smaller scale commissions?
I just take what life gives me. My direction is just like flowing down a river. As long as you’re doing the right thing, the right things will come to you. Like murals. It all just kind of naturally flowed for me. And now, in the studio working on my own practice is naturally the thing I am doing as well as murals. So I wouldn’t choose between something for someone’s living room and doing a mural – they’re both fantastic in their own right. Murals are really neat because they’re so big. They carry such an impact and they touch so many people, being public art. I wouldn’t give that up. But then it’s a little more intimate and personal sometimes, the things I’ll make for someone’s living room.
We’ve got a good arts community here. That’s one of the draws that attracted me. But again, it was just the natural next step for me in the flow of things. There’s also the outdoor life. I love the outdoors. I love the backcountry and snowboarding. The mountains are so accessible from here so thats the other thing that attracted me.
Does your love for the outdoors feed into your work at all?
Yeah, absolutely. I work as a ski guide in the winter and I sell paintings of the mountains that I live and work in. Even my abstracts have inspiration from natural things. I paint representational things and I also have an abstract side of my practice where I am experimenting with medium, colour, light, shape and form. I’m trying to combine the two. And then I had an idea of painting the terrain map of where I work in the winter – the mountains and the runs we ski. It is a map of the land that we use and, as I am painting a certain place on the map, I am actually relating with that terrain while I am painting it. Remembering the landscape and the features and the events that had happened there. It is a fascinating experience; creating an abstract painting that is the land combined with my past experience on and with that land.
What are you painting for the mural festival?
It touches on how the human race has an imposing nature on the natural world. In the mural there are extinct and at risk animals in there as well as glacier ice, which is also at risk. All from how we have imposed our way over things. Because this is an international mural festival and it is about the art. I’ve been given a platform to say something meaningful and I wasn’t going to pass it up. I’m stoked to be doing something with a purpose that may affect some positive change. Not that historical murals aren’t important. They have their place and I have done them a lot and they’re great but I feel like this has more backing behind it.
What has your process been like for painting this mural?
For one of the murals I did last year, I built a 3D model to get a true reference on what the light does with angles and different aspects so I could render it on the wall properly. So I’m trying that again here with ice to see how the light reflects through. I guess I just like a challenge. It’s fascinating. I’m painting animals that are half in and out of blocks of ice. So I froze animal figurines in the ice, chipped them away, and put them on a little maquette on the scaffolding. I left them in the sunlight, parallel to the wall, and let the ice melt and took pictures. I wanted to see how the light shines through the ice and how the ice melts off the features of the figures and what shines through. Its a study. It’s like a still life painting. I had to create the thing I wanted to study which was light and shadow interacting with frozen water.
What is a work that you are most proud of?
It’s the most recent one. It always is. It’s like the new love of your life, kind of. You get all inspired. Unless you hate it, then it’s like a bad relationship, and you gotta end it. Finish it, put it in the past. But usually, it’s the most recent one. You’re falling in love with it while you’re painting it and then its over and you don’t see it for years and then you bump into her at a coffee shop and it might be awkward, but you say hello.
What does your process look like?
I usually have a few ideas and projects mid process, some of them stalled for many years at a time and then pick them back up. Then they go somewhere different than intended. I just sweep the floor. I have to clean the studio before I get started. It’s a resetting process to start a new project. Get all the paints lined up in chromatic order, and then look for your brushed for a half hour and once you get everything organized and all dialed in you start painting and leaving everything around different places and you’re a frazzled mess until the project is done. And then you sweep the floor again.
How do you navigate the art world, living in a rural community?
It just happens. The good thing about having a mural painting company is that each painting you do is a big billboard for yourself. I’ve done over 100 murals now and they all have my website at the bottom and I’m starting to get more and more calls and website traffic. That’s how I handle being a rural artist, but I have no real clue. I just like painting.
How did you start your company, Canadian Murals?
I started my company, Canadian Murals, with a buddy. A good friend, Steven Skolka. We painted the first half of my career together, him and I. Now, I’m just doing it solo. He sells real estate now. He had the business mind and I just liked painting. We painted this mural in a community hall in Christina Lake and there was a piano in the space. He is a true artist; he spent half the time playing the piano. But that was his process. It was awesome. He would play these wicked on the spot riffs and I would be painting and it just filled the empty room up with awesome sounds. Then, he would come and express himself through painting. It was awesome.
Where can we see your work?
My website has some of my work on it. You can view it there and email me for any questions. I have a lot of murals in Trail and across Canada – Calgary, Ottawa, Abbotsford. I’ve got a bunch in Vernon and few in Christina Lake. Other places across Canada
A little birdie told us that you are share your studio with another NIMF artist, Kelly Shpeley, as well as Oxygen Art Centre’s Genevieve Robertson and a few other local artists. Can you tell us about what it’s like working in a communal space?
We call it “Sweet 9 Studio.” I’m stoked for what it has become. It’s a little arts hub, a community adding to the Nelson Art’s scene. It was initially was a large space that I rented to do a whole bunch of commercial murals on canvas. I got this warehouse space and I occupied it myself for two years doing numerous murals up to 60 by 20 feet tall in this space. Those commercial contracts came to an end and I didn’t want to give up the space so I carried it for almost a year myself and then I got Kelly in here and a few others. Now its filled with artists and we all share the rent and everyone’s got their space. There’s a common area in the middle for all of us to work and use. It’s an inspiring place, watching all the art that happens here and that comes out of here. It’s good to get inspired from your neighbours.
Do you enjoy the performance of painting in the public eye?
It is a performance art, really. I have done it a lot over the years so I guess I have become really comfortable with it. It’s how my professional artist career started, out in the public eye. I guess what I find really interesting about it is who you meet. You become really approachable because people are interested in what’s happening and seeing it evolve and so you end up talking with everybody. One of the cities I worked in I was chumming around with the councillors and the mayor on a daily basis as well as the people who lived on the street. It brings people together. You end up having a real intimate relationship with all walks of life.
We would like to thank Tyler for is wonderful contribution to the Nelson International Mural Festival. You can find his mural in the alley beside The Outer Clove Restaurant at 536 Stanley Street.
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I was actually going through some really old drawings for a school project a few years ago. There’s a self portrait dated June 21, 2000 that says, “I Wot to by artist”. It’s pretty cool to look back on that drawing now 18 years later almost to the day.
The original plan was for me to go into architecture, but I was only ever interested in the creative aspects of it. The compromise with my parents was to study industrial design, so there was a period when my focus shifted from art to design. That only lasted for the first two years of my degree, and eventually art overcame design. I started pursuing it as a career as soon as I graduated in 2016.
Where did you study Industrial Design?
I went to Emily Carr University of Art + Design. It was cool for the first few years, but then I started losing interest in the subject matter and would spend all my free time and summers painting and drawing. I’ve always enjoyed the process of making something tangible—working in the woodshop and ceramics studios—but never really cared too much about what we were making. Also, the minimalist aesthetic that we were being shown always clashed with my desire to ornament everything. I thought, many times, about switching my degree to visual arts, but in the end I’m glad that I stuck it out. I’ve come to realize that the design mindset and process is more in tune with my sensibilities, so it’s been cool to see how that manifests itself in my art practice.
How would you describe your art?
To me, it’s like organized chaos. Over time you develop a catalogue of parameters and elements that you can then apply and modify depending on the form, medium, etc. I like the idea of having a style that can exist and be recognizable in any form, whether it’s two dimensional, three dimensional, large or small. I think it’s really important to have a consistent visual language, and having those rules helps me quantify and make sense of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. As for the actual content of my work, I don’t really know how to describe it. I just try to come up with whatever feels instinctual to me.
How did you start painting murals?
I had been doing small paintings for a few years and slowly started increasing the scale, painting some small murals for some friends in town. Right after I graduated in 2016, I saw that the Vancouver Mural Festival was gearing up for its first year. I showed up to the painting sites and started helping other artists complete their murals for a few weeks. It was a really great and necessary learning experience. The following year I applied to the festival via a contest and ended up winning a wall to paint. That was my first really big piece (around 830 square feet), and it’s sort of been snowballing since. As of right now I think I’ve done around 10 murals of varying sizes and helped with several more.
I noticed while you were painting your mural that you always had music playing. Who is on your playlist?
Music is a necessary part of the process for me. It dictates and represents my headspace, which can heavily affect and influence the work. Recently I’ve been listening to the new Kanye album, KIDS SEE GHOSTS and Nas. milo/scallops hotel is one of my favourite artists right now. The new Tropical Fuck Storm album is really good too. And safari al’s “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” is another album I have been into while working on this mural. Hip-hop is the main genre that consumes me lately.
Who are some people that inspire you?
David Choe has been a huge inspiration for me over the years. He is a Korean American artist from Los Angeles. He had this podcast a few years ago called DVDASA that I would listen to religiously. I was obsessed. It wasn’t always specifically about art, but his perspective was really influential to me. I always say him when people ask me that because he’s been a constant thread.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to be artists?
Do as much as you can. When I was 18 I added one of my favourite artists, Skinner, on Facebook. I would just message him every once in a while with questions. One time I sent him a picture of this drawing that I had been working on for like a month. I was super proud of it. So I sent it to him and was like, “I made this drawing, now how do I get people to see it so that I can start making some money?” He responded: “My advice would be to do 50 more of those drawings and then start asking for some validation.” I felt like such an idiot for asking that question. I was pretty dejected by his response, but looking back on it now that was one of the most useful and simple pieces of advice I ever got. After that point, I would try to complete one thing a day and over the span of a year my style developed quite fast. You just have to make something, finish it, and move on to the next thing. I was always so obsessed with spending a lot of time on one thing or leaving things incomplete but that’s a really slow way to develop something. I’m not saying quality over quantity, but to get to quality in the first place you have to work through a lot of things that you’re probably going to hate. That’s the advice I would give to someone.
Was it scary painting your first big mural?
Yeah, it was terrifying. Each one has been a bigger challenge than the last, but that’s also what I like about it.
Where is it?
It’s in Vancouver on Watson St and E Broadway, on the loading bay of a new development going up.
How was your stay in Nelson? What was your favourite restaurant?
I’ve really been enjoying myself here. It feels good to get flown somewhere and paid to do something that I would do for free. It doesn’t feel like work. The people have also been really nice and seem to be receiving the mural well, so I’m happy about that.
I went to Loka like five times. I’m a big shawarma fan, and it was easy to just grab a wrap to go while I was working. I also went to Red Light Ramen, El Taco and Vienna Cafe a few times.
What would be your dream wall for a new mural?
An old ruin in Armenia would be really cool. Like a destroyed wall or just an old building. Even though that might be seen as sacrilegious to some people, I think the contrast of a really sharp contemporary mural on an ancient wall could be interesting. Probably a real pain to paint, but I really wanna do that one day.
Do you find your Armenian background ties into your work?
There is a lot of ornamentation in Armenian art, so maybe it has influenced me in that way. My identity as an Armenian Canadian has always been kind of confusing, I grew up not really feeling like either. It’s not that I’m not proud to be either, but my location and culture have never really been at the forefront of my identity. Granted, I haven’t been to Armenia yet, so maybe that will change once I go there. My dad is really into collecting old Armenian artifacts, like rugs, paintings and ceramics from the 1800s, so it’s been cool to learn through those.
How do you navigate the art world as a young person?
I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve just been stumbling forward from one thing to the next. I applied for this festival and got in, and that’s the only thing on my mind. Once that’s done, I figure out the next move. It’s terrifying, but I’m committed at this point. All my eggs are in this basket. I think that if you want to do this it has to be your whole life. If you’re not 100% in, then it’s probably not going to work out. Having said that, I’m extremely lucky and grateful that my parents have been so understanding and supportive of my career choice. If that wasn’t the case then I probably wouldn’t be here right now. Their support has allowed me the freedom of not having another job—even though I probably should. That freedoms means I can accept opportunities like this without having to worry about asking for time off or inconveniencing other people’s schedules. I don’t take that for granted.
We would like to thank Andrew for his beautiful contribution to the Nelson International Mural Festival. His mural can be seen on the back of the Tandoori Indian Grill and Lounge at 409 Kootenay Street.