When Jessa Gilbert was working on the mural she was commissioned to paint in a Creekside underpass, she realized her piece was having its intended affect when it stopped passersby in their tracks.
“I’d notice people walking through and they’d slow down, look around and take a picture,” the Squamish-based artist said. “I was like, ‘wow, I’ve disrupted their passive experience. I’ve reawakened them.’ That, as an artist, is so gratifying.”
Although Gilbert, who moved to B.C. via Vermont four years ago, has been an artist since she “could hold a pencil,” she had never done a piece the scale of the mural when the Resort Municipality of Whistler told her that her proposal had been selected.
“It was super exciting and a bit daunting,” she said. “When someone gives you the go ahead, you rise to the occasion. I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get it done. I’m really excited to have a piece that’s giving back to the community. It’s not a private collection; it’s there for everyone and anyone to enjoy.”
The 2,400-square-foot piece starts with the Spearhead Traverse on one side and ends with the Tantalus Range on the other.
Initially Gilbert wanted one end — the side that represented the entrance to Whistler — to feature the sunrise and the other — as you leave Whistler — the sunset. “What I hadn’t considered is the physical relationship to the piece,” she said. “Rather than standing back and looking at it, you’re moving through it and having an experience. What I figured out is the light enters the north side of the underpass in the morning and enters from the south in the afternoon. (I thought) if I could incorporate where the light is to engage with the artwork so it feels inclusive and intentionally placed then it actually creates more of a realistic experience as you move from one side to the other. The colours will shift depending on how the light source is changing throughout the day.”
The colours in her palate have changed since she moved to the Sea to Sky corridor, she said. Initially, she decided to attend the University of Vermont so she could pursue design work in the ski and snowboard industry. “I thought that was the only way you could be an artist and a snowboarder and adventure,” she said. “I worked for snowboard brands and travelled a lot and had the art as a side project. Then I moved to B.C. and art became more about recreating an experience (instead of) putting images on products.”
To that end, bright, bold colours like reds and yellows turned into natural colours like blues and greens. “It was a transformation from East Coast to B.C.,” she added.
Meanwhile, the mural — which Gilbert said she created with a little help from local mural veteran Kris “KUPS” Kupskay — was officially unveiled at a celebration last Saturday (Oct. 21).
“This underpass was something I didn’t even want to work in,” she said of the dark, graffiti-covered location. “It was, ‘how quickly can you get from one side of the highway to the next?’ Now, I hope it becomes a place people can enjoy going through.”
To see more of Gilbert’s work visit jessagilbert.com.