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Artists’ work gets a mega-viewing on Moss Street

What: TD Art Gallery Paint-In Where: Moss Street, between Fort Street and Dallas Road When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Artist Wendy Picken has overcome severe sight problems and several eye surgeries.

What: TD Art Gallery Paint-In
Where: Moss Street, between Fort Street and Dallas Road
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Admission: Free


On Saturday, about 170 artists at the TD Art Gallery Paint-In — painters, sculptors, carvers, potters, illustrators and printmakers — will show an expected 35,000 onlookers how they create their artworks.

The Times Colonist spoke with three participants in the outdoor extravaganza: an artist who transforms abandoned brass instruments into sculptures, a “finger painter” who overcame the threat of blindness and a comic-book illustrator specializing in retro 1950s and 1960s-style art:

Douglas Walker, sculptor, Black Creek:

If you ever visit Mason City, Iowa, you’ll want to see Music Man Square. The square pays tribute to Meredith Willson, the Mason City native who wrote the musical The Music Man.

Mason City is also home to Douglas Walker’s sculpture 76 Trombones. About six metres high, The Music Man-inspired creation is constructed with repurposed sousaphones, trombones and other brass instruments.

Walker entered 76 Trombones into Mason City’s sculpture contest 18 months ago. Although it went on public display, it didn’t win. However, a local resident was so enamoured with 76 Trombones, he raised $15,000 from citizens in three weeks to have it clear-coated and permanently mounted in front of the Meredith Willson Museum.

“It didn’t win the competition, but it won the hearts of minds of local people there,” Walker said.

Sixty-three-year-old Walker specializes in sculptures made from discarded brass instruments. He figures he has made 3,000 over the past 12 years. They go to collectors worldwide, in cities such as London, New York and Sydney. He is creating four sculptures for a customer in Dubai.

At one time, Walker, from Ontario, taught photojournalism at the University of Regina. One day, he built a little water sculpture for his backyard pond. People liked it, so he kept making them. Then a retired school music teacher asked Walker if he’d make him a water sculpture using an old bugle.

Walker, a former professional musician, was appalled. “I’m a guitar player. You can’t be sacrificing instruments,” he said.

The teacher explained that school band rooms were full of old instruments that no longer worked and weren’t worth repairing. People loved Walker’s bugle fountain. Soon the sculptor, bowing to popular demand, found himself specializing in musical-instrument sculptures.

While it has been done elsewhere on a one-off basis, Walker believes he’s the only sculptor transforming brass instruments into art full-time. “In the world of trash art and recycled stuff, there’s nobody anywhere that does what I do,” he said.

Walker buys old instruments cheaply from suppliers and on eBay. Sometimes friends donate them. He’s got a barnful at his Black Creek home.

In 2014, he constructed a second version of 76 Trombones, now on public display in Nelson. That version is capped by a weathervane. For a while, passing residents, perhaps refreshed by pub visits, were blowing into the sculpture’s instruments late at night. The honking drew complaints. So Walker was asked to plug the mouthpieces.

“It’s fun art, right?” he said.

Wendy Picken, finger painter, Sidney:

In 2008, uveitis, an inflammatory eye condition, had almost robbed Sidney artist Wendy Picken of her sight.

Picken could discern outlines of people, but had difficulty making out their features. To create her art, she used a giant Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass.

Today, after eight eye surgeries, Picken, 57, sees much better. She needs glasses and has astigmatism, but she can create her colourful pictures, often filled with birds, without problem.

Uveitis made Picken unusually sensitive to light. As well, particles clouded her visual field. Picken said when uveitis was diagnosed in 2002, a specialist told her to prepare for losing her sight altogether. The artist, who worried about becoming a burden on her children, recalled feeling “kind of suicidal. For me, I had to hit rock bottom. Then once I hit rock bottom with it, I realized I could go on.”

Happily, medical technology has advanced in intervening years. Picken has benefited from improved methods of surgery and medications.

Picken, who was previously unemployable due to her poor eyesight, also works as a house-mother at Jeneece Place at Victoria General Hospital.

In a small studio behind her 1926 cottage, she creates brightly hued artworks influenced by Van Gogh and Matisse. Picken creates with Stabilo crayons and furniture wax, using her fingers to blend colours and lines.

“I call it finger painting without the paint,” she said.

Glen Mullaly, illustrator, Victoria:

At the age of 14, a fledgling artist landed his first paying gig as an illustrator. Comic-book aficionado Glen Mullaly drew an illustration for an advertisement for a car dealership in a Nanaimo newspaper.

He was thrilled to land a professional gig. “I drew a super hero talking about the super deals they would have. It was a major, big deal,” Mullaly said.

He grew up to became an award-winning illustrator who draws in a comic-book style inspired by illustrations of the 1950s and early ’60s.

With Ken Steacy, another Victoria illustrator, Mullaly has worked on Star Wars comic books. He has created illustrations for Simon & Schuster’s million-selling children’s book series My Teacher Is an Alien. He has done retro posters for rock bands such as the New Pornographers and Mother Mother. His clients include McDonald’s restaurants and the Commonwealth Fund, one of the world’s biggest non-profit health-care organizations. He does it all: T-shirts, e-books, logos, greeting cards.

As a kid, Mullaly loved Richie Rich and Dennis the Menace comic books. Later, he became fascinated by cartoons in Mad magazines — 1970s copies passed along by his grandmother as well as Mad reprints of 1950s and 1960s editions.

Vintage art fascinates Mullaly, His home contains a vast collection of illustrations, including thousands of magazines and books.

“That artwork [from the 1950s and 1960s] was definitely more bold and stylized. You could be more ‘out there’ and be published in the biggest magazines,” he said.

Those who see Mullaly at the TD Art Gallery Paint-In might see him working on a new colouring book or a T-shirt design. It looks fun, and it is. But Mullaly said being a commercial illustrator involves a lot of hard work.

He recalled illustrating a book series for a U.S. educational publisher, titled How Things Work.

“I spent 6 1/2 months working 12 to 14 hours a day, with one day off a month, maybe.”



Planning to attend the free TD Art Gallery Paint-In on Saturday? Here’s the lowdown on the city’s largest visual arts festival:

• The day starts at 10 a.m. with admission by donation to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, which hosts the annual event.  At 11 a.m., artists bring their portable studios to Moss Street.  About 170 of them will demonstrate their skills between Fort Street and Dallas Road until 4 p.m.

• Moss Street is closed to traffic from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There is no parking on the street. “People are best advised not to drive,” said organizer Ian Piears, who recommends walking, busing or cycling (bike parking is available at the gallery).

• A family garden, on the gallery’s premises at 1040 Moss St., opens at
11 a.m.  As well as a bouncy castle, the site offers food, beverages and live music until 9 p.m. The music acts are Slim Sandy and the Hillbilly Boppers in the afternoon and Tight Hair Disco in the evening. Alcoholic beverages are available for those 19 and older.

• There are seven information booths at the event, with rest stations, water refills and doggy bowls. There are also seven “imagination stations,” where the public can try different creative activities.

• This season, there is an increased emphasis on staging a green festival. Visitors are encouraged to bring their refillable water bottles and use recycling stations.

• About 200 volunteers help to run the Paint-In. Now in its 29th year, it operates on a $130,000 budget, including in-kind support. It’s a juried event. Participating artists submit three pieces, which are adjudicated by a four-member panel.