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Victoria artist-in-residence gives colourful facelift to beachside eyesore

It was a letter to city hall that led Victoria’s artist-in-residence, Luke Ramsey, to transform a dull concrete turret staircase along the Dallas Road waterfront into a vibrant wild bird.


It was a letter to city hall that led Victoria’s artist-in-residence, Luke Ramsey, to transform a dull concrete turret staircase along the Dallas Road waterfront into a vibrant wild bird.

“A member of the public wrote to the city to ask why there wasn’t a mural here,” said Ramsey, 38. He spent the summer painting colourful murals with fellow artists on washroom buildings in city parks — from Fairfield to Vic West — and was intrigued by the idea of taking on a more shapely structure.

The circular staircase is a popular lookout and beach access point directly across from Cook Street and Beacon Hill Park. When Ramsey stood back and looked at the staircase, he saw something beyond the crackled concrete and graffiti.

“I call it Mother Protector — Hawk and Home,” Ramsey said, pointing out how he used two water drain holes on the lookout tower as the hawk’s eyes — which watch over the environment.

The outer wall of the staircase is painted in muted greens and blues to appear as a giant closed wing — “a protection from the elements,” Ramsey said — while the other open wall “is a welcoming to protection inside.”

Ramsey collaborated with Edmonton artist Jill Stanton to create the mural, with Stanton painting the inside of the staircase in bright reds and oranges that appear to be both vein-like and reflective of the landscape.

Ramsey incorporated peepholes into the mural, leaving some spots unpainted as a tribute to the graffiti artists who came before.

He said he hopes the hawk brings a sense of pride and place to those using the beach, whether they live in the neighbourhood or are visiting Victoria.

“One thing I’ve found throughout the summer is that people really love their neighbourhoods and they have a lot of pride in them. I have that pride, too,” said Ramsey, who grew up in Cordova Bay and now lives in Fairfield.

When he was awarded the city’s first artist-in-residence job, which comes with a $42,000 salary and project budget of $30,000, Ramsey was tasked with using public art to enhance capital projects and upgrades.

“I wanted it to be collaborative, too,” he said. “I felt very lucky to get this job and wanted to include other artists in the work and be able to pay them.”

Ramsey used $7,000 from his budget for the parks murals and $8,500 for the staircase. The city will apply a protective coating to the murals, which are meant in part to deter graffiti tagging. Ramsey’s next mural project will be in the North Park area.

“The thing about murals is you get to work in a space where people go about their daily lives, and then your work becomes part of that,” he said.

While he was working on a mural with Powell River artist Meghan Hildebrand on the public washroom at Gonzales Park, Ramsey said, they were approached by many residents glad to see art in their community.

“One lady said she lived in the area for more than 40 years and was really excited to see the landscape elements in the mural,” said Ramsey. Another woman brought the artists strawberries from her garden.

At the Hollywood Park washroom mural, Ramsey worked with Victoria artist Andrew Dick and had families stop by on their way to the playground and baseball field.

The mural he created at Vic West Park, also with Stanton, was near a dog park and Ramsey said he got to know the people and dogs that came every day.

“We even painted one of the dogs into the mural,” he said — a small, elderly pup named Bala who was trimmed to look like a little lion.

A group of homeless men who hung out at the park moved from their regular spot to let the painters work, but made a small request.

“One guy asked if we could paint a frog on a log. So we did,” said Ramsey. The man was hit by a car not long after and his friends told Ramsey they showed him a picture of the frog in the hospital to cheer him up.

The community is invited to meet Ramsey and view the Mother Protector — Hawk and Home mural on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event will feature a virtual-reality art workshop, live music and guided meditation.

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