It’s embarrassing but for several years, I cycled blithely unaware of some nearby outdoor public bike art installations in Vancouver. Just recently after browsing John Steil’s book on over 500 Vancouver outdoor public art pieces, I have sharpened my visual acuity and stopped to look more closely at some of these intriguing art works.
Day after day on my bike commute ride to work along 10th Ave., I unknowingly breezed by the red-tiled, sidewalk mosaic at Commercial Dr. The mosaic is by Glen Anderson and Marina Szijarto which is part of a four-piece series in this area, “Mosaic Planet” (2002).
Cycling can be a sensory whole experience –including visual appreciation of nature and culture. No matter how dull, provacative or engaging, public outdoor art in Vancouver can be literally just steps away if you notice it.
Take a look at Granville, Cambie, Fraser St. and 37th St. intersections along the Ridgeway bike route: there are
dun-coloured sculptures, “Machina Metronoma” (1997). Although the artist chose a non-obtrusive colour to adorn the aerial streetscape, unfortunately passersby may barely notice the pedal and sprocket details on these fiberglass and steel sculptures. Other intersections feature a roller skate motif instead of the pedal. So look up at the cyclist-activated traffic light intersections and you might even see them wiggle in the wind like a metronome.
Whereas “Big Bike” (1998) by B. Luger and B. Potegal, is a well-known sculpture marker or meeting point by Queen Elizabeth Park for many local cyclists or joggers speeding down or ascending up the 37th St. hill. You can sit on the sculpture’s literal bike
rack bench by a water fountain after parking your bike.
There have not yet been many Vancouver building murals that feature a bike as the central focus. The exception is the mural at 1175 Adanac St. by Union St. which features oncoming cyclists and the Vancouver
waterfront skyline. Just make sure you view this full mural on weekends or evenings without the line of parked cars. During different seasons and under a variety of daylight conditions, there is wonderful integration of surrounding live trees and light play which teases your vision by blurring art and
reality. (See my previous article for an autumn photo.) This magic effect would be lost if the trees gracing around this mural were completely cut down.
After several trips, we located another nearby bike mural at 1249 Adanac. Apparently it was completed in fall 2009. We initially missed it because we did not look around on every side of the building.
The mural blends cycling along with abit of transportation imagery and historic allusion to the Chinese-Canadian railway workers for the building of the national railroad. (See painted figure to the right of green-helmeted cycling woman.) Both murals are just a few blocks away from Vancouver’s historic Chinatown. Both murals were completed by work teams of local residents.
Other Vancouver public art installations, incorporate a bike motif as part of its overall theme –usually themes of community activity, fun or sport.
The newest bike art piece to be be officially
recognized later this spring, is the Solar Bike Tree right by the bike path at Science World near the gazebo. Its multiple year long birth has been arduous. The artist, Spring Gillard conceived of her vision four years ago after she abandoned her original proposal of a mural using real bikes. Solar Bike Tree is very much utilitarian –designed to prevent anyone from climbing the steel tree and strong enough to hold solar panels that light the stand. It is also another form of bike parking. One wonders if either the artist or the city engineering department even thought of a more arresting or playful paint colour.
As cycling moves beyond transportation and permeates the life and culture of Vancouver as a “green city”, we may well see more celebrations of cycling captured in local artistic imagination.
City of Vancouver. Public Art Registry.
Gillard, Spring. Solar Bike Tree. Composting Diaries Blog. Jan.26, 2010.
Steil, John and Aileen Stalker. Public Art in Vancouver : Angels Among Lions. Vancouver: TouchWood Editions, 2009.