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The object lesson of a painted-over mural in Mount Pleasant

December 31, 2016

The Boyer mural as I last saw it in February of 2015—five months before it was painted over.

Raymond Boyer’s elegant 1999 mural depicting Vancouver’s False Creek waterfront on the Graphic Arts Building at 33 East 8th Avenue and Quebec Street is gone and has been for over a year.

Damn it! I loved that mural!

You'd never know it but there's a really nice mural in this wall...under several coats of bland paint.

There’s still a very nice mural under those several coats of bland paint.

I was in the 10 block of East 8th Avenue today (December 30) and where Boyer’s stylish four colour mural should have been there was nothing but a flat-painted wall, marked with a pretentious slogan rendered in dimensional brown letters:

“Accommodate to changing times but cling to unchanging principles”

Whatever. I’d much rather have the mural back please.

The fate of even the best murals in Vancouver

The east facade of 33 East 8th Avenue in May 2015 and May 2016.—Google Street View

East facade of 33 East 8th Avenue in May 2015 and May 2016.—Google Street View

According to a thread on the discussion site Reddit, the building at 33 East 8th Avenue was purchased in 2015 and the new owners chose to deliberately bury the mural under the several coats of paint in July of that year. Here’s a link to a photo of the mural being painted over.

Murals are too easy come, easy go in Vancouver

In a post of a few weeks ago, I was critical of city spending priorities, writing that painted murals did not give good value for public art dollars because they didn’t last long enough—certainly not in this city, with its insane real estate market and clear bias towards redevelopment.

I wrote about Vancouver murals in general as not having a lifespan much over 20 years and about how the partly city-funded murals painted on buildings along a section of the Main Street corridor over the summer would be lucky to last 10 years before the buildings they’re painted on are torn down and/or redeveloped.

Well, as if by way of illustration, Raymond Boyer’s mural lasted only 16 years and its casual destruction was due to a new building owner’s desire to remodel, if not redevelop.

And—irony of ironies—the Boyer mural is in the same Main Street corridor area where the summer’s Vancouver Mural Festival took place and is actually only a door or so east of the headquarters of Hootsuite at 5 East 8th Avenue, which was one of the buildings painted up as part of the summer’s Vancouver Mural Festival.

I do not know if the Boyer mural was ever listed in Vancouver’s Public Art Registry; it isn’t now. There is also nothing to indicate that the City of Vancouver had to be notified, let alone grant permission before the new building owners could paint over the mural.

I’m also not personally aware that painted murals in Vancouver have any special status over and above any other coat of paint.

A last look at a (sniff) dearly departed mural


The mural painted on the east facade of 33 East 8th Avenue in 1999 by Raymond Boyer was a very slick piece of work and very much a product of its time.

Assuming that the client was the building then the fact that the mural was painted on the Graphic Arts Building probably accounted for the style, as well as the specific colours used.

The mural’s use of black silhouettes and flat solid colours was a popular graphic design conceit through the late 1990s and into the early 2000s and one which arguably reached it’s apogee in Apple’s early iPod advertising.

The specific four colour palette used by the mural: cyan, magenta, yellow and black were/are the constituents of the CMYK four-colour-process printing system and also had to be a nod to the graphic arts industry.

The use of super flat black silhouettes and solid colours may have been a thing around the most recent turn of the century but it goes back to prehistoric cave paintings and has actually been a dominant design choice throughout human history, probably because it plays especially well with the edge detection, contrast and pattern recognition functions hard-wired into our brains.

Murals are not bad, they’re just drawn that way

"It's beautiful hone but...should we be standing so close?" "It's okay. we can adopt".

“It’s beautiful honey but…should we be standing so close to the core?”

Whatever the reasons (and they would have to include the technically confident execution) Raymond Boyer’s mural was timeless and iconic and pleasantly easy on the eyes.

This mural deserved to survive. I would argue that it was no less deserving of protection than the unlovely Bow-Mac sign. However, few would probably agree with me.

Unfortunately outdoor painted murals are just too fragile to survive the elements and urban predations for very long on their own. And far from wanting to protect them, the City of Vancouver’s attitude to existing murals appears to be one of complete disinterest, which means that property owners and developers also have little reason to care about preserving murals on the properties that they acquire.

Basically what I’m saying is this: if you see a mural that you fancy, don’t get too attached.

Under no circumstances should you ever fall in love with an outdoor mural—it cannot last. Take my word for it. You’ll just end up with a broken heart (sob). Click the images to enlarge them.

  1. Bill permalink

    Thanks for today’s view from the street and your eclectic archives.

    I must say how much I appreciate your blog posts. Your writings on living and surviving the street, day to day musings, observations, reflections and photography is very unique. Your journal is an inspiring opus to a keen eye and inquisitive mind. I have learned so much from your blog.

    All the best for 2017!


    • I blush. Thank you so much. It’s a fine thing that the Internet allows anyone to have a voice. And finer still when others listen. Happy 2017!


  2. Nakota Ridge permalink

    Good tidings you way, thank s for your interesting posts. I enjoy them.


  3. Thoroughly enjoyable read, very well written. To me, an nice blend of analysis and feeling.


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