Notebooks: The Blue Light Project – A01

A01 Local Photo Poster
A01 Local Photo Poster

A01 is one of the artists I followed around during the writing of my new novel The Blue Light Project. His work impressed me hugely in a number of different ways. The first and most obvious way related simply to how prolific he was. The photo above is from a series called Local Photo Posters. At the time I met him, he estimated he’d put up 200 of these in Vancouver and was plannng 300 more. He has since done a similar series in Toronto, although I don’t have pictures of any of those.

Some of these photos are from A01’s website, by the way, which you should check out. He’s an artist of super-charged intensity and complex idea.

Andrew’s Local Photo Posters are 1:1 posters that are put up directly on top of the surfaces they depict: urban distress, textures that A01 found interesting. (Can you figure out how he took the picture at perfect 1:1 ratio, by the way. It does not involve blowing up or shrinking the image in photo shop. It involves snapping the picture at the right distance from the object. Try it yourself. It’s almost impossible to do perfect 1:1 unless you know the trick.)

In any case, for awhile there, in late 2007 and early2008, these photo posters became one of the defining features of the Gastown/Downtown Eastside neighborhoods. They really exploded around the neighborhood and suddenly people were seeing them everywhere.

Sometimes they were hard to spot, like this one in the middle of a bulletin board.

And here’s another one that went up over the advertisement on the window of a store:

Or this one, a personal favorite, over calling card adverts:

Part of what interested me about this work was the way A01 used the neighborhood as its own material. He was showing the neighborhood back to itself. The DTES is often described in the press merely by its low income and poverty figures. In A01’s world it is the source of its own beauty.

As I watched all this work go up – note how above A01 has moved to a four part construction – what I noticed was how the work seemed to have a catalytic effect. People noticed it. Street artists talked about the work online, in the places where they gathered and compared photos. There was a lot of work out there and a lot of discussion going on. And I think that kind of fed interest in the scene around this time.

Here are some Andrew postered up over graffiti. This is an interesting one, because here he’s put up his photographs of graffiti over a wall where the graffiti has already been scrubbed or removed with white paint. So A01’s photos are showing you a snapshot from the wall’s past.

Andrew conveyed to me a real urgency and energy which seemed very fresh to me. It suggested kind of the degree to which people were gripped by this project that is invisible to so many people. Street art is this thing that people do, and rarely do people thank them for it. Quite the contrary they’re frequently prosecuted for it. And since the work couldn’t be easily explained in those common ways that we explain things nowadays, in terms of profit motive or the drive for real reputation and fame, there didn’t seem to be much calculation in it, and this lent a kind of attractive mystery to the work.

I’ll post more about Andrew Owen in the coming months. This is only a fragment of his remarkable output.

But in the meantime: thanks A01.