Brightening up Vancouver’s East Side Through the Raven’s Eye

Richard Shorty's most recent artwork is tall. Six storeys tall, in fact. The 7,600-square-foot mural on Vancouver's Orwell Hotel was unveiled on August 19 "to brighten up the Downtown Eastside area," said the Whitehorse-born artist.

Richard Shorty’s most recent artwork is tall.

Six storeys tall, in fact.

The 7,600-square-foot mural on Vancouver’s Orwell Hotel was unveiled on August 19 “to brighten up the Downtown Eastside area,” said the Whitehorse-born artist.

The West Coast community sees a lot of drugs and homelessness.

So Vancouver Native Housing gutted and renovated the interior of the former “slum” hotel and called upon four artists to spruce up the outside.

The hotel provides supportive housing for people who are at risk of living on the streets.

Through the Raven’s Eye showcases native symbols with vibrant colours.

There is a totem pole, a raven, Coast Salish people travelling in a wooden canoe and braids up the side of the mural. A serpent winds around one side of the painting with a salmon swimming at the bottom.

“For the totem pole, I did a thunderbird on top to represent higher people. A human to represent the human beings. A bear to represent strength that people have. The killer whale as protector of the ocean.”

The Orwell Hotel Mural Project was a collaboration between various designers, project co-ordinators and artists, but Shorty was able to incorporate his own interests into the artwork.

He designed a lot of the animal aspects, including the moon on raven’s eye that casts a beam of light across the entire hotel wall.

“I love wildlife,” he said. “I started out as an artist doing wildlife in Whitehorse.”

Shorty first picked up a paintbrush when he was working for Woodland Creations in the city. He spent his days painting eagles, wolves and wildlife scenes.

“That was a pretty good job back in 1979.”

When he moved to Vancouver, he continued painting wildlife, but no one bought it, he said.

So he started doing “more coasty” pieces with halibut, turtles, hummingbirds and an octopus fighting a killer whale.

Now he’s making a living doing these West Coast paintings in Vancouver.

This was the first summer he didn’t come home to Whitehorse because the 120-foot-wide-by-79-foot-tall mural was so time-consuming, he said.

It took them five meetings to come up with the image.

For each inch of the design, they painted two feet of the mural.

Shorty, Jerry Whitehead, Haisla Collins and Sharifa Masden worked together for five weeks painting the West Coast’s biggest mural.

They endured the heat.

They hung from swing stages.

Whitehead would often forget to hook himself up to his lifelines.

Masden was afraid of heights when she first started.

And Shorty did a reverse Michael Jackson from his long days outside.

“I went up a white man and I came down a dark man,” he laughed.

Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at larissaj@yukon-news.com

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