Tyler Toews / Canadian Murals

Artist: Tyler Toews
Photographer: Electrify

A Conversation With Tyler Toews / Canadian Murals

How did you start making art?

I have always been painting and making art. I was always the artistic kid so I guess I fed off of that attention as a young kid and aspired to be an artist. After getting out of school, I kind of realized that might not be feasible or practical. I guess I was doing something right because it just kind of fell into my lap and I became a working artist. In 2000 I started working with the Downtown Vernon Association, a mural crew in Vernon, and it set me off to become more serious about it. We were a crew of young people working under an artist. I was hired and excelled and started doing my own murals after that.

The first mural I did on my own was for that organization on the hardware store in downtown Vernon, Fishers Hardware. It’s still there. Still looks great. It’s of the old owners of the hardware store as boys. Old fashioned. A lot of historical murals, that was the mandate for that project back then.

Were your parents supportive of you wanting to become an artist?

My parents were both artistic and they were both very encouraging of me as an artist. My mom loves to tell the story of when I was little and my aunt was babysitting me. I drew on her wall. I guess that was my first mural. My aunt was pissed off. My mom came to pick me up and my aunt was like “He drew on the wall!” My mom went and saw it and was like “Oh, wow!” For my age, she was really impressed. It was an airplane and it had all the windows with passengers in it. It even had 3D wings coming out of the side of the airplane. She was more proud of me than upset. So I guess I have been doing this a while. My parents were both very supportive of me at all times with whatever. That’s a huge part of why I have been able to make a go at this.

How has your mural-making evolved over the years?

It’s been 19 years now. There’s been a lot of different jobs, but some common threads. I got into some commercial jobs for the Prestige Inn. I did a number for their hotel chain. I also did a few private ones to expand the portfolio. Then, back into historical murals for the city of Trail. I did seven or eight for them starting in the year 2005, and a few others for other municipalities and then I got into more commercial work for a big corporation. For the store Cabela’s. That was working on a large industrial scale. And all the time, too, doing other jobs for private houses and working on canvases in my studio.

Do you prefer painting murals or doing smaller-scale commissions?

I just take what life gives me. My direction is just like flowing down a river. As long as you’re doing the right thing, the right things will come to you. Like murals. It all just kind of naturally flowed for me. And now, in the studio working on my own practice is naturally the thing I am doing as well as murals. So I wouldn’t choose between something for someone’s living room and doing a mural – they’re both fantastic in their own right. Murals are really neat because they’re so big. They carry such an impact and they touch so many people, being public art. I wouldn’t give that up. But then it’s a little more intimate and personal sometimes, the things I’ll make for someone’s living room.

Why Nelson?

We’ve got a good arts community here. That’s one of the draws that attracted me. But again, it was just the natural next step for me in the flow of things. There’s also outdoor life. I love the outdoors. I love the backcountry and snowboarding. The mountains are so accessible from here so that’s the other thing that attracted me.

Does your love for the outdoors feed into your work at all?

Yeah, absolutely. I work as a ski guide in the winter and I sell paintings of the mountains that I live and work in. Even my abstracts have inspiration from natural things. I paint representational things and I also have an abstract side of my practice where I am experimenting with medium, colour, light, shape and form. I’m trying to combine the two. And then I had an idea of painting the terrain map of where I work in the winter – the mountains and the runs we ski. It is a map of the land that we use and, as I am painting a certain place on the map, I am actually relating with that terrain while I am painting it. Remembering the landscape and the features and the events that had happened there. It is a fascinating experience; creating an abstract painting that is the land combined with my past experience on and with that land.

What are you painting for the mural festival?

It touches on how the human race has an imposing nature on the natural world. In the mural, there are extinct and at-risk animals, as well as glacier ice, which is also at risk. All from how we have imposed our way over things. Because this is an international mural festival and it is about the art, I’ve been given a platform to say something meaningful and I wasn’t going to pass it up. I’m stoked to be doing something with a purpose that may affect some positive change. Not that historical murals aren’t important. They have their place and I have done them a lot and they’re great but I feel like this has more backing behind it.

What has your process been like painting this mural?

For one of the murals I did last year, I built a 3D model to get a true reference on what the light does with angles and different aspects so I could render it on the wall properly. So I’m trying that again here with ice to see how the light reflects through. I guess I just like a challenge. It’s fascinating. I’m painting animals that are half in and out of blocks of ice. So I froze animal figurines in the ice, chipped them away, and put them on a little maquette on the scaffolding. I left them in the sunlight, parallel to the wall, and let the ice melt and took pictures. I wanted to see how the light shines through the ice and how the ice melts off the features of the figures and what shines through. It’s a study. It’s like a still-life painting. I had to create the thing I wanted to study, which was light and shadow interacting with frozen water.

Photo 2018 06 21 2 52 21 PM
One of Tyler’s 3D models

What work are you most proud of?

It’s the most recent one. It always is. It’s like the new love of your life, kind of. You get all inspired. Unless you hate it, then it’s like a bad relationship, and you gotta end it. Finish it, put it in the past. But usually, it’s the most recent one. You’re falling in love with it while you’re painting it and then it’s over and you don’t see it for years and then you bump into her at a coffee shop and it might be awkward, but you say hello. Haha!

What does your process look like?

I usually have a few ideas and projects mid-process, some of them stalled for many years at a time and then pick them back up. Then they go somewhere different than intended. I just sweep the floor. I have to clean the studio before I get started. It’s a resetting process to start a new project. Get all the paints lined up in chromatic order, and then look for your brushes for a half hour and once you get everything organized and all dialled in, you start painting and leaving everything around different places and you’re a frazzled mess until the project is done. And then you sweep the floor again.

How do you navigate the art world, living in a rural community?

It just happens. The good thing about having a mural painting company is that each painting you do is a big billboard. I’ve done over 100 murals now and they all have my website at the bottom and I’m starting to get more and more calls and website traffic. That’s how I handle being a rural artist, but I have no real clue. I just like painting.

How did you start your company, Canadian Murals?

I started my company, Canadian Murals, with a buddy. A good friend, Steven Skolka. We painted the first half of my career together, him and I. Now, I’m just doing it solo. He sells real estate now. He had the business mind and I just liked painting. We painted this mural in a community hall in Christina Lake and there was a piano in the space. He is a true artist; he spent half the time playing the piano. But that was his process. It was awesome. He would play these wicked on-the-spot riffs and I would be painting and it just filled the empty room up with awesome sounds. Then, he would come and express himself through painting. It was awesome.

Where can we see your work?

My website has some of my work on it. You can view it there and email me with any questions. I have a lot of murals in Trail and in Calgary, Ottawa, Abbotsford. I’ve got a bunch in Vernon and a few in Christina Lake, as well as other places across Canada.

A little birdie told us that you are sharing your studio with another NIMF artist, Kelly Shpeley, as well as Oxygen Art Centre’s Genevieve Robertson and a few other local artists. Can you tell us about what it’s like working in a communal space?

We call it “Sweet 9 Studio.” I’m stoked for what it has become. It’s a little arts hub, a community adding to the Nelson art scene. It was initially a large space that I rented to do a whole bunch of commercial murals on canvas. I got this warehouse space and I occupied it myself for two years doing numerous murals up to 60-by-20 feet tall in this space. Those commercial contracts came to an end and I didn’t want to give up the space so I carried it for almost a year myself and then I got Kelly in here and a few others. Now it’s filled with artists and we all share the rent and everyone’s got their space. There’s a common area in the middle for all of us to work and use. It’s an inspiring place, watching all the art that happens and comes out of here. It’s good to get inspired by your neighbours.

Do you enjoy the performance of painting in the public eye?

It is a performance art, really. I have done it a lot over the years so I guess I have become really comfortable with it. It’s how my professional artist career started, out in the public eye. I guess what I find really interesting about it is who you meet. You become really approachable because people are interested in what’s happening and seeing it evolve and so you end up talking with everybody. In one of the cities I worked in I was chumming around with the councillors and the mayor on a daily basis as well as the people who lived on the street. It brings people together. You end up having a real intimate relationship with all walks of life.

Interviewer: Nicola Rough – 2018


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