Until quite recently, there was a hardhat-wearing purple monkey sitting atop a pile of bananas spray-painted across the back wall of the Peanut Gallery in downtown Nelson. Joined by a huddle of confused penguins, the monkey shrieked under the words “Don’t Trust the Crayon People”.
“It was a bit of a joke on censorship,” said artist Coleman Webb, who was responsible for creating the image. “The crayon people are all those wonderful creative people who want to express themselves more and the monkey’s like this nutty force that’s in control, which doesn’t make sense, but he’s in the way.”
And though the monkey is no longer there—he’s since been painted over—it’s that message that Webb is trying to get across with the collaborative project he’s currently working on, entitled Metamorphosis. Along with a group of Kootenay artists, he’s currently spearheaded a project to paint his building inside, out and all around.
“Right from the get-go, when we moved into the Peanut Gallery, I knew I wanted that back wall to be a constantly changing, evolving piece,” he said. “Then more and more people started getting involved. I’m not sure I’ve even met everyone who’s worked on it.”
Webb said he would like to see easing of the bureaucratic obstacles set in the path of artists aspiring to create large-scale public works, and he’s hoping his project will help people in Nelson abandon their negative ideas of graffiti and street art.
“At the very least we should have a legal permission wall where people can paint freely in public,” he said.
Amber and Sergio Santos couldn’t agree more. After doing successful art outreach in Brazil, they’re hoping to change attitudes here in Canada through projects such as Metamorphosis and last year’s Imaginarium exhibit at Oxygen Art Centre.
“In Brazil everything started when we got invited to participate at city hall,” said Sergio.
“We noticed the city had a hard perception of graffiti and we wanted to show them what graffiti is. It’s art and it’s paint on walls. It’s mostly paint where there is no beauty. We started cutting down that conservative perception of what is art, and it was successful.”
Sergio hopes Nelson can have a similar attitude shift.
“Graffiti here is associated with vandalism, and what we do is not vandalism. We’re not breaking anything, we’re beautifying.”
Amber said they had a unique opportunity with the Peanut Gallery, because both the front and back walls face alleys. That means there are less rules and restrictions. Ultimately she’d like to see large-scale public art throughout Nelson, but she figures the alleys are a good place to start.
“Alleyways can be associated with dark things happening, or not being safe. By bringing murals into them you bring them to life, and people can have a positive experience,” she said.
“My dream is to do a street art festival in the alleys with businesses, the city, and multiple generations of artists all together.”
Though Metamorphosis is a project that isn’t really intended to ever reach completion, there will be a Blue Night opening gala on Friday, May 22 where the public can see the end result. And since the Peanut Gallery is vacating that space soon, it might be the last chance to see this type of work for a while.
“We haven’t secured a new space yet, but we’re going with the flow. We’re saying ‘that was fun, now let’s see what comes next’,” said Webb.
Webb said artists interested in getting involved should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.