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An Interview With Local Artist and Crow Whisperer, Ehren Salazar

Photo by Alwyn Salazar

There’s a lot we can learn from artist Ehren Salazar. The born-and-bred Vancouverite has made a name for himself in the local art scene as a creative in seemingly perpetual motion, constantly learning and expanding his knowledge with pockets full of unexpected experiences and talents. This weekend is your last chance to check out his latest exhibition of drawings, “Crowland”, which adorn the walls of Luppolo Brewing until October 1st. Also, keep your eyes peeled for work he’s done for the City (box wraps on the southwest corner of Granville on Broadway and the northwest corner of Manitoba and Broadway) and as part of the upcoming Eastside Culture Crawl.

You’re a born-and-raised Vancouverite (a rare specimen!) and you’ve spent most of your life and education in the city…how do you think that Vancouver has affected your artistic practice, both aesthetically and logistically?

I feel lucky to have grown up here in Vancouver, in Little Mountain/Riley Park neighbourhood. Hillcrest Park and Queen Elizabeth where extensions of my front yard, and they remain special zones close to my heart and clear in mind to this day. My parents always supported my creative efforts growing up, and that impacted me more than anything. I learned a lot in first year Fine Arts at Langara College, and I have returned a few times throughout the years to take an art course here and there.

Is there anything specifically “Vancouver” about your style and/or subject matter?

I don’t know that it’s readily apparent in my works, but there is a trace of it running through most of what I draw and paint. I am very interested in the history of Vancouver and would like to reflect that even more in future works.

The Vancouver establishment that no longer exists that you miss the most?

Two places that always delivered as a great place to meet a friend or two and spend some time in a good room: The Penny Lane Pub at 41st and Main and Benny’s Bagels at Broadway and Larch.

Your favourite view in Vancouver?

Top of Queen Elizabeth Park, looking out towards the Mountains and anywhere in Nat Bailey Stadium (preferred seat: last row corner seat of Section 1).

What was your last unexpected source of inspiration?

I’ve been helping my dear friend Camil Dumont with some graphic design and video content for his campaign in this coming civic election. He’s running for a seat on the Park Board with the Green Party. It’s inspiring to see him throw his hat into the political sphere of Vancouver while balancing being a new dad and running Inner City Farms. Remember to get out and vote October 20th, people.

“Coffee shops have long been an accessible venue for artists and patrons, and with the groundswell of breweries and tasting rooms (void of plasma screen tv’s) it makes for a good scenario for art to be experienced and for artists to push their efforts.”

What appeals to you about crows in particular? What is a fascinating, little known fact about crows that you’ve learned?

For a long while I liked to pretend there was only one crow in the city and I would speak to it causally whenever our paths would cross. “What’s up Crow, how you doing?” Seldom does a crow never know you are watching.

What animal do you most identify with and why?

I like calling all dogs I meet Super Dog. And that seems to go over well with them.

You founded Little Mountain Gallery, studied antique fresco art restoration, and worked in graphic design and print media – what area of art haven’t you yet explored and/or skill haven’t you learned that you’d like to?

I would like to explore older methods of printmaking, like wood block prints, etching and that sort of thing. Animation has always been something I’ve wanted to explore further as well. There are so many tools out there to invest time into learning.

What has been the biggest learning curve that you’ve experienced as a career artist?

Still learning every week how to navigate this art thing – balancing personal expectations with reality can be tricky. I might need to get back to you on this one.

What upcoming/current projects are you most excited about?

Gearing up for the 2018 East Van Culture Crawl. It will be my first time participating as an artist with a studio in the Crawl. Mark yer calendars, it’s sure to be an inspiring week in the art scene of Vancouver.

You’re currently working on children’s book illustrations…Tell me more about “Dizzy The Dancing Sloth”. How much freedom of expression do you get when illustrating another person’s story?

My friend Jules Moore is the author for all things Dizzy: Dizzy The Dancing Sloth, as well as Sweet Dreams Dizzy. We are going to self publish it to get the ball rolling on what has been in the works for a good long while. We are really looking forward to getting it out there. I hope to be able to announce more about it soon. For now it’s still hiding up in the branches and in and out of sleep.

Most of your illustration work is done in graphite, but there are some very colourful pieces included in your Crowland series. What inspires you to use colour?

The lone colour piece in my Crowland show is a painting titled “Mind Of A Crow”. My soon to be ten year old niece, Sophia told me it took a million years to finish. She remembers seeing it tacked to my apartment wall in Victoria five years ago when I first started on it. I’d like to think it would take one twelfth of the time to redo if I had to. Drawing so much in greyscale over the years has led me to a place where I look back on a lot of them as studies for future colour paintings. But in the spirit of creating new works and not harping on old ideas for too long – I would like to use colour more often.

Art shows seem to be coming quite commonplace in brewery tasting rooms in Vancouver. Why do you think that is?

Beer and art go hand in hand. I think it’s a great opportunity for people to see new works of art in a casual setting. Coffee shops have long been an accessible venue for artists and patrons, and with the groundswell of breweries and tasting rooms (void of plasma screen tv’s) it makes for a good scenario for art to be experienced and for artists to push their efforts.

What is your favourite local beer?

Lately it’s been Luppolo Brewing Co. Hazy IPA. Also my studio is right across the street from Strange Fellows, and I enjoy their Talisman Pale Ale.

If you had to come up with a beer pairing for your current Crowland exhibit at Luppolo, which four beers would you choose and why?

I would just say listen to your heart, and make sure to try something new in your flight.

What is the biggest creative risk that you’ve ever taken?

I don’t know that I have taken enough of them – I could stand to take more risks in my art practice. Going to Italy to attend Messors Fresco Restoration program in 2012 was monumental for me. At the time it felt like a big risk because I had not spent any significant time away from the day to day operations of Little Mountain Gallery. My friend Ed McKeever had been the year previous and raved about it so much that he created a grant under his company Strong River (Painting, Plastering, and Design Education) to send two artists from Vancouver the next year and I was one of the lucky recipients. Learning about the artistic methods of Fresco painting and witnessing the beauty and history of Southern Italy. Stabilizing and cleaning frescos in abandoned caves/buildings and spaces under the guidance of Tonio Creanza was a real honour. Feeling deeply the echo of the ages from Altamura to Pompeii, made it impossible for me to return to Vancouver unchanged. It opened my eyes to the fact that I needed to step down from LMG and pursue my art practice full time.

What scares you the most?

Guns, and car2go drivers.

What was the worst piece of advice that you ever received?

“Don’t use an eraser.”

What inspired you to establish Little Mountain Gallery? What did you hope to achieve and/or contribute with LMG? Do you feel that you were successful?

It was a hands-off situation when I took on the space in 2006, and same for when I left it in 2013. I stayed on for those years with the intent to create solid roots in the Arts at 195 East 26th. Little Mountain Gallery for me was a crash course in retail/gallery/venue management – learning the hard way most of the way. I never really achieved some of the things I had hoped for with the space – but I met so many amazing people during those years and got to feel what it’s like to be involved with facilitating great art, music and theatre in an old wooden building. I’m so happy to see that it trucks on as a comedy community centre, lots of worthwhile things are going on there still. Go see a show there when you can.

What is your current involvement with Little Mountain Gallery, if any?

No involvement beyond just being a friend to the space. I’m always available to help out as a volunteer if need be. A few of my murals are still on the walls, on 26th Ave and in the alleyway (on the back of East West Market).

The Vancouver art scene sometimes gets flack for being very insular and “cliquey”. What has been your overall impression of the local art community?

I am guilty of having my head in the sand at times. I think it’s up to us to get out there and attend openings and see the exhibits and break that trend – there is a lot going on out there.

What three things would you like to see change about Vancouver’s art scene?

More affordable studio spaces for artists, more grants for artists, and more murals and art in public spaces.

What do you hope to accomplish by the end of 2018?

I have dozens of drawings that are at the 3/4 complete stage – it would feel real good to have those finished before the end of the year. I mean resolutions for 2019 aside, I hope to be stronger and more energized in my day to day efforts, mentally & physically, go into this fall/winter stretch with a good pace.

How would you like to be memorialized?

I suppose the drawings and paintings I am able to produce can go on without me and hopefully speak on my behalf, but ultimately I don’t really know.

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