SAINT JOHN – The city of Saint John is slowly but surely cultivating a reputation as the go-to spot for artists in Atlantic Canada.
The latest artist at work in Uptown Saint John is Allan Ryan from Cape Breton, NS, who is also known as Uber5000. He joins artists such as the Kapu Collective’s Hula, Dodo Ese and Gabrielle Brown who have created artwork for the city centre.
Ryan has painted his eye-catching murals all over Canada in the last decade. His most famous piece of artwork is his 2012 ‘The Reef Wall’ in Toronto’s Graffiti Alley; it has become one of the most photographed murals in the city, covering approximately 7,000 square feet.
He is currently live-painting a multi-story mural on Grannan Street on the back of Historica Developments’ Parrtown Place. Inquisitive onlookers can watch him work from August 16 to September 1.
Ryan’s mural is the first partnership between Discover Saint John and Historica. Victoria Clarke, Executive Director of Discover Saint John, says the partnership “has been fantastic.”
“We are true partners, Historica is as invested as we are in the success of the content and in Allan having a great experience in the city,” said Clarke.
Ryan explained his painting process to Huddle during his break.
“Aerosol is just a different version of paint that you use with a brush, it’s just applied with the spray,” he said. “You can have a couple hundred colors and pre-loaded cans that you can just immediately spray, it cuts down the amount of time you spend cleaning brushes, and so on.”
“I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years now and developed a good technique at work with it so I can paint faster with spray faster than with brushes,” he said.
Ryan also said that when working on a project he likes to put his own spin on it. As a child, he developed an interest in marine life and the ocean and was one of the youngest scuba divers in Nova Scotia at 14.
“It was fascinating to see all these different things you’ve seen photos up close underwater,” he marveled.
“I could totally do a photo realistic picture of a certain spot in the Bay of Fundy, but this mural is more like what your imagination would think is underneath the water, which makes it a little more fun and playful with a child-like imaginary spirit of adventure.”
Ryan currently works and lives in Toronto with his dog Hubble. He was one of three artists from the city who, as part of a partnership last year between Discover Saint John and the Government of New Brunswick, came to experience Saint John and New Brunswick.
When Discover Saint John learned about Allan’s Graffiti Alley piece and the responses from people in Toronto and Saint John, Clarke knew they needed to figure out how to partner with him in the future.
The stars aligned when Keith Brideau, President and CEO of Historica Development, told Clarke that he was wrapping up on Parrtown’s development and was going to have a 30-foot-wide by 50-foot-tall space on which he would love to see a piece of public art.
“We were just about to finish the building, we had the section in the middle that we needed to do something about,” said Brideau. “The sight line into Rogue Alley and Grannan Street and their foot traffic made it the perfect opportunity for a piece of artwork to go on the building.”
Ryan’s been enjoying his time in the Port City.
“There is a lot to explore in Saint John, so many cool restaurants and stuff but there’s the history of some of the buildings and their details,” he said. “You could be walking around in the morning and see a gargoyle statue on top of a building and then you stop and stare for a minute.”
“There are so many complex, hidden little details like that but the city is also very accessible.”
The John Hooper statues caught his eye in particular, and he thinks they are “a really neat aspect of Saint John.”
Hubble accompanies her owner on longer projects and has taken to Saint John like a seagull to water.
“She’s having a really great time. When we were at the beach the other day she was just loving life; it’s a whole different environment for her being on a saltwater beach,” Ryan said.
Discover Saint John and Historica’s partnership on Allan Ryan’s mural reflect how they share a mission to make Uptown Saint John the best place to live in Atlantic Canada.
“These days, I think everybody is on the same page and rolling up their sleeves to make the city into what it is today,” says Brideau. “It’s not perfect but we all feel like we’re going in the same direction.”
“Saint John has what a lot of places are trying to build, and I think everybody has finally realized that we just need to keep polishing and improving what we have, and we will continue to do better and better,” he added.