By Steve Hubrecht

[email protected]

The Village of Radium Hot Springs’ second piece of public art was finished last week. Earlier in the spring the Pioneer reported that the village was seeking proposals to create a mural on the three-side concrete blast wall by the Radium Hot Springs Centre, and noted that village officials hoped the mural would be completed during, or possibly even before, the summer. But the artist whose proposal was selected —JD War — set to work almost immediately and painted quickly, with the end result that the vibrant mural was finished a week and a half ago.

The once blank grey wall now sports a bighorn ram in bold shades of blue, purple, pink and yellow. Beyond the sweeping curl of the ram’s horns looms the distinct profile of Sinclair Canyon, more Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and a star-filled evening (or dawn) sky with a sunset (or sunrise) glow. It’s an eye-catching piece of art, and when the Pioneer saw it just a few days after completion, a cluster of kids were examining it with excited enthusiasm.

War describes himself as a street artist or graffiti artist. He spent six days creating the mural, saying the work was “95 per cent spray paint street art, and five per cent brushwork.”

He’s self-taught and loves balancing the demands of street art —  spray paint means street artists must paint very swiftly — striving to create something beautiful. 

“The paint comes out of the can fast. So you have to work quickly or you’ll get drips. You don’t have the luxury of taking your time like you can with a brush. Yet you still need to make something people will enjoy looking at,” War told the Pioneer. “For me, I’m never happy until the client is happy. In this case, that’s the residents of Radium. The fact that everybody who walked by while I was working gave positive feedback made me happy with it.”

Even by War’s speedy-yet-exacting standards, less than a week is a fast pace, he concedes. Good, sunny weather for almost the entire six days helped keep things moving along at a good clip, he explained. “There were only a few times I had to stop a bit, when it got windy. I waited those moments out in the van,” he said.

War isn’t the only one happy with the mural and the public reaction to it. 

“Public art is something that brings vibrancy to the community. It’s nice to have another piece to add to that in our village,” Radium Mayor Mike Gray told the Pioneer. “When you have public art, not everybody is going to like every piece each time. But the more public art you have, the more people appreciate it as a concept, as something that enhances the village.”

Gray said all the feedback he’s heard about the mural so far has been positive, although he added when it comes to art everybody has a different opinion, so there are always bound to be people who both like and dislike any given piece.

Radium had a number of good proposals and picking one for the blast wall prompted “lively discussion around the council table,” said Gray. He added that given how well this project went, the village may indeed look at doing more pieces of public art around Radium.

“It turned out really well. Better than could’ve been expected,” said Radium chief administrative officer Adrian Bergles. “He (JD War) did a great job, and he was very professional. It was nice to see the piece come to life day by day as he worked on it.”

War is, in his own words, “local-ish” to the Columbia Valley, giving him an understanding of the place that helped inform the mural. ‘Local-ish’ means War and his young family are based in Calgary for work, but spend virtually every weekend (as well as every other bit of time off they can find) in Windermere. War’s wife Brittany grew up in Windermere, the bulk of their family and friends live there, and the couple want their eight-month old son Asher to grow to love the outdoor Columbia Valley lifestyle as much as they do.

Indeed, when the Pioneer spoke with War last week, he had just finished taking Asher for the youngster’s first-ever Chariot ride on the Markin-MacPhail Westside Legacy Trail. (“It was really good,” enthused War.)

“At first I was unsure of how to do my proposal (for the mural),” said War. “So I started with a ram. To me that is such a symbol of the community (of Radium). I decided that rather than having it photorealistic, I would do it in multiple contrasting colours. Then, I put Sinclair Canyon in the background, because if you are driving into Radium (from Highway 93 South, through Kootenay National Park) the canyon really makes such an iconic entrance into the community.”

War grew up first in Winnipeg before moving to Calgary and was part of a creative family. His dad was a musician and a painter, and his mom became a painter later in life. War was inspired to take up street art after watching the 1980s New York-centred graffiti and hip hop culture documentary ‘Style Wars’.

“I wanted to do that (graffiti) too. So I got a (spray paint) can, messed around with it, and over time, honed it,” said War. When he began teaching himself, the mural artist-specific spray paint that is common these days didn’t exist. Instead there was only old-school hardware store spray paint, which is much harder to use. That ended up being an advantage, as it forced War to practice relentlessly to become good.

He’s now been doing graffiti for 20 years and has established an extensive portfolio of commissioned street art. 

“You need to keep doing what you like and then build on that. Eventually you get a catalogue,” he said, adding the Radium mural is the first time he’s been commissioned by a municipal government.

War has a day job running a renovation company in Calgary. When he’s not busy with family, relaxing in Windermere, or wrapped up with a renovation or a commissioned street art project, he spends what free time remains creating graffiti for fun in Calgary and all around the world.

“When we do go on vacation and it’s not to spend more time in Columbia Valley, it usually involves me finding at least a day to do some painting. My wife calls it going on ‘spray-cation’,” said War. 

These spray-cations are usually in big cities — New York, Paris, London, Lisbon, and all over Spain — each with street art cultures of their own. War likes to immerse himself in the street art culture of the given destination, then finds an out-of-the-way place and adds to that culture with his own creations.

“It’s actually pretty interesting. My art ends up taking us to some pretty out-of-the-way parts of these very famous cities. You meet people you would never otherwise meet, and see a side of the city that you never otherwise see. You experience a part of local life that’s quite different than what you experience at the mainstream tourist sights,” explained War.

Having seen (and painted) in so many different cities around the world, he’s adamant that his favourite place to be, and favourite place to paint, is the Columbia Valley. 

“We really do love the Columbia Valley. That’s why we spend so much time here. So to now have my art here, I’m just very thankful and grateful to Radium for the opportunity,” said War.