Powell River’s newest large art installation, called the Garden Wall, adds a huge splash of colour to Townsite.
Located at what was previously Walnut Lodge and Townsite bus depot, just below Walnut Street, the expanse provides a beautification project to the old industrial setting.
Stefan Fogarty, the artist known as Catnip, said he has wanted to paint the wall as long as he has painted murals. During COVID-19, he wasn’t finding any jobs and really wanted to create a good summer project.
“For six months before the summer I was contacting the mill, trying to find someone who would hear me out, and then finally I did,” said Catnip. “I got in touch with the general manager and we kind of relayed emails and I talked with them for so long. Finally, they said ‘yes, you can do it.’
“I just wanted a big project, asked for it and they said I could paint the whole thing.”
Catnip was able to personalize the space while he was painting. He said he started growing some food there because he lives in an apartment. He began cleaning the area and it just expanded. A stranger came and started cleaning it up, too, which was a “magical thing.” It turned out the helper was a neighbour.
“At a certain point, a friend and I decided we could make something really cool and create a park,” said Catnip. “I wrote Catalyst a huge email asking them and they had actually come and seen some of the cleanup and they liked it, so they said the park could stay up indefinitely once we built it.”
Catnip wanted to express his thanks to Catalyst Paper Corporation for letting him use the space to create the mural and the park.
In creating the mural, he has continued with old themes he has used in working around town. He said he likes the idea of reclaiming old space and using old industrial spaces to do new types of things, such as growing big gardens or getting people in the spaces and making it activated again.
To that end, on the mural wall, Catnip has painted a Latin phrase, which loosely translates to the “new growth grows on the old world.”
“It’s saying we can use all of this old stuff, parts of the old world that might need activating,” said Catnip.
He added that he is pleased with the end result.
“I like it a lot. I see people finding it and bringing their kids here or whatever, for small-type gatherings; it’s kind of nice.”
One of the original reasons he envisioned the park was he wanted to make a space dedicated to friends who have passed on – young people who have died from mental health issues or opioid overdose.
“Many people I know have passed away in the last couple of years and it just made me feel so weird about the world,” said Catnip. “Then, we got COVID-19. I got to thinking: what could I do for the community with my hands?”
The Townsite mural is one of several large, outdoor art installations Catnip has created throughout Powell River. He has painted on the Townsite liquid waste treatment plant wall and the city’s water reservoir near Haslam Lake.
He has also done a number of smaller projects, such as garage doors. He said he has garnered a number of commissions, which helps keep him busy.
Catnip will continue painting large projects this year, having been secured to paint the old St. John Ambulance building in Townsite, which will be a recovery centre operated by Miklat Recovery Society.
“It’s going to be all with the theme of recovery,” said Catnip. “It will be about the journey of life and how to get out of a dark place. I’m going to be working with a team of artists.”
In terms of response he has received to his work, Catnip said he is surprised and it’s nice for people to accept what he does. He said people also understand it.
“They get what I’m doing, putting colour around and little messages,” said Catnip.
In putting together his art, Catnip uses vibrant colours. He said his inspiration comes from cartoon and comic books, learning how to draw that kind of subject matter.
He uses different kinds of paint to render his art. He said for the mural, he used house paint and spray paint. He sometimes also uses acrylics.
Catnip has some murals more than five years old and they are “still kicking, although faded a little bit.”
“I hope it lasts only until someone else wants to paint a new mural on it,” said Catnip. “Someone else will come along and want to do a whole new imagination on this town.”
Art has always been a big part of Catnip’s life.
“I only tried to get a real job for a short period in my life,” said Catnip. “I’m a full-time artist and have been for quite a while.”
Catnip said he has been trying to reach out beyond Powell River and find some opportunities on Vancouver Island. He said he’d love to do more big projects. He said he has his eye on Townsite’s new wastewater treatment plant and has written a letter to the city. He said he’d like to make it a community project.
Catnip said for people frequenting his Townsite project, he hopes they enjoy the work and respect the space by taking out any trash if they bring it.
“It’s a nice place to be peaceful and meet with a friend, or whatever,” said Catnip.
He said he is super-thankful to be able to do what he’s doing.
“It’s like a dream life,” he added.
To become involved in future projects, email firstname.lastname@example.org.