BY JAMES FW THOMPSON
You may have noticed the appearance of a giant under-the-sea mural on Charlotte St. this past week. If you haven’t… well, it’s huge. Have you just not been on Charlotte St? It’s right next to the Maple Leaf Restaurant, so if you get a chance, go take a look!
But, that’s not the point. There’s going to be a NEW mural appearing over the next week, by the same artist: Allan Ryan (aka Uber5000) of North Sydney. This time the mural will be even bigger and will profile a much more familiar face on the back of the Highland Arts Theatre (visible on Charlotte St. right next to the post office).
“We had been considering the possibility of a mural on this wall for years, so when Allan came to Charlotte Street and produced his masterpiece,” says Wesley Colford, Artistic Director of the HAT, “We knew we had to take advantage of having him home.” Together, Colford and Ryan devised a plan to bring to life (on the very grand scale) one of Cape Breton’s most popular icons: a General of the Cape Breton Liberation Army (originally from the Old Trout Funnies and most recently on the HAT stage).
Currently residing in Toronto, Ryan is originally from North Sydney. He’s excited and encouraged by the reaction he’s been getting for his work (at both locations). It took me a while to get to interview him, because people kept stopping by, chatting about the work, congratulating him, just giving him a thumbs up, or “going off to buy me a coffee. It’s been really nice to see everybody come out. It’s a good vibe.”
Though the week ahead is looking good weather-wise for some outdoor painting, Ryan told of his recent adventure in painting his other downtown mural during a downpour. “I worked right through it. It was awesome. I felt like I was on a ship at sea, just getting soaked, painting the light above the water. It was a good feeling.”
Though there was some discussion between Ryan and Colford about what the mural would be, it was ultimately the artist’s final decision. Well… his and his dad. “I was taking a look at some of the photos [sent to him by Colford] and I was like ‘Oh geez, look at this guy.’ I handed the phone over to my dad and he said ‘That guy’s hilarious! That guy’s the best!’ and I said, ‘yeah! Yeah, we gotta paint this guy!’ So… we did!”
But it’s not just an image for the Highland Arts Theatre to enjoy. According to Colford, it’s something for all of downtown. “I think it’s wonderful that this is the second mural in two weeks in downtown Sydney. I think it really means a lot that people are willing to invest in making our downtown look exciting. It says a lot about the shifting mindset and while the changes are seemingly superficial, they speak to what I believe is a deep seeded desire for positive change. I hope we can inspire people to take on those changes themselves, even if every change isn’t on a 45 foot scale!”
Having the huge portrait on the back of the theatre is reminiscent of the former Vogue Theatre with its well known portrait of silent film superstar, Charlie Chaplin. The face was one of the best known and beloved landmarks in downtown Sydney. Will the Uber5000’s portrait achieve such acclaim? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, head on down to Charlotte St and watch the artist at work as he creates this giant mural for all to see. Maybe bring him a coffee (or an iced coffee if it’s as hot as it’s supposed to be).