The Flow of Art and Sport
Fluidity, motion, style, line…
Athletes speak of these things with attention and reverence. But so do artists. And while the world of athletics and creativity have traditionally been considered exclusive to one another, action sports have helped blur the lines over the past two decades.
“I think it comes down to Flow, that moment when your mind checks out and you really feel what you are doing,” says Kris Kupskay, aka Kups, a long-time Whistler artist/adventurer. “Flow is what we strive for. It can happen painting on a canvas or riding a dirt bike or out in the mountains.”
Or on a trampoline, a skateboard, or painting a concrete wall. The Flow state is a recognized psychological mental state that’s more commonly known as “being in the zone.” Olympic halfpipe athletes talk about finding their flow before a run, but anyone can tap into that in-the-moment, time-warping sense of focus and calm.
“We’ve all had times when we get to the bottom of the mountain and you don’t remember every part of the run,” Kups explains. “It’s the same with painting. I know it went well if 5 hours feels like 5 minutes.” (Photos below of Kups artwork.)
Kris started painting at a young age (his mom let him paint on the walls of his own room) but he “went pro” in 2007, and has been painting and working with youth groups ever since. Kups co-created Airhouse Squamish’s first large mural back in 2016 (with snowboarder/artist Taylor Godber), “We wanted to inspire the younger demographic to spread their wings so we did a sort of throwback aviation style kid,” Kups says. “The body language was important, having the wings spread open so that when kids look up they can feel the opportunity they have here. They can fly.”
Originally from Wales, UK, muralist and street artist Stewart Hughes, aka: MaryMary, is a 13-year Squamish local who says today’s youth are accustomed to a healthy mix of art and sport.
“The kids have a good grasp on it,” MaryMary explains. “They are very aware of art and graphic design. They’re used to seeing art on their skateboards and skis and snowboards. It was nice to have the time and space to do a piece on a larger scale. This was not something I could do on the street.” (Photos below of MaryMary artwork, far right of the Airhouse artwork in Squamish location.)
Street art, visual art created in public locations, has gained more social acceptance lately thanks to popular artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey, but there are still many who consider it vandalism and public defacement. Commissioned artwork put up on private property offers artists like MaryMary a chance to do more intricate work. “My intention as an artist is to increase the value of an area by equipping it with work that is enjoyable to look at it,” says MaryMary. “I am not a vandal, I am not tagging. I think about what I am doing, who will see it, why will they look at it. I like that freedom to think like that, and the edge that comes with not having permission.”
MaryMary does most of his street art in downtown Squamish, an area overdue for some beautification. “I focus on downtown because I want people to come downtown and enjoy it,” he says. “But I would also love to do more sanctioned walls. It allows you to relax a bit. Airhouse has big walls, they could go nuts in there and get a really nice art collection going.”
Kups agrees. “Graffiti, you might remember, is one of the five elements of hip hop. And people used to make fun of that but all those elements fit together and that is what made the culture full and fleshed out. It was diverse and contained a bunch of creative outlets so people could be diverse and creative. Now, 30 or 40 years later and Hip Hop is a hugely dominant cultural force all over the world. Putting art up in a public space like Airhouse just replicates that concept– it adds more ingredients to the diversity of the local culture.” (Photos below of Alex Fowkes mural artwork, in London and Spain.)
UK-based artist Alex Fowkes first arrived in Squamish after searching online for towns that were close to good snowboarding mountain and a city with an international airport. “I pointed to Squamish on a map and said, ‘this will do’” he laughs. During that research he discovered Airhouse had an indoor skateboard ramp.
“I am a skateboarder so as soon as I got here I came in and said, ‘You guys have some big walls here, how about some branded artwork, something that can show up in the background of photos and everyone will know where it is?” He began hand painting a giant, 3D Airhouse logo shortly thereafter.
A self-proclaimed “visual problem solver,” with a background in graphic design, Alex is a master of hand-drawn typography. He sees murals as a way to translate computer graphics into the physical realm and likes how combining the art with each unique environment adds character. “I draw influence from the old discipline of sign painting,” he says. “I like clean and tight lines. It’s a challenge but you know you got it when the line is straight and the point is pointy. You can just see it.”
And with three big installations in Squamish and a large outdoor ocean-protection-themed mural Kups did at Airhouse Nanaimo, everyone who comes to Airhouse is exposed to great art while they train, play, and move.
“Art aligns kids with the right kinds of people and ideas,” Alex says. “It shows them that creativity is a positive thing and teaches them to value it. It exposes people to other opportunities. Not everyone knows that art can be your job, and kids get very interactive when they see you painting live, much more so than the parents. They get stoked and say things like “what are you doing? Why are you doing that?” They are watching something new.”
Style, line, motion, flow… it’s all about connected and enriching our communities, one backflip/brushstroke at a time.
About the Author:
Feet moved to Whistler with his family at age 12 to live the dream. After time on the Island at University of Victoria, Feet returned home to the mountains where he co-directed and produced the seminal Canadian ski film Parental Advisory Vol 1. Feet also makes short horror films for fun, hosts many Whistler events, writes a weekly movie column, freelances for numerous top outdoor mags, and has been the editor of Mountain Life – Coast Mountains since it’s inception in 2006. He and his family now call Squamish, BC home.