For local mural artist Paul Archer, it has always been about spreading positive messages.
His favourite place is high up on a scaffold, out of everyone’s way, with Bob Marley music blasting and a large unfinished mural before him. He called it his personal therapy.
Born in England on Christmas Day to a Mary Magdalene and church minister, Archer was already famous at birth and came with his family to Canada in 1966 at age three. First drawing Batman characters he saw on TV, Archer had a clear talent and passion for art that his parents supported wholeheartedly.
While airbrushing t-shirts in Victoria for tourists, he was invited by a New York City nightclub owner to paint before a live audience and decided to broaden his focus. To date, his work has taken him throughout the Caribbean, from airbrushing for Hard Rock Cafe to depicting wildlife in the Costa Rican jungle.
Prior to COVID-19, Archer gifted 120 prints at the 2020 Academy Awards and was invited by Beverly D’Angelo and Al Pacino to create murals in Los Angeles.
“It’s not about the money for me,” he said. “I just want to do what I love.”
Archer estimates he has completed about 15,000 pieces, most of them murals, with his highest at 18 storeys and widest at 200 feet.
He credited mother nature for always complying with his work, recalling that the wind always died down when he worked on a scaffold with no harness doing a high-rise building mural in Vancouver.
A group he started called Guns and Hoses has done work on the Vancouver Planetarium, Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver Airport, Canuck Place, Vancouver Canucks dressing room, BC Place, Virgin Megastore and CFOX.
Through his work, Archer has met such celebrities as Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Sean Connery, Lenny Kravitz, Bob Marley’s sons and Cheech and Chong.
The Eddie Van Halen mural on the back of Archer’s business, Archer Airbrushing, is, to his knowledge the world’s first mural of the late rock guitarist and was done just two weeks after his passing. A close friend, Archer described Van Halen as “the Mozart of our era” and chose to honour him on his own building after not hearing back from other businesses he reached out to.
Archer prefers realism over abstract work, with a particular interest in portraiture. He has painted objects as unique as toilets and artificial limbs, and locations as diverse as funerals, glory holes, children’s hospitals, stripclubs and churches.
“That also keeps me going, too, because every job is so different,” he said, adding that most clients trust him to know what is best for their mural.
Usually refraining from political artwork, Archer likes to focus on unity, children, nature and positive messages.
“I’m starting a trend of just putting up colourful, pretty, beautiful, positive messages that I think are what masses of people need right now, especially people in lockdown or people with mental health issues. You need something to brighten up their day.”
Despite having made a name for himself around the world, Archer hopes to contribute more to Victoria’s art scene.
“You see some of the big murals that have been around for a few years downtown and they’re just a mess, and a lot of it is in the prep,” he said, adding that re-clear coating and cleaning the mural in following years can also help.
The murals he airbrushed in the Cayman Islands, however, still looked great after being hit by a Category 5 hurricane.
Archer said he felt grateful to be nominated as best visual artist in this year’s Best of the City celebration, saying the honour was beyond him.
He recently set off on a provincewide road trip with his team and dog, Lannah, to airbrush murals around mainland B.C.
“A lot of the time, I’ll just hop out of the truck and say ‘set up, I’m going to paint that little wall, right there, right now’ and you just do a little 8×10 wall … and the next thing thing you know, you’ve got the whole city lined up for more.”
Archer currently has projects underway in Grand Forks, Penticton, Cranbrook and various smaller towns, along with a potential project happening in Summerland in response to an instance of graffiti hate crime.
“You’ve got to use [this talent] the right way and spread the love,” he remarked. “I call it ‘paint it forward.’”
To see more of Archer’s work, visit coroflot.com/paularcher.
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