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Best outdoor art in Ottawa – Centretown edition

By Sanita Fejzić on September 17, 2013

Art is not exclusive to museums or galleries. It’s all around us and in many ways, it’s inside us: our way of being and seeing; what we call the art of living. Yet how many times do we rush our way to work or play, unaware of the beauty that surrounds us? Not just natural beauty, with its mystical ebb and flow, but architectural splendour or sculptural masterpieces? Outdoor art, a more inclusive umbrella term, is what makes me want to walk slow and savour the city. 
 
At first, I wanted to write a piece that filtered my favourite works around Ottawa, but I quickly realized that was impossible. There are simply too many good works to choose from. Here are my top five from Centretown; expect other areas of downtown Ottawa to be covered in the weeks to come. 

1. The unknown sculptures of the British High Commission

The unknown sculptures of the British High Commission.

The unknown sculptures of the British High Commission.

 

These are perhaps the most overlooked sculptures in town. Small and intimate, they hide in the outdoor garden at the entrance of the British High Commission on Elgin, at the corner of Queen. Misunderstood might be another label I would hesitantly place on them: as I photograph these red-shoed personifications of bushes and trees, two young women escape a small cry of judgment, “Ewww, is that modern art?” I have tried to find the artist behind these sculptures, in vain. I rang the Commission’s bell, but the voice behind the door sent me to their website. Even Google couldn’t help. I left two messages with their Media Relations Officer, and no answer. Maybe it’s best to shed the weight of their background and admire the work as it is. They evoke the playfulness of childhood, when you gave yourself permission to be a tree trunk or a bush. The red shoes are striking, and I am left with a sense of wonder as I admire their humble beauty.

2. Raccoon Mural by Christopher Griffin

Raccoon Mural by Christopher Griffin.

Raccoon Mural by Christopher Griffin.

 

A highway exit, Kent Street’s traffic appears to be its main attraction. There are few pedestrians, if any. And why should there be? Apart from a few obscure businesses, there’s little going on. Most of Centretown life gravitates around Bank and Elgin, and yet, there’s good reason for you to take a detour and venture into new arteries of this loved quartier. Of particular interest is the new mural by Griffin, a local artist whose imprint is marking the city’s landscape. Like claw scratches on concrete, three raccoons grace the wall of a building of Kent near Sommerset. Just a few blocks down, at the corner of Gladstone, you’ll discover his gallery which is graced by the presence of three elephants (see if you can find them elsewhere in town, they’re well scattered) and admire the owl murals as well as other critters which adorn his windows and walls.

3. “Due Process” by Bruce Garner

Due Process by Bruce Garner.

“Due Process” by Bruce Garner.

 

My fascination with Bruce Garner’s “Due Process” is apparently endless. Tall, lean cylinders, with anonymous natural stone faces, take up the majority of the sidewalk besides the Courthouse on Elgin and Laurier. Their presence is immediately felt, yet how many of us overlook this magnificent body of work? They are the archetypes of human justice. At the forefront, the short two figures face the intimidating frontier that stands tall in the background. At centre stage, two figures break face-off, and stand in the middle of those who make up our legal system. There is no divine justice here. The cold bronze, the emotionless faces­–-this is human law, systemic and impersonal.

4. Rhino by Stefan Thompson

Rhino by Stefan Thompson.

Rhino by Stefan Thompson.


RhinoClose-upThe border between high art and low art is blurring. Has already blurred, if you consider the position of street art in the context of contemporary art. Sheperd Fairy, for example, the man behind the brand, “Obey,” is in New York’s MOMA collection. The work of British street artist Bansky is considered cultural heritage and is protected. While Ottawa’s bylaws do not (yet) tolerate graffiti and street art, there are some notable spots that permit it and local business that commission it. One such business is the Invisible Cinema at the corner of Bank and Lisgar. At one point, the garage walls on the right were filled with street art, but all that remains is Stefan Thompson’s blue rhino instillation on the left. Enter the indie movie shop and you’ll find a wall dedicated to art, and some amazing American classics and indie movies from around the world.

 

 

5. Space Invader on Bank and Gladstone

Space Invader, unknown artist.

Space Invader, unknown artist.

 

The little ceramic critters have invaded the world; it’s about time they hit Ottawa. Started by a group of street artists in Paris, France, space invaders have become an international classic. They stand in the street corners of Barcelona, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong. The first time I noticed the green invader at the Bridgehead on Bank and Gladstone, I was thrilled. I used to live on that corner a few years ago, and I wished I could smile back at them. I’d spent a year chasing space invaders in Paris and I have an affinity for them. I haven’t noticed any others in Ottawa, and this is a message to whoever put this one up: don’t stop now. Invade!