The Murals of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Murals
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'A Century of Solidarity'.
96 feet. X 120 feet
9200 square feet


Location: NW corner Broadway & Garry; East Face

Occupant: Union Centre Building

District: City Centre

Neighbourhood: South Portage

Artist(s): Charlie Johnston (C5 Artworks)

Year: 2020

Sponsors: Union Centre, Manitoba Federation of Labour, Take Pride Winnipeg!

 

Mural of the Year 2020   

CTV coverage of our Mural of the Year is here.

Marie Gomez for CityNews filed this excellent piece on our Mural of the Year which may be viewed here.

Charlie Johnston: "Tom Ethans put me onto this project. Tom approached me about the Mural and I got excited! I met with the directors of the Manitoba Federation of Labour and we started to discuss the concept and project. It was to essentially celebrate a century of solidarity."

"It's really a 'then-and-now' piece: how things were before the strike happened; and what impact the strike had on the contemporary working class citizens. The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike launched the labour movement in Canada."

"I began working on the concept in September of 2019. The actual production and rendering at the wall took two months. I went through several concept drawings before we came to the final design. A lot of the emphasis was on being visually representative and illustrating inclusivity in the multicultural aspects of the labour workforce in general."

"A lot of things were being brought in front of mind to me. Part of what I was feeling was that time isn't real- the past and the present are inextricably intertwined; and how to reflect that sentiment in the artwork itself. So the connection between the people since the era of the 1919 strikers and the people who are the working class heroes of the day. So there's a lot about that. Also I was really interested in the interplay of images and text and representing the ghost signs which are derived from that era in Winnipeg. It was really important to me to reference and speak to this aspect of Winnipeg being a sign writer myself."

"This Mural was an opportunity to bring together everything I love about Mural art in one big magnificent piece. It's the monumental portraits, the power of massive colour fields, the ghost texting, and a lot of old school stuff. It's about making a broad sweeping statement- it's a little bit of everything about Mural Art and the art form itself."

Walkthough of elements, imagery and cast of characters:

"All of the main figures have their own story. In fact I made up back stories for them! But not so much for the teeming masses of humanity in the background. Those were composites derived from actual archival photographs. I drew imagery from those strike photos- just a sea of hats! When you start to look closely at those figures with a magnifying glass you'll see pretty much every walk of life person out there-men of all demographics; women and children were out demonstrating because of the fact that there was a lot of slave labour type environments both for children and women that was the kind of stuff they were fighting to end or change."

"All of the greyscale images were derived from those sources. Some of the captions were pulled straight from the headlines. It was important to me to put that particular newspaper on there as well because it was the newspaper of the time and on the record."

"The main characters have stories and in a way mark the evolution of the working class since the strike."

Millie the Machinist- "She's a figure of the Fifties- a hardworking git 'er done gal! She's part homage to my Mom whose name is Mildred. She was a hard working woman from these times. Her last place of employment was just down the road.- less than a block away from this spot. Millie the Machinist is my Canadian version, giving Canada its own version of (Norman Rockwell's) Rosie the Riveter. Millie, with her machinist tool is turning the wheel of time, in a manner of speaking. Her gentle but mighty grip moves the masses towards self-actualization."

Fernando- "He's a 70's or 80's type guy. He's an office worker. I'm representing different aspects of the labour union in different characters. I thought it was important that, here, a white man is on the phone- LISTENING. There are many who feel that the role of the white male in society is to do a better job of listening- to shut up and listen: to the marginalized, to the female perspective, and the less represented people in society. The cord of the phone he's holding goes across towards the black woman- There's a subtle message there for better communication between genders and races."

Aja Orisha- "Aja is an Orisha, (or a human recognized as a Goddess). She is a powerful Goddess of Healing, also known as the spirit of the forest and herbal healers in Santerian religious practice. You are lucky if you will be blessed with her remarkable magic, as she holds the secrets of botany and green herbs and tends to pass her skills to the Yoruban people who desired to practice this art. She is a double homage to the Black Lives Matter movement, and also to the Nurses who have given & sacrificed the most during the pandemic. She is given the place of greatest honour. It was important to me that the Black Nurse was at the apex of the circle."

Ceres/Cerise- "Named after theRoman Goddess of agriculture, fertility, grains, the harvest, motherhood, the earth, and cultivated crops. She's a grocery worker, another front line worker, bringing an abundance of harvest."

Allan W- Aboriginal man at work, both learned and strong, literally a 'man of letters'- half in the spirit world of ghost signs and ancestors, half in the physical world- digging in, marked by an aboriginal eagle tattoo. I got some direction on this from the Indigenous Knowledge Keeper I'm working with on several projects, Jeannie Redeagle. I told her about this figure and what I was trying to achieve with him, and how to best represent him as indigenous. We talked about the indigenous eagle tattoo on his arm. That was the way to mark him. For me, he is a crossover figure. He's a man of knowledge, a man of means, and a man who works and gets things done. Literally, one of the ghost signs crosses his face. He's in between the two worlds of labour and of intelligence and thought. He crosses that bridge between the two worlds by having the sign intersecting with his features. The word READ is hidden inside the word BREAD. The two words converge into him! He's earning his daily bread but he's also literate and thoughtful and intelligent. He's doing the hard work. He's digging up the ghosts of the past, in a way. The figure is named after Jeannie's father."

Stanley- "The other labourer for me represents the two cultures (indigenous and no-indigenous) working together. He's a neo-colonial working class Canadian man only identifiable by his Anglo Saxon complexion and his left ear. He's there mainly just to bear down and do the work. His job is to sublimate his ego, listen, and dig up the dirt- the news of the day. He's named in honour of my father."

Charlie the Painter- "That's me! Also part of the crossover between the past and present, literally, is the old school painter, leaning in and holding the ladder, holding it in place so that the grocery working figure can bring abundance to the people now. This turn of the century Sign Writer is the giver of voice, the one who holds the ladder so that the front line workers of today may rise up to a higher standard- a real idea man! You can imagine that he's the guy that could have painted the protest signs."

The two boys I named Robert & Douglas. "Yes, Robert & Douglas- their friendship would last a lifetime, forged in the fires of the Winnipeg General Strike. Their children would marry. Their grandchildren, named after them, would become iconic Canuck brethren Bob & Doug Mackenzie. Good day, eh?!"

"'Marshall McLuhan' is who I called the figure at the bottom right because he was an iconic Canadian figure, philosopher, scholar and visionary. What the actual Marshall McLuhan is remembered for is The Medium is the Message. This was the advent of technology and the information age and how that's going to transform the conveyance of knowledge and information, and control of it. His literature was about being on guard against systems of control and who are the gatekeepers of those systems. An interesting spirit is summoned forth by this character with acts of protest where people cut the s*** and say what they think."

"One of the techniques I use a lot is the gradient blend. So that massive gradient blend was the first thing to tell the story. It's purposeful. It starts with that super intense colour orange which for me is the colour of the labour movement; as well as blasting the downtown with a super intense colour, which can be seen for miles away. I literally used up every can of orange in the city at the time as my background on the Strike Mural. The blend itself tells a story of intense bright orange colour of the labour movement rising up from the greyscale values so associated with the era of the strike, and the hardships which were sucking the colour and vitality of oppressive machinations of the industrial revolution."

"As an aside, I was at a sort of at a crossroads when two great movements collided. Early in the project, I was on the boom truck working away roughing in the figures on the wall. Right there on Broadway the Black Lives Matter protest march was happening! So, while working on a Mural about one great demonstration protest in Winnipeg, I was witnessing another great one at the same time! It was pretty cool."