One of Kitchissippi’s best-known street artists paints a picture of his future

By Charlie Senack – 

Since moving to Ottawa six years ago, Arpi, an acclaimed street artist, has had an active role in Ottawa’s art scene.

He has been the creator of many murals in Kitchissippi, including a large composition over the entrance of Railbender Tattoo Studio located at Armstrong and Hamilton. On that same building, two finches add a touch of colour to the wall of the former location of the Orange Art Gallery. Arpi is also responsible for a mural on Lowrey Street near Garland, and another near Maker House on Wellington Street West.

After three years of working out of what he calls his “nest” in the former location of LOAM Clay Studio located at 7A Hamilton Ave., Arpi had to vacate the space at the end of December.

File photo of Arpi by Ted Simpson

While Arpi said his agreement with the landlord would eventually come to an end, the timing couldn’t have been better.

“Right now there is this new opportunity that is panning out — basically a dream job for me — working as an arborist at the Experimental Farm in the arboretum, which in my view is an Ottawa gem,” he reveals.

Working with wood and trees is not something that is new for Arpi. When he’s not painting murals around the community, he’s using scraps of wood and is turning them into art.

“Nature is the ultimate artist and beauty is all around us,” says Arpi. “If you’re open to it or not, it’s there. If you look at a forest, it’s beautiful. If you look at a tree, it’s beautiful. Even if you look at one leaf, it’s beautiful. The best thing we can do is learn from our environment and work with it.”

File photo of Arpi by Andrea Tomkins

That was Arpi’s main message at his final art show held at his “nest” on December 14. The show titled “What about us!?” gave visitors to the gallery a chance to reflect on life’s meaning in a world where “most people see themselves as socially conservative,” according to Arpi.

The theme of his show also focused on life’s meaning. Labeled “Conservative imperialism and the progressive individuals in the year of the dog,” Arpi says the idea came after reflecting on one of the lowlights of his career.

Earlier this year, Arpi was commissioned to paint a two-storey mural of a French bulldog on the side wall of a building on Stirling Avenue in Hintonburg. When someone complained to the Ottawa bylaw department, they told the owner to cover it up.

The story garnered a lot of media attention in fall of this year, which Arpi says was not positive.

“I had a couple of opportunities this fall that totally got squandered,” says Arpi. “I lost half a dozen projects this year alone, but there are countless other things that maybe will never get to be because for a lot of people it was an ‘I told you so’ moment.”

Arpi says the reason why customers backed out of projects is that they were concerned about bylaws. Instead, some chose to go through the formal permission process.

After Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper put forward a motion, council unanimously approved an exemption and allowed the dog mural to stay. A review is underway to make it easier for homeowners, while still respecting the neighbourhood.

Arpi started his new job at the Central Experimental Farm on December 18, but said he will continue to do art while riding the wave of opportunity.

“It is possible I become one of those people who lives a normal life,” jokes Arpi. “[But] I doubt it because I think art is a part of who I am. I’ll play it by ear.”

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