There’s more to Jeff Marceau’s latest air-brush mural than meets the eye.
The mood of the art transforms through the day as light and shadows melt across the McIntyre Street alley. The high walls of the North Bay Capitol Centre and Alger Furniture make it that way as the Earth spins and the sun arcs across the sky.
But there’s something else beyond the visual. A giant-size Gord Downie belts out a Tragically Hip song in silence. A young and grungy Neil Young moves the soul with a halo of back-light. Oscar Peterson’s eyes smolder as if marinated in smoky-bar jazz.
What’s most striking about Marceau’s mural is how many slivers of Canadian music spirit come together for a heart-felt concert connecting generations.
Marceau, meanwhile, after traveling the full circle of a project’s life from inception to completion, is still coming to grips with the enormity of his accomplishment.
“I didn’t think it would be this big when I first started it,” he said during one of several interviews this summer.
Many photographers have tried to capture the spirit of his mural but Marceau said it’s one of those things that are best appreciated in person.
“I still don’t think the pictures do it justice, I think when people come down and actually see it …,” he says, turning to the mural and taking in his work to finish the sentence. “The positive remarks have been amazing.
Marceau hopes a piece of the mural goes home with everyone who views it.
“Maybe if they see somebody they don’t know and they look up who it is,” he said, describing just one way his work might nurture the joy of Canadian-made music. “And maybe they’ll find a new genre of music that they never would have otherwise listened to … and it’s all Canadians, so good for us, good for them.”
The paint was hardly dry and Marceau was looking for his next challenge and had met with North Bay Mayor Al McDonald about possibilities.
“It went really well,” he said of his visit to City Hall’s fifth floor office, adding the alley and part of the mural can be seen from the corner office window. After making a post on Facebook looking for his next brick canvas, he said there’s a list of leads “and hopefully there will be more stuff going up real soon, fingers crossed.”
Downie’s death last October, or more correctly stated, Marceau’s desire to show his respect for the Canadian musician, sparked the project but the seed was planted long ago. He said a long-time relationship with Bob Alger, owner of the building hosting the mural, was key. He had coached one of Alger’s kids gymnastics and trampoline decades ago and even painted a sign for him back in the day.
After Marceau painted the David Bowie memorial tribute at Ferguson and Oak streets above the Cornerstone a couple years ago, Alger told him to give him a call when the muse struck again.
“If you ever need somewhere where you want to do something, feel free to come on down and we can get this done,” Marceau said, quoting the Downtown Improvement Area board member.
“All these artists have given so much, I figure this is kind of the least
we can do for them”
“So when Gord Downie passed away last year, I thought, “OK, we gotta do something for that guy because he was such an iconic Canadian and he did everything,” Marceau said, explaining how a great many of the musicians on the wall contributed to their communities and country as a whole.
“All these artists have given so much, I figure this is kind of the least we can do for them,” he said, admitting more pride in some of the work than other efforts.
“Neil Young turned out so well,” he said, laughing when asked why. “Obviously it’s Neil Young, first of all, and it’s a really old photograph of him … I think it’s the hair … the way it looks like the light is coming out from behind him. I really feel like I captured, you know, something special with it. Vintage grunge. It’s rock and roll.”
There are several artists depicted in the mural North Bay music fans will recognize. The local art community lost several respected musicians in recent years, including Barry Green, Jim Harney and Peter Sabourin, aka Sab.
“Barry Green, from Records on Wheels, I like the way he turned out,” Marceau said about adding memorial tributes for the local trio.
“And I didn’t know this, but he actually worked for Bob Alger, so when I put him on there and Bob came out, he got kinda choked up when he saw it,” he said.
“It’s crazy when you can do a piece of artwork like that and it affects people like in such a deep, emotional way … so it turned out pretty good.”
Marceau has a fiery passion that sparkles in his eyes when talking about music, musicians and just about anything cool. He has a powerful ‘I dig life’ vibration that resonates as genuine positive energy and it empowers those around him.
“And Sab … it was crazy, when I looked up that picture on Sab’s Facebook page, I swear, there’s pictures of him and half the people on the wall,” he said.
“I knew Sab was a great musician and I went to see him a few times…but I didn’t realize he was actually that successful,” Marceau said.
“And I had to put
Jim Harney up there,” he said. “I know him from doing plays with the theatre
company in town, unfortunately I didn’t know Jim as well, but I think he played
a pretty big part in the local music scene, and the arts scene in North Bay.”
What does Jeff Marceau get out of air-brushing such a large mural?
“Just the satisfaction that people really appreciate it and enjoy it,” he said. “Hopefully it will encourage or inspire other people to come up and maybe try to do some artwork, and if anybody would like to collaborate on something, I’d be more than happy to do that.”
Marceau, who fell in love with drawing while copying comic books with a pencil as a kid, said the art of air-brushing came much later after he grew frustrated trying to use a paint brush.
“I could never control a paint brush,” he explained and one day a friend of told him to try his air-brush equipment. “Soon as I put it in my hand it felt like a pencil again, and as soon as I felt it, it just felt comfortable, just felt right.”
He recommends the medium to others.
“If you can draw with a pencil, grab and air brush, it’s not a big jump. I just love for the shady and what you can do with it.”
What motivates Marceau and why is mural art important for this city?
“Maybe improve North Bay, and maybe make it look better … and I think it brings out a bit of pride. People want to make the downtown better than what it is and it’s got lots to offer and why not beautify it?”
“What I want to do is another Canadian wall but it will be like iconic people (of the city), like Kate Pace,” he said. “There’s a lot of local talent that North Bay has that deserve to be up on walls like this, hopefully we find another wall and do another one soon.”
For those interested in seeing Marceau in action, he’s volunteered to do a live painting during a fundraiser Sept. 14 for the Alzheimer Society’s respite care services in North Bay. Called Look, Listen & Laugh (Because Dementia Sucks), it’s a variety show gala involving musicians, artists and stand up comedians at the Grande Event Centre. Marceau’s work will be among the donations being sold in a silent auction.
For a short video of Jeff Marceau speaking about this mural, click this link.