Writing on the Wall by T.S. McNeil

Depending how technical you want to get, murals are one of the oldest forms of human art. From stone age cave paintings to Greek frescos, humans have been drawing on the walls for thousands of years. Like with many of the oldest art forms, from signing to making rhythms on things, the habit has persisted in the digital age, modern mural painting part of one of the oldest known art traditions.

Less popular now than in decades past, partly due to issues around accessibility, buildings being notoriously difficult to transport, a new generation has taken up the form, using much the same style and symbolism of old masters such as Diego River, Keith Haring, and Shepard Fairey.

Leading the way into the new millennium, alongside notorious names such as Banksy, is the Kazakhstan-born Canadian artist Ola Volo. Raised in the West Coast capital of Vancouver from the age of 10, Volo attended the prestigious Emily Carr University of Art & Design. Beginning her career in earnest in 2016 with the Arts Factory mural, Volo is among the most prolific and successful young muralists working today. Completing seven full-wall pieces between 2016 and 2021. A truly impressive achievement considering the scale of the work and Volo’s side hustle as a commercial designer. [Even with Michelangelo telling the pope “You’ll have it when it is done” while painting the Sistine Chapel.]

Her 2019 piece “Walla Volo” is the only one she finished that year, holding the record as the largest mural in Canada painted by a woman.
Influenced by Slavic Folk Art Volo’s art stands out from the crowd in terms of both muralists, past and present, and other designers. Using bright colors and evocative iconography, Volo creates entire fantasy worlds on the side of mostly modern buildings, bringing the old and the new together in a way few other artists, of any discipline, ever have.

Volo’s work can also vary in terms of the techniques and iconography used, sometimes resembling Soviet Cold War propaganda as in her untitled paintings of women with interestingly colored hair, to maze-like interlocking figures recalling Picasso’s “Guernica.” Each one with its
own internal narrative and logic.

The most impressive of Volo’s work, aside from the figurative painting she finished in Roubaix, France in 2021, is “Volo Walla” not least because it is technically a self-portrait. Which are hard enough to do while on solid ground. Using a combination of a cherry-picker and construction scaffolding to reach the giddy heights required for such a massive, record-breaking piece, the work itself depicts Volo seated as casually as possible, between what appear to be two different cities. To her right are a bird and a
sun rendered in a Slavic folk style, tying into the the items the painting version of Volo is holding in her hands. On her right are a pencil, a paint brush and a tube of paint. In the other is a stylized birdcage that appears to be mostly made of glass, with the door open.

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