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An Artist Paints ‘The Faces We Pass By Every Day’

Meet the people of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in Alex Sandvoss’s oil-on-canvas paintings.

By Paula Carlson 4 Jul 2018 | Megaphone Magazine

Paula Carlson is interim managing editor at Megaphone Magazine, where this story originally appeared.

Fascinated by the nuances of human interaction, artist Alex Sandvoss has chosen apt subjects for her debut exhibit: People she met on the streets of the Downtown Eastside, including Megaphone Magazine vendors.

In exquisitely crafted oil-on-canvas paintings, Sandvoss creates strikingly lifelike images of folks she has engaged in conversation on the street.

In a process that begins with 300 to 400 photos of each person, Sandvoss starts by introducing herself and chatting with her subjects, and then watches for when they “sink back into themselves” and forget she’s clicking away on the camera.

“I want to capture their true character,” Sandvoss explains. “Not everyone is guarded. I look for the exact moment the connection is made.”

Each painting takes months to complete.

851px version of Pat.jpg
Pat. Oil painting by Alex Sandvoss.
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Teresa. Oil painting by Alex Sandvoss.

The multi-talented Sandvoss, who grew up in South Surrey and White Rock, has a bachelor’s degree in music (jazz) from McGill University in Quebec. While she was there, she took up painting in order to combat school stress.

After finishing university and returning to B.C., Sandvoss landed a job at Opus Art Supplies. It wasn't long before she decided to pursue art full time. She quit her job, moved back home and taught herself how to paint in earnest.

For 24-year-old Sandvoss, “it’s essential to create something for which I have a fervour.”

So she came up with the idea of making portraits of the men and women of the Downtown Eastside — including Megaphone vendors, whom she met as they sold the monthly magazine.

“I have created a body of work intending to depict the strength, dignity and beauty of the people of Vancouver who we pass by every day: the homeless and low-income,” she says. “I feel that these individuals are often shut out due to their difficult situations. Through these paintings, I hope to remind viewers that we all belong to one global community. Their beauty needs to be seen.”

Eleven paintings will be on display — and for sale — at Sandvoss’s inaugural exhibit next month. The Faces We Pass By Every Day opens Friday, July 6 at Visual Space Gallery, 3352 Dunbar St., starting at 6 p.m.

The original paintings range in size from 12” x 16” to 40” x 60”. There will also be prints available. Some of the people who are the subjects of the paintings will be in attendance.

Twenty per cent of total sales will be divided 11 ways and shared with the subjects of the paintings. Sandvoss also plans to donate a further 20 per cent to organizations which are helping in the fields of addiction, mental health, homelessness or social housing, including Megaphone Magazine.

You can follow Sandvoss on Instagram at @sahdahtay.

851px version of Rick-D.jpg
Rick D. Oil painting by Alex Sandvoss.
1200px version of Arlene.jpg
Arlene. Oil painting by Alex Sandvoss.

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