Bob and Doug have some competition. Edmonton’s unofficial mascot Piney P has appeared on the scene with a message of love and encouragement for all of us: “Don’t hate, self isolate!”
But within a bold new graffiti mural on the old Avenue Theatre at 9030 118 Ave., there’s also a sort of collective Valentine, specifically for the COVID-19 pandemic.
In gorgeous stylized letters it reads, “Thank you, health care workers!! With love, from Edmonton.”
AJA Louden, 34, painted the bright mural last week on the theatre featuring his sunglass-wearing anthropomorphic pineapple, Piney P — now outfitted with a protective medical mask. Over the last few years we’ve seen the often sassy Piney make appearances on the LRT graffiti free wall, enjoying the sun (and even the rain) on the operations HQ at the Edmonton Folk Music Fest, and on shiny stickers on skateboards and bikes speeding around town.
Louden, founder of Aerosol Academy and who often works with young artists through community groups, has over the years done notably bang-on murals of Mr. Spock, the mighty Worf, Jason Kenney and Greta Thunberg.
On Friday, Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin posted a photo with Piney P’s latest cameo on her Instagram, noting, “When you’re out on a (socially distanced) stroll in the neighbourhood and come across a sweet message from AJA Louden.
“Thank you health-care workers, and everyone else on the frontlines.”
Irwin later added in a quick interview, “It’s just a couple blocks from my house. I love it. Art is such an important medium and AJA always has a way of sending such a powerful message.”
Contacted at home about the mural — titled Pandemic P. in its top left corner, — Louden notes, “Nobody asked me to paint this piece, but I’ve been helping organize the periodic redecoration of the building for a year or two, working with local artists including Rast and Jordoh to give the unused building some love. One of my old pieces wasn’t holding up any more so I replaced it with this.”
The gregarious artist is a big fan of 118 Avenue’s vibe. “I’ve been coming into this neighbourhood to visit friends, get my hair cut, or check out Kaleido Festival for years. I love that a building like the Avenue Theatre that has held so much of Edmonton’s history can still play a role as a host to the arts today — I’m grateful for that.”
Avenue Theatre first opened in 1934, closed in 1986 and was a performance space and skate park until it shut down again in 2014 — but its outer walls live on. “Big thanks to Arts on the Ave for giving us creative freedom and the opportunity for a voice,” says Louden, who of course already wears a protective mask when he paints.
The artist and occasional collaborative mentor is planning more activities in the circles he runs and paints in, “just lots of Zoom meetings with folks trying to get things figured out. I’ll have more to share when we’re ready, hopefully before the apocalypse.”
But what does Piney think of all this? How’s he holing up? “Piney loves to have fun with his friends — he’s less of an introvert than I am — so this rapid change has been hard for him. But he trusts in our health professionals and says that he needs to do his part to protect the people around him.”
I ask Louden if Piney will mind being called Edmonton’s unofficial mascot. “He would be honoured and flattered.”
But, laughs Louden, “I’m going to have to do some work to make sure it doesn’t go to his head …”
What’s your COVID story? How have you been dealing with the sudden change in daily life following the outbreak? We want to hear from you — at home, at work, behind the lines. Contact us at email@example.com