Kris "KUPS" Kupskay is standing in one of seven mangled, rusting train cars that are scattered near the Cheakamus River, remnants of a derailment in the late 1950s.
Behind him, the weathered face of an old man, long white hair and beard blowing in the breeze surrounded by little pink flowers, is spray painted on the wall.
Moments earlier, a tourist who happened to be hiking the woods near the wreck in the pouring rain, stopped to chat and, upon discovering Kupskay is the artist of the stunning piece, asked him to pose next to it for a photo.
He happily obliged.
"Congrats man," offers the visitor's friend, who introduces himself as a longtime local, while the pair climbs out of the container. "I've seen your work around town. It's really good."
Despite having moved to Whistler only a year and a half ago, Kupskay's highly stylized, bright, vivid characters are everywhere. Most recently, the former Maple Ridge resident, who works both in spray paint and acrylic, largely depending on the season, was chosen to paint a 60-foot mural on the side of the Whistler Museum depicting several images of local lore.
"There are stereotypes. Some people think you have to be in a gang to spray paint," he says. "There have been more than a few people who, when they met me, were like, 'I thought you'd be more hardcore, dude.' Anybody can paint. It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like."
As if to drive home the point, he gestures at a pineapple incorporated into the sleeve tattoo winding up his arm. "I love Hawaii and pineapples and the beach and surf," he adds. "Pineapples and tikis are starting to show up (in my work). Little drink umbrellas and waves, it's my new focus."
Kupskay took the Pique on a tour around Whistler recently to hunt for these hidden tropical trademarks and check out some of his spray paint art spots.
The train wreck
Kupskay helps an ill-prepared journalist in new leather boots down slick rocks, through narrow mountain bike trails and across train tracks until he hits the first train car covered in bright tags and bigger, more complex pieces. The rest of the cars are spread out among the trees, creating cavernous, pop-up galleries of sorts. "It's cool, but it's a shitty canvas," Kupskay explains. "They're all broken and ripple-y and water damaged. No matter what, your painting is going to flake off in six months to a year anyway."
He might not have painted here in a while, but he's left evidence of past visits — namely, a curious character in tropical garb. "This guy's got a little tiki drink umbrella and he's got a pineapple neck tie," Kupskay points out. "He's just a fun character and I kind of dressed him up. He's on holidays, you know?"