A&E » Arts

Pouty Elvis, tropical splendour, a pineapple here and there

Muralist Kris Kupskay commissioned to make 14 paintings on the walls of Whistler Blackcomb staff housing



In terms of size, Elvis's eyes are probably on scale with those of a gigantic squid, but they're a whole lot prettier. They're ginormous, but despite the scale, artist Kris Kupskay has captured the singer's doe-like glance of seduction — and it follows you around the room.

Kupskay is spray painting 14 murals on the walls of public spaces indoors at Whistler Blackcomb staff housing at Glacier Park, located at Base II on Blackcomb Mountain. Elvis is one of several icons he has captured in caricature. He has also stuck with his love of tropical themes. It's an eclectic series of work taking shape.

"Most of the murals have a portrait and some tropical stuff like pineapples, as well. A lot of my work plays on the subconscious of holidays. I'm just trying to remind people of their last holiday," Kupskay says.

He describes his style as "hyperrealism." What many of the murals also have in common is a Hawaii connection.

"Pineapples are starting to become my signature. It's fun. A lot of people are like, 'Where's the pineapple in this one, Kups?' I've been going to Hawaii since I was a kid. I've had my share of pineapples and am nowhere near finished with them. For me, it's a connection with positive energy, positive vibe and good memories that I hopefully translate into my paintings," he adds.

In order to see all the finished murals, it means travelling between the residences. Kupskay began work on the first in early November and expects to be done in February. He says it takes about a week for each to be completed.

"There are a bunch of lounges in Glacier Park where everybody does their cooking and hanging out. I proposed the idea of painting them... I talked to Pierre (Ringuette, the head of employee housing at Whistler Blackcomb at the time) about it and he was on board. I wanted to get in there and paint during the winter, because my (outside) spray paint work is too cold to do come October, November," Kupskay says.

"We started with five lounges, which turned into seven, eight, nine lounges. Now 14. I've been getting great feedback in terms of content, which they've left completely up to me... It's an opportunity to develop a lot of things I've wanted to work on, like contrasts and the portraits, too."

Kupskay has been painting full time since 2007. His work currently graces locations around Whistler, the Lower Mainland and Maui.

His murals transitioned from his experience in graffiti work, but not in the way that you would think.

"I have a degree in criminology, but I knew I didn't want to be a cop," he recalls. "You have to develop a thesis in your fourth year, so I went to a shop that sold paint and I told the guy that I was a university student looking for information. He told me there was a (spray painting) contest coming up and he asked if I could draw. I submitted a sketch, got accepted, I didn't sleep and was super anxious. From this, I ended up meeting one of the most established mural artists in Vancouver who then invited me the next day to work the following week on a mural out of in front of GM Place."

That was 10 years ago.

"Since then, I've not been able to stop painting," he says.

He hopes to expand his work for private clients, but has had a long list of public and business ones, including Prior, Sk8 Cave and Millennium Place. It is hard for Kupskay to put a number on how many murals he has already painted.

"Total complete murals? Hundreds," he says.

"It's a hustle, for sure. It's always on to the next one. But now that I am able to book murals in advance instead of having to scramble and find them it's better. In this last year, and especially with this Whistler Blackcomb commission, it's been nice to work to a schedule and not worry what is going on next."

When contacted, Ringuette said he was impressed by how much thought goes into Kupskay's work.

"Originally, I was going 'Oooh, a graffiti artist? I'm not sure we'd want that.' But then I went into his website and looked at his stuff and he was highly admired by a lot of my staff, so we brought him in for an interview to hear what his plans were and we loved his ideas," Ringuette says.

"What I liked about him was that he encompasses the environment around him. He took into consideration the audience that would be seeing his art. For housing, he took the theme of 'aloha' and it means 'thank you,' 'you're welcome' and 'goodbye' and that's the story of what our people are all about."