Kitsilano: Carver rides the pine

(Note: This story has been corrected since it was first posted July 5)

Anyone who’s passed by the Pine Free Clinic, The Naam or Banyen Books and Sound on West Fourth Avenue would have seen artist Michael Asti-Rose’s work.

The Red Dawn, Blue Dusk bench, which in yellow cedar depicts a woman in labour attended by baby owls with another woman flying to her aid, sits in front of the Pine Free Clinic. Asti-Rose’s Leaping Whale in spruce rests in front of The Naam.

Asti-Rose, an award-winning filmmaker, discovered a love of bas relief wood carving while living in an artist colony in Taos, New Mexico in 1981. He since chiselled a series of public art benches.

“The activity’s very satisfying. There’s no middle line. It’s a very direct,” the 64-year-old resident of Kitsilano said. “A public bench is just for everybody, so first it’s just saying welcome everybody. I’m using it to try to infuse some symbolism, colour, beauty. I grew up in India, which is a highly carved, sculptural country so it fills my need to see some of that.”

The sculpture in front of the Pine Free Clinic, which was painted by artist Nyla Sunga, was pried off the bench over Easter weekend.

“Considering a year-and-a-half exposure, at least 2,000 people go by every day so that’s a very satisfying exhibit because most private shows are up and down, only the elite go and who cares,” Asti-Rose said before the sculpture was recovered in Gastown.

Twenty-four of Asti-Rose’s carved benches have graced the city, including one on the boardwalk in front of Dragonspace on Granville Island.

Asti-Rose and his family immigrated to Canada in 1960 and he started taking photographs that he published with his own text. He attended the London International Film School in England and then worked for the CBC as a film editor, notably on the editing team of The Nature of Things. His first experimental film Mirror Mirror won an award at the Atlanta Film Festival and an Ontario Arts Council award. His comedy Silent Movie that he filmed in B.C. won a Genie.

This win propelled Asti-Rose into new positions at the CBC. For a short time he worked as production assistant on Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Giant.

“That’s the guy in the headset who cues the giant,” Asti-Rose said. “I was mostly a film editor but I was promoted into production after I won that award. The CBC said I should be directing so I was moved up into the children’s film production.”

These days, Asti-Rose, a member of the Wreck Beach community who carved two benches while nude, focuses on double exposure and surrealist photography that mixes images of nature and goddesses.

“It’s more telling a story, narrative but without all the apparatus of filmmaking, which is so huge and expensive,” he said.

Lately, he’s been drawing with watercolour, rendering three-foot-long panoramas that echo the themes of his photography.

“They’re selling well,” he said. “I exhibit my art publicly on fences, mostly out on the Drive in front of the post office there by JJ Bean’s.”

Asti-Rose has two of his Postcards from Lotusland, photographs with short poetic pieces he’s written, in a show in Port Coquitlam.


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