Mandy van Leeuwen is a Winnipeg artist specializing in large-scale works. From interior themed spaces to sprawling outdoor murals, and from fantasy to historic themes, Mandy has made a career of giving life to her hometown.
“It’s the way you have to throw you entire body into the work, the size and challenge of them is so energizing and rewarding,” she remarked, reflecting on her murals.
Murals, to her, were a way to connect with the community. They transformed spaces and could bring a plethora of stories and themes to life.
“Once I had the chance to do one, I was hooked.”
Her first large-scale opportunity was given through a mural program organized by Take Pride Winnipeg, an organization dedicated to city beatification. With the help of a friend, Mandy undertook the first of what would be many public murals, often of historical and cultural significance.
There would even be projects requiring her to work with heavy lift equipment and swing stages, adding both elements of liveliness and unique challenges to her process.
“When working from street level with scaffolds, I always feel like my presence interrupts the pedestrians, like the mural creation is changing the flow of things, but always working to contribute a positive enhancement to the streetscape.”
Though an avid muralist, Mandy is by no means solely relegated to negotiating the elements. A perusal of her online gallery shows a body of on-canvas work influenced by the Canadian countryside. The heavy logistical challenges of the mural painting contrasts sharply with her work on canvas.
“Canvases generally have a fresh uninterrupted space to utilize, where murals have the opposite, challenge-wise. Often, the weather or action on the street gets to dictate some of the outcome in the work. That aspect of the work adds to the challenges with each project, but also the experience, the chance encounters I meet along the way, makes the day pretty energized.
Although I always have a mural plan, working on art in the street often forces creativity on demand, while working in a studio setting is often solo and private, but energizing in finding those moments in experimenting and trying new things, or even finally getting an idea down that has been waiting to get out!”
I took advantage of the interview opportunity to ask Mandy about a couple of my favorite works. With her permission, I’m sharing them, along with their stories, provided by the artist, herself.
“After playing at The Real Escape’s first game room a few years ago, I really saw what I could do to add to the theatrics of the experience, so I introduced myself and we began a creative relationship for the business. They are now eight rooms strong with a bursting creative team. The Mavis House has its own story line based on a haunted house theme, and Players have 60 minutes to solve the puzzles and riddles to exit in time.
“With a Trompe-l’oeil approach, I worked out a facade for the exterior of the room as a dark street scene featuring an abandoned house that lines up the entrance to the room with a front door. Two other doors on the wall are covered up by the scene, one is transformed into a spooky window with jagged broken glass. Other features created by the team at RE include fencing exterior lighting and a huge stormy (cotton) clouds that flash with wild lightning (LED strips)”
“On the inside of the room I created a faux vintage wall paper with a stencil and added details throughout such as busted out plaster walls, cracks, and black mold. We often add further drama to the rooms, which we joke around calling it a “shitify” application as to weather the walls with wear and tear.
The space also includes the painted evidence of slasher blood stains and many suggestions of horror.”
“The Mission Tunnel was a commission for St. Paul’s High School, a Jesuit Roman Catholic all-boys university preparatory high school located in Winnipeg. With a large committee and a long content list, there were many topics to include in this tunnel, which is the connection to the school’s building expansions.
The Imagery was created to reflect the old history and new history of the school’s mission and vision. Much of the symbols and imagery are formed to unfold, and touch on this as you view it down the 68 foot long vessel. I am drawn to many historical art examples as well as current, and let some of them weave through the scenes.
In this mural, many of the influences include some new and old art such as Michelangelo’s “God” from Sistine Chapel, Bouguereau’s famous painting “Song of the angels”, but also notable in the modern side of the mural features Pancho Cardenas “Los Lobos Statue”. Throughout the tunnel, a huge collection of subjects and books are touched on, from an endangered species Piping plover to the schools main vein, The Crusaders.”
When asked for a comparison of challenges and time consumption, Mandy noted that, with a three-month creation time, the tunnel provided the larger workload. An accompanying slew of research had to be done to touch on the necessary religious themes, keeping with the challenges that historical works bestow upon creators. The more playful “Mavis House” provided a much less demanding two-week work total.
For those interested in seeing more of Mandy’s work, you can find her portfolio at www.mandyvanleeuwen.com, I recommend you check it out, I’ve only scratched the surface of her work today. You can also find her work on Facebook and Instagram.