Known for his portraits of rock stars and raw images of the architecture and people of Vancouver’s traditional communities, Sayers, portfolio in hand, was a constant presence at events and demonstrations.
Sayers is now one of the many victims of the opioid crisis – nearly 5 people a day in British Columbia – another tragic victim of the ongoing failed policies known as the international war on drugs.
He was – like all the dead – also much bigger.
Born in Vancouver and living in Chinatown, Sayers was making a living as a designer and art director when he decided to leave the watered-down, cramped art world to devote himself entirely to painting his neighbours – and his neighbourhood.
The last 12 years of my life have been very interesting and creative – monetarily difficult, but creative, Sayers told Access Television in 2018 (above).
His choice of perspective was atypical – he painted alleys and shaded back entrances to iconic buildings rather than views from the street. Sayers painted his architectural works mostly in black and white, without people and with a sublime perspective. Everyone here has their head down, and I want people to look up, he said. Who paints the back of the Dominion building? I mean, why would you do that? It has its place and position in society.
Sayers’ portrait featured several members of Vancouver’s cannabis activist community, as well as other prominent voices in the fight against prohibition.
Jody Emery, a prominent pioneer of the movement and CEO of Cannabis Culture, who was immortalized in Sayers’ pencil, said: Very shocked and saddened by this news ….. His work blesses our building and we will ensure that his memory is preserved.
As an illustrator, Sayers says he’s drawn to everything from celebrities to rock stars. And the list is long. Sayers worked all the time – and showed his work all the time, too. On the bus, on the viaduct, in the park – with large groups or one person. I only wear my prints for crazy amounts of money. To stay alive in this world. But other than that, I’m happy to be here.
Sayers sold his prints at low prices and exhibited them publicly. One of these spaces was the Herb Museum, which was part of a large collection of objects organized by the determined activist David Malmö-Levin. I worked closely with Alan Sayers from 2005 to 2015. Together we made a lot of art – a series we called Psychopaths – featuring images of famous addicts past and present, Malmo-Levin said in an email exchange with Cannabis Culture Magazine. I gave a quote and a picture and Alan put it together perfectly and on time. Alan added a lot of little details in the background that I never would have thought of – like the lighting of the four hands fighting over the right to light Megan Fox’s joint, or the starry night behind Carl Sagan. Alan also did a lot of research on local architecture and hunting in the areas where I worked every day. It has been a pleasure working with Alan. I have over 50 of his original works if anyone is interested.
Neil Magnuson leads the Cannabis Substitution Project, a private, volunteer-funded crisis initiative in DTES. CSP distributes free cannabis products to people trying to recover from addiction to opioids and other powerful drugs. The CSP works from a mobile crisis response vehicle on the streets after landlords evict them and police raid.
Magnuson is an old friend of Sayers and one of his portraitists. Magnuson said to Sayers: He has been a positive and dynamic force on the East Side for decades. His influence and art will live on for generations to come, but he will be greatly missed.