Downtown East is booming – Artist Alan Sayers has died.
You may not know his name, but if you live in Vancouver or are a regular reader of this magazine, you have seen his work.
Famous for his portraits of rock stars and raw images of architecture and people from Vancouver’s traditional communities, Sayers, with his portfolio under his arm, was a constant presence at events and demonstrations.
Sayers is now among the legions of people killed – nearly 5 people a day in British Columbia – in the opioid crisis, another tragic casualty in the ongoing failed policy known as the international war on drugs.
He was – like all the dead – also much bigger.
A Vancouver native and Chinatown resident, Sayers was earning a living as a designer and art director when he decided to leave the watered-down, money-losing art world to devote himself full-time 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 (see above).
His choice of perspective was atypical – he painted alleys and shaded back entrances to iconic buildings rather than a view from the street. Sayers painted his architectural works mainly in black and white, without people and from an elevated viewpoint. 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.
The portrait of Sayers featured several members of Vancouver’s cannabis activist community, as well as other prominent voices in the fight against prohibition.
Jodi Emery, prominent pioneer of the movement and CEO of Cannabis Culture, who was immortalised by Sayers’ pencil, said: Very shocked and saddened by this news …. His work graces our building and we will ensure that his memory is preserved.
As an illustrator, Sayers says he has drawn everything from famous people to rock stars to a man. And the list is long. Sayers worked all the time – and showed his work all the time, too. On the bus, on the elevated train, in the park – with large groups or just 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 such space was the Herb Museum, part of a larger collection of artifacts organized by determined activist David Malmö-Levin. I worked closely with Alan Sayers between 2005 and 2015. Together we made a lot of art – a series we called Psychopaths – of famous drug users 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 neighborhoods 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 in them.
Neil Magnuson leads the Cannabis Substitution Project, a private, volunteer-funded crisis intervention initiative of the DTES. The CSP distributes free cannabis products to people trying to break their addiction to opioids and other powerful drugs. The CSP operates from a mobile crisis intervention van on the streets after landlords have evicted them and the police have searched them.
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.