Richmond City Councillor Chak Au is determined to “rock” the Richmond art scene, literally, both locally and beyond.
Au is working to promote painting on rocks as an activity that brings people together and inspires them to tell their stories and relate their experiences, much in the way the age-old art form did when it was originally adopted.
“Rock painting is a very ancient art,” says Au, who is also president of the Canadian Rock Paintings Association. “It goes back as far as when people still lived in caves, and it’s an easy form of art to pick up.”
Au credits the creative accessibility and affordability as two of the artform’s strongest selling points.“It’s both inexpensive and doesn’t demand a high skill level to create your work of art,” he describes.
Keeping up connection through art
The popularity of rock painting increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in many cases, it was a conduit to helping those feeling isolated remain connected.
“Many people used painted rocks to send messages of concern, love and care,” Au explains.
While it is a relatively simple and uncomplicated form of art, Au says it can be raised to higher levels while at the same time widening its popularity, building on the current, growing base of rock painting fans.
Earlier this year, a group of artists in Vancouver working on a project to revitalize heritage buildings in Chinatown painted on rocks. They came to Au asking if there was a place for their work to be put on display, to which he encouraged them to find a way to incorporate their efforts in Richmond.
Thus, the Richmond on the Rocks event came to be, delighting visitors this September’s Culture Days in Richmond.
“We wanted this to be a participatory event and invited people to pick up their paints and brushes, find some stones to paint on, and produce art that spoke to different aspects of life in Richmond,” Au describes.
Last summer, a trio of community workshops were also held to bring together rock painting artists, drawing 80 to 100 people ranging in age from six to 60.
A contest was also staged to promote rock painting, which garnered nearly 200 entries that told the story of life in Richmond and was featured among the Culture Days events.
Engaging Richmond and beyond
“We could see a real resurgence in this type of art,” Au reveals.“Painting on the rocks differs from using other, more traditional materials. Each rock is different in terms of texture, shape and size. As a result, it can represent an image more vividly, in some cases.”
And that is one of the big attractions of this specific type of art.
“People can tap into their imaginations, use their individual perspectives, and make use of their rock’s special features to represent what they see and experience,” he continues.
Another convenience of rock painting means you can display them just about anywhere, from an art gallery with special lighting to outdoors in your garden.
Au is hoping the popularity will grow to include other communities outside of Richmond.
“I want to get more people engaged,” he says, adding it could be shared with Richmond’s sister cities around the globe.
“That’s probably a good place to start. We could maybe display the art there and perhaps have a joint venture to promote this type of art. My hope is to use this special and unique form of art to make connections for Richmond in other places.”
Au says he has already received inquiries from other cities in B.C. and even south of the border in the U.S.