Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail
In a back alley in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, street artist Ken Foster spray-paints long black lines on a steel garage door, the first strokes in what will ultimately become one of the moody, alleyway paintings that have become the artist’s signature.
Behind him, James Hardy – who paints under the name Smokey Devil, or Smokey D – outlines the upper torso of a grimacing, goateed man, crack pipe in hand. To its right, in bright blue, he spray-paints: “We must eliminate stereotypes, hypes and crack pipes” – a nod to a 1989 lyric by rapper KRS-One.
Steps away, Shawn Hefele, looks over his painting of an oversized angel, wings spread and tears streaming from its face, carrying the limp body of an overdose victim against a backdrop of pinks and purples. “For all the loved ones we have lost,” a banner overhead reads. Mr. Hefele, who tags under the name Heph, calls the figure the Angel of East Hastings.
The artists are among more than a dozen being commissioned to paint permanent murals along the length of the alley, which has long been one of the city’s busiest for illicit drug use.
It is an unsavoury stretch for many. It is located behind a supervised drug-use site and the DTES street market, littered with garbage that never seems to entirely…