Ask Victoria-based airbrush artist and rock and roll art specialist Paul Archer about late rock virtuoso Eddie Van Halen and the typically upbeat 60-year-old strikes a sombre tone.
A longtime fan of the iconic guitarist, Archer says news of Van Halen’s Oct. 6 death, after a lengthy bout with cancer, hit him hard. He was wrapping up a massive mural project in Grand Forks, B.C. and vowed to be the first street artist to muralize the musical legend.
“When we lose somebody really important on the planet, whether it’s a celebrity or an athlete or somebody or something that everybody was inspired by – even Takaya the wolf – I like to do a tribute or a memorial,” Archer says.
A few weekends back he worked feverishly to produce a lifelike rendering of the rock icon in action, wielding his trademark red-with-white-stripes guitar and wearing matching overalls. A cinderblock wall behind Archer’s Fort Street gallery is the canvas for the two-storey high airbrushed painting.
The mural has attracted international attention on social media, and many people familiar with Archer’s local paintings of rock icons have stopped by to check it out.
One local musician who was inspired by Van Halen’s revolutionary playing style in the late 1970s and mourns his passing, was excited to be photographed with the giant image of his guitar hero. Tomo Vranjes has been in bands in Victoria roughly 40 years and says he still injects Van Halen’s intricate fingerings into his guitar solos.
“I was going a little bit of the punk way [originally] and then I heard [Van Halen] and I said, ‘I want to play like that guy,'” Vranjes recalls. “I think Van Halen brought rock and roll back.”
Archer says Van Halen was “like a Mozart, like a Beethoven of our era and a lot of people don’t even know that.”
But the artist was not just an admirer, he has very personal treasured memories of the man.
In 1980 Archer was a stagehand at the old Memorial Arena, when the band Van Halen was on tour in Victoria. He was building a light assembly on stage before the show when something caught his eye.
“All of a sudden these bright shoes and bright pants walked right up to where I was working – I was smoking at the time – and Eddie Van Halen says, ‘you got another smoke?'”
Archer obliged and the two got chatting. Van Halen had heard Victoria was “like little England,” and wanted fish and chips. Archer recommended a shop downtown and was ready to provide directions, but was stunned when Van Halen said, ‘no, no, you’re coming.’
The two chatted for over an hour at the eatery about all manner of things, Archer says.
Later on at the arena, Archer nodded to Van Halen, who was tuning his guitars. The rocker invited his lunchmate in, chatted more and gave him a handful of personalized guitar picks – Archer says they’re worth quite a bit today. The crewman assumed a guitar tech would take the instruments onstage, but Van Halen asked him, ‘do you wanna do it?’
“I said ‘absolutely!’ So I got to haul both of his guitars and carry them up on stage,” Archer says with a grin. He crossed paths with Van Halen and the band twice more working their shows in Vancouver.
Find the mural off Broughton Street behind Archer’s gallery at 847 Fort St.