Art from the air: Large-scale design wraps building near Saint John Airport


What started as digital artist Leala Hewak designing on a computer in Toronto with a glass of wine in hand turned into a large-scale art installation wrapping a building in Saint John.

Dan Thompson is the CEO and founder of Italic Inc., the building that is now home to Hewak’s tartan design. Thompson said when the first panel went up, everyone started to giggle and they spent the rest of the day taking selfies with the installation and posting them. 

Hewak and Thompson had collaborated in the past in Toronto on some art projects, so they both had experience doing public artworks.

When Thompson was in Toronto at Italic’s first location, Hewak approached him. 

WATCH | The colourful building you might see if you’re flying into Saint John

‘Everyone started to giggle’ : Toronto artist’s digital design gets wrapped around entire building near Saint John airport

“I said, ‘why don’t you just let me wrap your new building with one of my big series of digital paintings called Plaids,'” said Hewak. 

The art installation is called Loch Ness and Hewak said it’s meant to make people feel that there’s something beautiful to enliven an urban industrial area. 

Hewak has attention deficit disorder and her area of focus is disability art. She said there were mistakes and surprises that happened during the process of creating Loch Ness because of her ADD, including challenges with Photoshop and  her camera. 

“You can … give up or be sad, but I just tried to go with those mistakes and then look at them as surprises and try and pick out the errors and make them joyful and fun,” said Hewak. 

Leala Hewak said she created Loch Ness to make people feel that there’s something beautiful to enliven an urban industrial area. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Printing, pasting and recycling

Italic does digital printing, said Thompson, who is originally from Saint John. The roll-fed printer used to print the project takes a 10-foot roll of media.

Then the building was panelled, similar to a wallpaper job, said Thompson. 

He said it was interesting doing a building wrap in a small town since he was used to doing it in larger centres such as  Toronto. 

“It was really fun to work with our crew here in Saint John because this was the first time that they had ever done a project like this,” said Thompson. 

The plaid won’t stay on the building forever, and Thompson said they hope to do more with the building in the future. They want to upcycle the vinyl and create a community project out of the material. 

Dan Thompson, who is originally from Saint John, said the art is intended to stick out of the landscape when people arrive at the airport. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Big art, small town

The project is funded by Canada Council for the Arts. Hewak said her personal mandate lines up with theirs. 

“People who live in smaller centres and even rural centres deserve to see public art,” she said. 

Reactions to the art have varied, Thompson said. Some people love it and some don’t quite understand why it’s there.

He said all of the reactions to the project are valid because art is meant to evoke emotion, but he enjoys when people come by and ask him to tell them more. 

Art from the sky

The building is near the Saint John Airport and the art can be seen from the air and when on the runway. 

Thompson said the intention was to have something stick out of the landscape when people arrived at the airport. He said the art aims to promote the nature and heritage of New Brunswick as well as the fun people have in the province. 

When Hewak arrived in Saint John, the design was already up on the building. She said she saw it from the runway.

“I saw one lady look out the window and go ‘What, what, what’s that?'” said Hewak. “And I said, “Get out of the way, I’m trying to take a picture of my work.'”


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