When local artist Amy Bao was asked to participate in a new public art initiative in Richmond, she jumped at the opportunity. But perhaps she should have been sitting down. That’s because the commission was to paint unique artworks onto benches and picnic tables around the city.

Amy Bao’s latest creation at Fisherman’s Wharf. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

The program started with a handpicked collection of B.C.-based artists and six picnic tables a couple of years ago. The idea proved so popular that many more have since been added, including six eye-catching new creations recently unveiled at Fisherman’s Wharf in Steveston. Each work is as different as the person who painted them––but Bao says artists like her often have a common reason for participating in this kind of project.

“I really appreciate public art that’s free to enjoy and accessible to all,” says Bao, who has a background as a multidisciplinary artist and designer with a penchant for interactive creations. “There’s no gatekeeping when it comes to viewing or interacting, which distinguishes it from works in a gallery. And I really love the joy it brings to people of all ages.”

Unusual Canvasses

Bao has now designed and painted two benches and one picnic table for the project. The first is located in the Public Observation Area of Richmond’s Vancouver International Airport. And the other two are on the bustling boardwalk at Fisherman’s Wharf, where they receive continual attention from selfie-snappers enjoying a sit-down art experience.

Bao’s design at the YVR Public Observation Deck. PHOTO CREDIT: Tourism Richmond.

Theme-wise, each of her creations reflects Richmond’s ocean proximity and seafaring heritage. One picnic table depicts leaping fish in a yin-yang configuration, with its seating patterned like fish scales.

Her two additional works are richly coloured sunset panoramas, complete with silhouetted ships at sea.

Bao even painted the back of her latest bench. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

“The sunsets depict my awe and enamour for dramatic skies and the way nature dwarfs manmade structures,” says Bao, adding that benches can be surprisingly effective 3D canvasses. “The vertical surface of the bench back works for a typical upright view of a scene, while the horizontal seat is perfect for aerial views. To make them interesting to look at from every angle, I also extended my design over the back and legs.”

Diverse Approaches

Kwok’s cheery picnic table outside the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

Alongside Bao’s striking creations, art fans will find lots of other cool tables and benches to track down around the city. The grassy area outside Steveston’s Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site houses several, including Laura Kwok’s picnic-themed table––complete with cheery sunflowers and smiling fruit––and Susanna Lau’s cartoon-like rainy day design, incorporating a happy cat sipping bubble tea.

Susanna Lau’s creation, bubble tea-sipping cat included. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

A short walk away, an additional Kwok creation in Town Square Park receives many admiring glances. Its table top is lusciously painted with flowers and foliage, while its seating resembles parallel piano keyboards.

Laura Kwok’s lovely design is on display at Town Square Park. PHOTO CREDIT: John Lee.

In contrast, over at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site, a lovely, yellow-hued bench by Emily Lau incorporates books and snoozing cats in its design.

Creative Challenges

Lau, a local artist who typically works in acrylic, has also contributed several unique creations to the project. Her most recent is a kaleidoscopically coloured bench at Fisherman’s Wharf that evokes the region’s fishing heritage. A sunny, cloud-studded sky frames fishing boats on the bench’s back, while the seat depicts glistening fish moving at lightening-quick speed through the water.

“It’s very different to paint on a bench than a canvas,” she explains. “I got to move around a lot while I was painting, which is unusual. We also had a space set up where I was painting with five other artists in a warehouse––it’s always much more fun to paint with others!”

Lau says she aimed to trigger a specific mood with her latest bench. “I wanted to provide a calm and peaceful feeling. That’s why I picked a sunset sky as the main theme and used mainly pastel tones,” she says, adding that she really enjoys it when passers-by unexpectedly spot her work. “I love seeing people pause and take photos. After all, it’s not every day you get to touch or sit on a piece of art!”

It’s that kind of surprised, double-take delight that Amy Bao also says she enjoys with her own bench and picnic table creations. “I think these public artworks provide people a small moment of joy and intrigue as they go about their day. And I love it when people find these benches and take photos of them.”

Stop by for a rest or photo at the locations below:

Last Updated on October 16, 2023 by Tourism Richmond