An (im)permanent goodbye to Ottawa

I’ve lived in Ottawa for nearly ten years. I came for work—government, obviously—and am now leaving for work (albeit R’s, not mine). We didn’t think we’d be in Ottawa for very long, maybe a year or two, tops. But as our respective career paths (and locations) diverged and converged and twisted and turned, Ottawa became our home base. It was the one constant in all those years (the California years, the Montreal years…), and it really did grow on us once we let it. We came to love its quiet, its green space, its community feel. Even the brutalist architecture grew on us. And once we decided to let ourselves get attached to this place, we made some really really amazing friends.

All the big things that have happened on my mosaic adventure so far have happened while I’ve been in Ottawa, so I decided that before I left, I wanted to leave my mosaic mark on the city in some way. For me, the choice of where and what was easy: I would do it at the graffiti wall with pieces of the graffiti wall. This was a no-brainer for all sorts of reasons. First, it would be legal. This was important, because I’m quite risk averse and law abiding! Second, this wall was the source of one of my favourite and most prized materials, and this material (and one of the first pieces I made from it) was a real game-changer for me and has played an important role in my growth as a mosaicist. And finally, the wall was three blocks from our apartment, so it was on my home turf, which felt appropriate.

Daddy supervising the installation
Daddy supervising the installation

I made this little mosaic with materials sourced from the few blocks around where we lived: graffiti paint (obviously!), a broken pot from the end of the block, cement parging from around the corner, and flakes from a landscaping rock. I was originally also going to include broken windshield from the street that always has cars getting their windows broken, but it just didn’t work for me—glass just isn’t my jam.

graffiti wall installation - with paint can
“Farewell Ottawa” guerilla mosaic installation at the legal graffiti wall at Albert and Bronson (September 3, 2016)

When I went to scout out a spot on the wall to install this, I found myself wanting to tuck it away in a corner where it would be protected. I really had to fight that urge and put it right out in the open, knowing full well it wouldn’t last for long. It had to be part of the dynamic landscape of the graffiti wall. As a mosaicist, I work in a medium whose durability is one of its hallmarks. Diving into the world of the impermanent was very foreign to me.

Six hours later and already the landscape has shifted
Six hours later and already the landscape has shifted (my piece is there by the step, in amongst the cans of spray paint)

I’m very curious to know how long this will last on the wall, and what will do it in. Will it be the elements? Animals (it is a dog park, after all)? Or artists? I will likely never know, and I am (somewhat reluctantly) embracing that unknown, just like I am having to embrace the unknown of moving to a different city and leaving my job behind.

End of day 1 and already there are flecks of paint on the surrounding thinset and outer tesserae from an artist working above
End of day 1 and already there are flecks of paint on the surrounding thinset and outer tesserae from an artist working above

In addition to being a fond farewell to Ottawa, this little mosaic is also a thank you to the very talented artists whose short-lived works contribute so much to my more permanent ones. Without the constant churn of art on that graffiti wall, this most special of materials wouldn’t exist.

This material never ceases to thrill me.
This material never ceases to thrill me.

While my leaving Ottawa is most likely permanent, the mark I am leaving behind is impermanent, which is a good reminder to me, as someone who thrives on stability and routine, to be more like one of my mosaics and just go with the flow.

So long, Ottawa! I’ll miss you. And Kitchener, I’ll be seeing you soon.

graffiti wall installation - in context
In context, shortly after the installation. By afternoon, that mural would be replaced by another.


……I love your work and thoughts, it’s amazing how you seem to just move in an organic fashion with your art and life….. Watching your work is healing to me. We lost our son of 30 years to an accidental drug overdose one year ago and I’m still trying to scrape up the pieces of my shattered heart….I have not been able to get in my studio since his death but…seeing your work somehow helps to inspire me to maybe step back in the studio and begin again.
All the best with your move……Elizabeth

Oh Elizabeth, your comment has touched me deeply. I am so very sorry for your loss and I wish you peace moving forward. I do hope you make it back into the studio; the art will be there when you’re ready. I know I don’t know you, but I am sending you a big hug.

Hola Julie, que acción tan original y que bello como describes ese mosaiquito que hiciste con tanto amor. No sé por qué te fuiste de Ottawa despues de 10 años, pero solo espero que estés contenta con la decisión tomada. Muero de ganas de saber que habrá sucedido con tu pequeña obra en unos años mas. Un abrazo!

Hi Julie, what an original action and how beautiful you describe that little mosaic you made with so much love. I do not know why you left Ottawa after 10 years, but I just hope you’re happy with the decision you made. I’m dying to know what it will have happened to your little work in a few more years. A hug!

Hi Julie, I came across your work recently and have been reading your blog, particularly selecting the posts about Ottawa as my husband is working in Ottawa for the winter and I have been there visiting him for a while. This morning I happened to read this one. Coincidentally it was my last day in Ottawa before heading to Toronto (so a similar journey to you going from Ottawa to Kitchener), from where I will fly home to Scotland in a couple of weeks. I looked up where the graffiti wall was and found that it was pretty much on our drive to Toronto, so we stopped there and I went to see if your mosaic was still there. Using your pictures, I located the spot in the park, though I had to dig through some snow to uncover the wall there! I found what I believe is the 3D outline of your mosaic, now covered up with paint, but still there, so your Ottawan legacy lives on, in a way. I will send you a photo of what it looks like now. Going to look for it was a nice way for me to say my (bittersweet) farewell to Ottawa.

Let me know what you think!

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