- BC Games
A West Vancouver rock artist
John Shaver carefully examines the shape and weight of rocks, looking for indents and textured points that will make his seemingly impossible statues stand strong.
Based on decades of painstaking practice, he knows exactly how stones will balance before he places one on top of another.
Each rock is swiftly placed on top, leaving spectators wondering how the odd silhouette can be created without the use of glue.
"As I hold the rock and let it go, it tells me which way it wants to go," Shaver tells The Outlook as he adjusts a top-heavy rock on top of large boulder near the Dundarave Centennial Seawalk.
He learned the art form from a "master" in English Bay when he was in elementary school, but only started taking the craft seriously in the last five years.
Often the smallest part of the rock is left holding up what seems to be the heavier end, but in this case it's actually the tip of the rock that holds the most weight.
"People think a part of a rock weighs more just because it's bigger, but the centre of weight isn't always where it seems to be. It can be on the side of the smaller half," Shaver explains, while adding a smaller rock onto the three-tier statue.
The figures are more stable than they look and can last well after the artist finishes his displays along the seawalls in West Vancouver and English Bay.
But wind and water can pose problems, like they did while Shaver showed The Outlook his balancing technique. Wind can blow over smaller rocks which, surprisingly, are much more challenging to use than larger ones even when the air is still.
Shaver himself also has to control his balance when he navigates over slippery rocks, seaweed and barnacles while holding a heavy boulder.
"It can be a tragic step if you're carrying a large stone. A lot of rocks are heavy enough to split your shin cap."
Adding to these problems is Dundarave's rocky terrain, which is more difficult to work on than English Bay's because it lacks sand, a helpful substance used to absorb water and keep the rocks dry. The rocks can stay wet hours after the tide has receded.
Shaver has been hurt climbing over slimy rocks to put up a display, but hasn't had serious injuries like other rock-balancers he knows.
Shaver's popular artwork is liked by nearly everyone who passes by. Admirers routinely shake his hand, give him a thumbs-up and thank him. Kids often stop by for a quick lesson on technique.
"All ages and ethnicities like what I do. It reminds them that everything is possible — something most people forget."
But some people are less than enthusiastic about the rock formations.
A woman once asked Shaver to take down the rocks right away because she found his creations "unnatural".
"She said stones don't stand up like this, even after I explained I don't use glue and they come down everyday."
Others don't give Shaver a choice about removing his artwork. Each morning, a man walks along the beach to kick down every statue.
"But it actually helps me because I have to knock them down anyway to build new ones. He doesn't realize he's helping me by working for free," says Shaver, showing a quick sense of humour about his critics.
But a paintball gun attack was the most brazen one he's ever experienced. As soon as he completed a tall stand-alone rock feature, a paintball flew within inches of his head and splattered green paint on the base rock he was using. Shaver thinks the culprit lives inside a nearby apartment, based on the accuracy of the aim.
Shocked, long-time supporters quickly came out of their apartments to see if he was okay, give him a hug and encourage him to build more.
But events like this don't deter Shaver. Instead, he builds more statues to show his critics nothing will stop him from bringing art to people walking the seawall.
Shaver will be creating displays throughout the summer at the Dundarave Centennial Seawalk. For more information visit jjshaver.deviantart.com.