Experience: Better known as his time-travelling, waistcoat-wearing, balloon-twisting steam punk alter ego, Phileas Flash, Rupert Appleyard has been a staple at festivals across the Capital Region over the past couple of years, whether making balloons into animals that kids can take home with them or creating huge, elaborate balloon sculptures inspired by everything from Game of Thrones and KISS to Star Wars and Despicable Me.
“I want to make the world a better place. The world is dark enough – let’s make it a happy place,” he says.
Appleyard started making balloon sculptures after seeing the reactions his brother received as they worked together in a travelling circus in his native England. “One day, I saw him give out a balloon flower to a little old lady, and her world lit up. It was the best thing ever.”
He later moved to Canada to be with his wife. Earlier this year, he won second place in the large artistic sculpture competition at the 2015 Twist and Shout Balloon Convention in Las Vegas for his interpretation of a famous painting of dogs playing poker. He has seen his creations go viral on Facebook and is getting set to release his third instructional DVD.
He’ll also be part of the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival in July, and he’s heading to Australia in August and Belgium in November to lead balloon-art workshops.
“One person can make a difference. But what if I’ve got 5,000 people?” he says of his foray into teaching. “What if I’ve got 5,000 people who can do this and make people happy for a living? Those 5,000 people can make not just a small section of Alberta or a small section of Edmonton happy – they’re the balloon twisters who are going to go to birthday parties for kids in the future and get them happy. We can change the world!”
“I’m 90 per cent self-taught. The world has changed in the last four years. Now the Internet has made the learning curve for balloon artists go … through the roof. It’s very easy to learn balloons on the Internet.
“In Edmonton, there is a strong balloon community. My friend Glen [LaValley] runs balloon jams like once a month, where people come along and learn to make balloons and play with balloons. There’s also some other great balloon artists here who do educational events for people in the city who want to learn.
“The perception of balloons five years ago was that you can’t take them seriously. But two years ago, I made a balloon for the Kaleido [Family Arts] Festival – I made Starry Night, and that balloon got featured on the Van Gogh Museum website. My work, now, is seen all over the world. … No one debates that it’s art now. Balloons are taking over this life where no longer are they the dog of the art world. They’re a hugely vibrant art form that’s emerging, and that’s wonderful.
“What I really love is the combination of having a large-scale sculpture – say, [the Iron Throne from] Game of Thrones – in behind me, and then being able to hand out small balloons to kids, so they get something that’s theirs.
“We only have a limited span of time to work with balloons, because when you’re playing with rubber [over the years] , it gets painful [on the hands] . There’s all sort of techniques now where you’ve got balloons inside balloons, and you’re trying to push another bit through – even just making dogs, you can get repetitive strain.
“If you’re looking to get into balloon art, it’s very easy to do that now with the advent of the Internet and how strong that is, YouTube and things like that. I would suggest, though, that you get good quality equipment. If you get cheap balloons or the ones that come in those sets, they’re likely to pop pretty easily … and it’s likely to discourage you. If you buy good quality, you’re going to get a lot more out of it. And that’s going to help you as an artist, help you learn.”