Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Murals: Madness and Method

Jose Clemente Orozco, the great Mexican muralist said: "The highest, the most logical, the purest and strongest form of painting is the mural. It is, too, the most disinterested form, for it cannot be made a matter of private gain; it cannot be hidden away for the benefit of a privileged few. It is for the people."

Art does not exist in a bubble. Walls are either private property, owned controlled and valued by landlords, surrounded by other walls, owners, and people, or publicly owned, subject to political interests plus everything else just mentioned. The public nature of murals also brings them into the arena of the community in which they exist, its standards, arbiters and power players.

In a simple and perfect world, the artist and the landlord would establish contact, agree on a design and funding, meet city guidelines, if any, and the mural would get painted. Many of the large murals presently gracing the walls along Central and in the WAD were done this way. The most recent might be Christian Thomas' work at Rob Davidson Fine Arts.

The reality is that, for a variety of reasons, many people, some of whom are not artists, owners of the walls in question, nor elected/appointed officials have inserted themselves into the equation, resulting in a series of restrictions, like forbidding street artists from being able to submit designs for murals within the Arts District. Think about that for a moment.

In June, 2012, the Morean Arts Center courageously jumped on the third rail of art with its landmark show, "Leave a Message", showing the work of Street Artists in the area. If they were to be excluded from painting murals in St. Pete, that would mean Alan Hampton, Acud-Akut, BASK, Tes One, Dolla, Chris Center, Pale Horse, Laura Spencer, Steven Palladino, Christian Thomas, and many others would be excommunicated from St. Pete Arts District walls and kept from public view. Many of these people are not only among the best and brightest artists in this city, but already responsible for some of its best murals and the beginning of this wave. 

The same with a ban on group murals. That would have taken away from us the Woo mural, the one by Duncan McClellan Glass, the one at Zen Glass and one
 on the back of the State Theater.

What has happened because of all this is a stress fracturing of the artists, arts organizations and the powermongers into a neo-feudal analog of the small states of the Middle Ages. Middle men who neither own walls, paint, nor have been elected to represent the community (which can speak for itself) are grabbing for power in the city through this issue. Please show, do not tell us why we need you. The artists, too, enter into this. What do provincialism, exceptionalism, protectionism, etc. end up doing for the benefit of the city, and ultimately its arts and artists?

The result is a lot of polarization, micro-turfing, on a block-by-block, if  not wall-by-wall basis along with arbiters who are making unilateral decisions and awarding walls without calls for artists, which drags in the spectre of cronyism, favoritism, etc. The standards for public art should allow for maximum degrees of freedom (and ensuing responsibility) for the artist, a kind of covenant with the community, and most of all, be readily available to the artists & the public. Government should already have established legal community standards.

Room has to be made for art that goes beyond the purty and decorative. Provocation, revelation, questioning who we are, where we come from, or are going, what and how we say, think, feel, and other issues are all at the core of art. 

 St. Petersburg is on a rising tide artistically in spite of the economic hard times. Better times may be around the corner, but the art and the beautiful people who make, buy and understand it are already here. Public murals have become one of the signatures of the heartbeat of this city. It happened thanks to a handful of daring pioneers propelled by passion, who led by example, often at their own expense. Restricting that remarkable creative (and commercial) flow is not in the best interests of this city, its property owners, business people and artists.

--- Luis



  1. Wow. You hit the nail on the head. Excellent. Thank you. I hope everyone reads it.

  2. Maybe the issue is direction, or the lack thereof. It seems to be that a lack of direction, of unified theme, of a desire to not only celebrate art, but USE art to celebrate the heritage and history of the city.


    Take a look at one of the country's most successful mural projects and see if you can see the difference.

    Just .02

  3. Luis,100% right, This is an important issue. Plain and simple power grab. In fact if artist and wall owner agree on a mural they have no say. Censorship is now the issue, Approved sketches? It is a joke!

    Dick Patterson

  4. Luis - can you send this to the Times as a "letter to the editor"? Stoggy people who don't read blogs should see this too.

  5. I'm thinking maybe Anon of Jan 20th buys prints of paintings that match his/her couch.

  6. Sad that dissenting opinions are insulted...especially when, in the end, the goal is the same.