Photo Journal Murals Stephen Brown URSP 611 Principles of Urban Design
Introduction Public art is an important piece of urban design. It personalizes public space, by introducing aesthetic beauty, representing culture or history, and sometimes defining territory. Public art, in contrast to gallery art, refers to any work of art designed to be displayed in the public domain, therefore usually external, and accessible to everyone. It usually seeks to communicate with citizens about socially relevant themes, free from the constraints of elitist galleries or aesthetic values. It can be permanent or temporary; presented as statues or sculptures, murals, graffiti, or through any number of other expressive forms of media. In the last few years, Richmond has seen the development of two unique, eclectic arts districts. One spans the stretch of Broad Street from Belvidere to 9th Street, and includes galleries in Jackson Ward and Monroe Ward. The other exists primarily on the 1500-1600 blocks of West Main Street, with additional individual galleries on the 1300, 1800, and 2500 blocks. This photo journal will focus exclusively on murals that are painted on the exteriors of buildings. All photographs herein are found along or near the previously defined corridors. I have also chosen to present only murals that give the impression of being officially sanctioned, thus excluding graffiti. I have chosen to focus on murals because of their grand scale, and ability to convey and represent multiple aspects of culture. They are highly-visible displays of talent that enrich the urban experience, whereas graffiti is often destructive, illegible, and occasionally vulgar. Before we get to the exciting part, I would like to take a moment to briefly discuss the history, placement, and motive behind murals in urban places. Murals are most likely the oldest human form of art. In pre-historic times, man painted murals on the interiors of caves and early settlements. Over the millennia, murals have made their way to the walls of homes, institutions, and all sorts of public spaces. Some art historians claim that mural painting is â€œthe most democratic art America has ever produced.â€? The subjects of murals are as diverse as the paintings themselves. Some are political in nature, others symbolize historical events. Some serve to designate businesses, others display cultural or neighborhood pride. Dense urban environments, especially those that pride themselves as art districts, often display murals on the exteriors of buildings. They are also found in depressed neighborhoods as an effort to enhance the environment. The emphasis of this journal is on the visual effects of urban public art. Its purpose is not to provide a lengthy discourse on the cultural and/or political significance of urban murals, but instead to present the reader with photographs from which they can draw their own conclusions.
A spectacular work of art, by school children surrounds a rundown, gray doorway !"###$%&$'()*+
Sometimes art is as simple as two words on an old door, inviting you to come in...
... or a few squares to brighten up a plain garage door.
Just a few of the people youâ€™" meet in the city.
This wa" was in need of some windows.
Sometimes, art te"s you what to do.
A tree grows in the city. A city grows in the tree.
The only flowers to be found where Broad meets Adams.
Some strange urban wildlife.
The parking lot of Plaza Art, at 922 West Grace, has a culture a" its own.
A salute to the James River, an essential piece of Richmondâ€™s history, and a source of endless summer fun.
Conclusion “I learned that art can bring people together.” - Takiyah, 10 yrs old (Quote on gallery window, E. Broad St.)
According to urbandesign.org, “Urban design is about making connections between people and places… the creation of places with distinct beauty and identity.” While public art is not the foremost aspect of designing cities, it is essential to the creation of beautiful places. The photos featured in this journal provide a visual record of some of the murals that eulogize Richmond’s history and culture. Some pay homage to a major landmark, the James River; some honor important citizens that may never be memorialized on Monument Avenue; and some celebrate Richmond’s unique, and sometimes odd, culture of art. It is my sincere hope that this photo journal provides the viewer with a deeper insight into the ways that artwork contributes to the urban landscape. The murals featured represent only a few of the countless works of art that adorn Richmond’s buildings and streets. In compiling this journal, I encountered many murals that I had never before noticed. I am amazed by how much beauty can be found when one is looking for it, especially in a gray, austere environment such as East Broad Street. Without art, the streetscape would be dominated by vacant building facades with covered windows and for-lease signs. One of my favorite shots is the painting of the heron at 11 E. Broad St. The angle of the sun at that moment, cast on the painting the shadow of a nearby street tree. It aligned almost perfectly with the lines of the sunburst in the painting. I am also very fond of the garage door at 1617 W. Main St. Beside it is an identical door, but with no artwork. The contrast really demonstrates how even the simplest addition of color can bring an otherwise common city element to life. Although the shot to the right is not included in the journal (due to its subject not being a mural), I am very fond of the story behind it: While I was out taking photos, I came upon a gentleman photographing one of the pieces that I originally considered featuring; so I took a picture of him taking a picture of the sculpture. We spoke briefly, and he said that he had always wanted to take that photo. I was happy to see that someone took the time to appreciate street-side art, and I believe that this experience sheds some light on the importance of artwork in the urban environment.
It is easy to see how murals can and do enrich and enhance the city. They make plain walls active participants in the urban experience. They portray culture, history, and eccentricity. To eliminate any doubt about the power of art in the city, I will conclude my journal with this photo of a window-less brick wall beside an empty parking lot, and leave it to the reader to imagine how a piece of art could bring it to life.
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!"#$%&'"(%)*+,-& - First Fridays Art Walk. First Fridays Art Walk, Richmond, VA. http://www.firstfridaysrichmond.com/. - Grodach, Carl. "Art Spaces, Public Space, and the Link to Community Development." Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal (Oxford Press), 2009: 474-493. - Januchta-Szostak. "The Role of Public Visual Art in Urban Space Recognition." In Cognitive Maps, by Karl Perusich, 75-100. - Main Art Supply and Framing. Galleries on West Main. http://www.galleriesonwestmain.com/. - Marschall, Sabine. "A Critical Investigation into the Impact of Community Mural Art." Transformation, 1999. - Smith, S. E. Wise Geek. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-history-of-muralpainting.htm. - Urban Design. www.urbandesign.org. !