How I Spent My Summer

It’s interesting how often events and projects don’t quite roll out as I imagine they will. These past nine months have been a perfect example of that.

I always begin the year plotting a course, imagining what projects I’d like to finish, continue or start, what new creative possibilities I should pursue. Back in January, I had several irons in the fire, but mainly I expected to spend the bulk of my time doing a deep-dive into moku hanga techniques, or working on a long-envisioned oil painting series based on my True Refuge photographs.

But one little action led to one really big project!

In January, Arts Gowanus, our neighborhood arts organization, posted a call for artists interested in creating murals in the Gowanus area. There wasn’t a whole lot of information about what kinds of murals, or what size of murals were sought. But I thought it sounded cool, so I threw my name in the proverbial hat. I made it quite clear in my submission that I had never painted a mural before.

And that was that.

Well some months later, I got the call from Johnny Thornton over at Arts Gowanus – one of the developers in the neighborhood was interested in having me do a mural on their site!

A little background aside is needed at this point in the story: The Gowanus area of Brooklyn has been an industrial zone between residential neighborhoods for probably more than 200 years at this point. It all started with colonial-era tidal mills in the Gowanus Creek salt marshes, and just grew and grew from there. By the mid-20th century, it was quite built up, industrial and very filthy.

A lot of heavy industry has since left the city, and there has been interest in cleaning up the pollution and redeveloping the area for some time now.

Well, now it is happening in a big way! There are new construction projects going up all over the neighborhood. Artists like myself who live and work in the area are hoping to not get pushed out by the gentrification. We want to be a part of this new iteration of the Gowanus.

Hence the murals. Arts Gowanus, in concert with various land developers, has installed 7 murals in the neighborhood this year, mine being one of them.

And this turned out to be a whopper of a mural project!

I was tapped to design and create a mural on construction fencing along Nevins Street between Sackett and DeGraw Streets, and about halfway up DeGraw, between Nevins and Third Avenue. (Originally, there were going to be two artists on this site, but the other one they wanted couldn’t do it, so I agreed to take both sites.)

The Nevins Street fence before the mural.

This is a huge site. To say I was a bit terrified is an understatement. But Arts Gowanus promised assistance and guidance, so I proceeded step by step.

As anyone who has followed my work for a while will know, I’ve had a long fascination with trees, tree-like forms and similar organic, biomorphic forms. The first piece I showed at Gowanus Open Studios (way back in 2007), was a multi-panel work I called “Treeform” — it was sort of a prototype for a mural, even if I didn’t quite know it at the time.

Adobe Illustrator design of the mural site.

The first step was to take the site drawings provided and conceptualize a design. Adobe Illustrator was very useful for this, as I was able to superimpose my ideas, more or less to scale, on the architectural rendering of the site perimeter.

Acrylic on panel, 2023

Next, I did studio painting, in acrylic, of the basic design element for the mural. Knowing that we would most likely be rendering the mural in exterior latex paint, which is essentially the same thing as artist’s acrylic paints, I thought it would be a good medium for this proposal piece.

Acrylic on panel, 2023

Early in June, the design was approved. We just had to clear Department of Buildings red tape and other administrative and logistical hurdles to get the go-ahead to actually start this monster. A lot of waiting followed.

Finally we started work at the very end of July.

Beginning the mural along Nevins Street, end of July, 2023.
The background colors alone took a full two weeks.

Once started, and with a lot of help, the project proceeded rapidly. It took a full three weeks to complete the mural, with a total of 6 persons, myself included working on it, although usually only 3 or 4 people at a time. I painted out the outlines of a total of 50 trees!

Completed mural on Nevins Street

I’m quite pleased with the results. It pretty much came out as I planned it. It was a big learning curve painting outside, on corrugated metal fencing, with this sticky, gloppy exterior house-paint.

Mural detail
Mural detail with construction fence window.

This amazing project, which pretty much swallowed up my whole summer, would not have been possible without the amazing folks at Arts Gowanus: Johnny Thornton, Pam Wong and David Kutz; especially not without Arts Gowanus’ crack mural artist team, all professionals: Ward Yoshimoto, Miguel Reyes, Tizziana Mazziotto Ingram, Izzi Marvel Sweet and Nick Maggiore.

Nevins and DeGraw

We expect the mural to be up for about 18 months. You can see it all along Nevins Street between DeGraw and Sackett, and up Degraw from Sackett.

There will be opportunities to visit this and all the Gowanus murals during this year’s Annual Gowanus Open Studios, happening October 21-22. And check out the Arts Gowanus page on the mural here! Also check out the set of 29 photos I have shared to Flickr here.

The official title of the mural is “Lifeworlds.” I’m unofficially calling it “Gowanus Forest,” for obvious reasons. (Wondering what the the title “Lifeworlds” is all about? Read my fascinating (albeit nerdy) essay on Lifeworlds here (via Adobe express).)
Mural detail.




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