Murals by street artists do more than simply brighten up a brick wall—they incite hope and instill pride. Sometimes they communicate a social or political message. Above all, New York City’s best murals make residents and visitors to a neighborhood feel good. Here are five to see right now. By Jessica Allen.
A few years ago, residents of Welling Court approached Ad Hoc Art Gallery for help in beautifying their Astoria, Queens, neighborhood. Now in its third year, the Welling Court Mural Project features more than 70 street artists, who used their paintbrushes and aerosol cans to transform the walls along autobody shops, grocery stores, schools, and warehouses in June. Of particular note are the praying man by Joe Iurato; the lovely amalgamation of patterns by Hellbent; Queen Andrea’s empowering statement, “Because I choose to use my infinite potential,” in bubble letters; and the juxtaposition of a soulful portrait by Chris Stain and the almost architectural spikes of Billy Mode, at right.
Thanks to the neighborhood’s factories and chemical plants, murals abound in Bushwick, Brooklyn, particularly at the intersection of Ingraham Street and Gardner Avenue. To create such a huge installation takes imagination, patience, time, heavy equipment, and, we’re assuming, tons of police permits. Throw the differing dispositions of several well-regarded artists into the mix, and you’ve got the potential for ugliness of all kinds. RWK, Flying Fortress, and Nychos show us how it’s done, however, in their mural depicting a crazy creature with visible brains who seems to be uttering “NY.” Is it weird? Yes. Is it awesome? Yes.
The newest mural on this list plays on familiar images of geishas and ads for sex workers. “Here’s fun for everyone,” it reads, amidst purple and pink swirls. Street artists have been bombing and tagging this concrete wall on the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery in Manhattan for decades, but in recent years curator Jeffrey Deitch has worked with the wall’s owner to host various well-known street artists. The first woman invited to decorate the wall, Lady Aiko joins several other notables, such as Keith Haring, Os Gemeos, RETNA, and Shepard Fairey, whose huge images have made this busy street just a little easier to walk along.
As part of this year’s Bushwick Open Studios in May, the “Bushwick Five Points Festival” featured food, music, and art installations where Troutman Street meets St. Nicholas and Scott Avenues in Brooklyn. While some of the murals came down shortly after, many remain, including a painstakingly re-created bodega storefront by Specter (a “fauxdega,” if you will), as well as wheatpastes and stencils by the legendary Cost, reminding viewers that “you can’t turn rebellion into money.” The piece at right, by Priscila de Carvalho, Maria Berrio, and Miriam Castillo, demonstrates a delicacy that murals don’t or can’t often show. You need to get up close, nose to color, to appreciate the artistry at work here.
Musician-artist Jim Avignon decorated Vandervoort Place’s 60-meter wall with his cartoonish takes on American life in late 2011. “Just follow the others,” a robot says, while steering a ship called “Procrasti-nation.” Elsewhere, a man walks along the “Promenade of Pretenders.” The mural was painted in conjunction with an exhibition at Factory Fresh, a gallery around the corner. The artist collective and twin brothers known as Skewville, along with others in the community, have done an excellent job transforming Vandervoort, once a lonely, trash-strewn stretch, into a street worth seeking out; they hope to eventually turn Bushwick Art Park into a permanent, pedestrian-only green space with rotating murals and artworks.