Beauty On The Walls All Around Us
I don’t know why outdoor murals are more common in the Caribbean and the American Southwest than they are in the Northeast. I don’t know whether it’s the varying indigenous cultures, the difference between the Spanish and British empires, Protestantism v. Catholicism, the building materials, the weather, or something else. All I know is when we first moved to this city about 25 years ago, there were very few outdoor murals.
That’s changed thanks to a combination of retailers, commercial landlords, artists, city government, and a variety of youth summer jobs programs. Every summer there’s a crew (or more!) of teenagers led by a professional artist who design and paint murals all over the city. (Pictures after the jump.)
Some murals evoke/advertise what’s in the building—as on the side of this bodega:
The clothes drying on the line in this mural hint at what’s inside the darkened window at the left—a laundromat.
And this mural (several years old and slightly the worse for wear) shows some of the meals that can be prepared with ingredients from the supermarket (whose entrance is just behind the photographer):
Around the corner, off the main street is one of the city’s Animal Control buildings, with some larger-than-life pets brightening up its cinder-block walls:
Including this very cool (and slightly scary) oversize iguana right by the entrance:
Some murals are nostalgic, like this one in a parking lot on the back wall of a discount store. It shows scenes from the neighborhood as it might have looked sometime in the early-to-mid 20th century:
This mural on one side of a cafe’ (which has great ice cream) shows the building (left background) from a different angle, with several neighborhood residents used as models for the pedestrians. (In real life the stairs on the right actually lead to the parking lot for a commuter rail station, not to a large park. However, there is a large park filled with trees and greenery about a five minute walk from this mural. Maybe that’s what inspired the artist.)
Here’s one of my favorites. It covers the entire wall along the side of a bakery with a pastoral scene of children playing out in the country. There’s a stream. There are huge rocks to climb on. There’s a massive old tree-of-life-type tree to climb and swing on.
Here’s a close-up of the tree. At the bottom, in light green letters you can see part of a quotation in the mural. It’s a line from Anton Chekhov’s play, Uncle Vanya: “We shall find peace. We shall see angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.”
“Really? You live right in the city?”, we sometimes get asked. “Why do you stay?”
There are, quite literally, thousands of reasons to move to, stay in, or leave where you live. And the color and arrangement of paint on the exterior walls of some commercial and governmental buildings isn’t the reason we’ve stayed in the city. It’s not even on the short list of the most important reasons we’ve stayed.
But it is on the long, long list of little reasons we’ve stayed. (And if you’ve lived in one place for a while, you know how those little reasons can add up, sometimes in surprisingly powerful ways.) We don’t have to go into the house of a friends who collects art, or make a trip to a museum. Living in the city there’s beauty on the walls all around us.