Thursday, May 16, 2013

Texas project featured in the Waco Tribune-Herald

Blank wall awaits Waco artists’ visual poetry
from the Waco Tribune-Herald
May 16, 2013
By Carl Hoover 
How do you sum up a community in a mural?
Is it more than a sum of history and well-known personalities? Is there more than one dream that speaks to its residents? How does an artist translate a city, a town, a neighborhood into a two-dimensional image? Kansas artist and muralist David Loewenstein suggests writers face the same challenge and solve it the same way: poetry. Visual poetry, that is. “I like to think of it as a visual poem that refers to the dialogue with the people we’ve worked with. It’s more symbolic than a literal timeline. . . Ours is more geared toward a feeling, a resonance, a process,” he said. Loewenstein, assistant artist Ashley Laird and Texas apprentice Catherine Hart hope to turn local comments, suggestions and discussion into a Waco poem on the southwest side of the East Waco Library.

Mural Project
The three are in Waco for the next two months as part of a six-state Community Mural Project underwritten by the regional arts agency, the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Waco joins Tonkawa, Okla., Arkadelphia, Ark., Joplin, Mo., and Newton, Kan. Organizers are presently evaluating proposals for a mural in Nebraska to complete the project. Loewenstein is a Kansas artist with a strong background in murals, although they’re far from his only art as he’s also a printmaker and writer. He’s joined by Laird, another Kansas muralist, as his assistant. Austin artist Hart rounds out the team as a mural-painting apprentice. Hart got bit by the mural bug after painting on one. “I realized going really large was invigorating,” she said.

Community ideas
Three community meetings at the East Waco Library this month have provided the artists with ideas, though the muralist notes that it sometimes takes awhile for people to get beyond wanting to honor specific individuals and historic events. The muralists are trying to nudge contributors beyond the usual suspects of the Waco Suspension Bridge, longhorn cattle and the Chisholm Trail. “That’s OK, but there’s not as much poetry in that,” he said. Experience with other community murals tells the artists they’ll have plenty of ideas to pick and blend together. “We can’t fit in most suggestions we get. There are too many and folks want everything in,” he said. “It’s hard to edit down.”

Community murals often have a different language and style than commercial ones because their purpose and process are different. Most large outdoor art, seen on billboards and walls, is meant to sell products or candidates, he noted. In addition, the public usually sees visual art as an individual creation and not collaborative as, say, theater or dance, he said. It’s the project’s discussion phase in the community that can build something more than art, namely civic conversation and communication. In Arkadelphia, mural meetings brought out a discussion of the city’s past racial discrimination. Joplin, devastated by a tornado just before its mural project began, saw a small controversy over how dominant the tornado and its impact would be in the mural design — if included at all.

Part of the process involves showing what’s possible in a mural. Oversized, simplified images often work better than small, detailed ones and bright colors do much to attract the eye, although the Kansas muralist adds part of that is his own artistic sensibility. “We look at other murals because you need that vocabulary to do what you want it to do. You have to understand what’s been done and what’s possible,” he said. A look at Loewenstein’s own mural designs reveal small touches that increase viewer impact: subtle geometric forms and lines that direct the viewer’s eye, imply motion and unify elements. Balancing what’s in a story and how to tell it is Loewenstein’s artistic sweet spot: “I’m smack in the middle between story and technique,” he said.

After the community meetings, the artists draft a design team from those willing to work on the mural’s look and painting. That team’s input helps shape the design that Loewenstein and his associates craft, then fine tune. Once the design is approved by the team and the city, its outline will be projected and painted on the library wall. The community will pitch in to paint the first weekend, with as many as one hundred people getting involved, Laird said. After that, the artistic team will take over, handling any detail work and final touch-ups. The Waco mural should be finished by mid-June. Given the special exterior paint used, its images should last more than a decade before any touch-ups are needed.

It won’t be just art left behind but friendships and relationships when the muralists move on after the project’s completion, said Loewenstein, who said sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye to a community that has pulled together to create art. “It’s heartbreaking to leave places that are alive with wonderful people,” he said.

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