Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lafayette Street, Rainy Day

I brought Zach lunch when he was out painting at 3rd and Romig yesterday. The site of this new mural is pretty awesome. It's in a quiet neighborhood filled with a ton of other blank "canvasses" that are begging for some paint. I think Zach mentioned to me that there are plans for more murals in the area. If that is true (*fingers crossed*), this will be the most colorful, eclectic spot in town!

It was a cold afternoon and I decided to huddle up in the back of the van, amidst boxes of spray cans and house paints, old rags, buckets, and brushes. I had a little bag of snacks and a book to read. I knew Zach wanted to finish out as much of mural as he could before sunset, so I was trying my darndest to stay out of his way. I did venture out of my warm "cave" a few times to take pictures of the work in progress. It always intrigues me to watch Zach at work. This is the first time he's working on a large-scale mural with no stencils. The only stencil work you see on the piece are patterns that Zach's students from the After School Arts Program (ASAP) cut. The small stencil patterns play a big role by adding visual interest and a depth to the figures that shading alone can't achieve. They also draw your eyes to details that you'd otherwise miss.

Zach's students were integral to the composition of the mural. During one of his breaks, Zach told me his students have not come up with a title for this new piece. They were interested in the themes of distraction and the concept of connectivity through disconnection. "Like Paris Street, Rainy Day?" I asked. "You know, that huge Caillebotte painting at the Art Institute of Chicago?"

Zach knew the painting I was referring to immediately -- it was the monumental painting with life-sized figures that we love to stop and see when we're at the AIC. In it, Caillebotte presents the viewer with dramatic perspectives of modern Paris with its new axial streets, geometric networks of orderly intersections and fashionable boulevards. The central theme of this painting is urban Parisian life with some of the rousing changes that were affecting the lives of its people. But what always gets me, is the overwhelming sense of detachment and loneliness the painting exudes. Empty and silent, there is an overall awareness of urban isolation. The uninvolved mood is further enhanced by the face that none of the characters are looking in the direction of each other.

The architectural details may be lacking in this new mural Zach is working on, but the figures in Zach's work are certainly reminiscent of Caillebotte's upper middle-class characters. They are isolated objects in an infinite space. The mural, as the students have accurately described, is a depiction of the psychological consequence of our new modes of communication on individual lives; an update on Caillebotte's piece. We are all connected in a disconnected fashion. We communicate in an isolated manner. Our correspondences, and our virtual presence are all "private" and safeguarded by passwords. Our online identities are carefully crafted personas shaped merely by bits and pieces of our complex lives that we've chosen to share. This mural is an exploration of that existential paradigm. I hope the students come up with a great title for it.

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