Oh What a Feeling… Painting on the Ceiling

This week I am working on a client project for an interior mural in a suburban bookstore. The bookstore owner had a specific subject already in mind, and she was dead set on it: the goddesses of wisdom, from a variety of ancient cultures. Athena, of Greek myth, will go on the ceiling; Seshat, of Egyptian myth, will go on the wall by the door; Saraswati, the Hindu deity of wisdom, directly across from Seshat. (Athena study, below.)

It’s a tricky project for a variety of reasons. (For starters, trying to paint three mythical figures from ancient lore using one cohesive style is is a challenge.) And how to be original with such famous subjects? I ended up hiring models and doing pose sessions, and making original paintings to fit the job. But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about the actual execution of the mural…. I’ve never done a ceiling piece before, so I’m recording the practical things I learn here, for posterity.

Tomorrow, I will start with setup and materials. On day two, I will discuss perspective and gridding, drawing not just on this ceiling experience but also on my life as a traveling chalk artist (eg, floor painting—which has similar perspective challenges). We will see if there is a day three post, depending on what else I learn in the process!

Bay View Announces 2017 Mural Project

The Kinnickinnic Avenue BID, the non-profit organization tasked with supporting business and development along its namesake “main street” in Bay View, is proud to announce a multi-mural project on five commercial buildings on KK Avenue. Discussions are underway with several interested building owners, the final decision on locations is TBD.

The mural project is just one aspect of the Kinnickinnic Avenue street enhancement project, which aims to stimulate neighborhood growth throughout the length of the KK commercial corridor. Inspired by last year’s Black Cat Alley mural project on the East Side, the Kinnickinnic Avenue BID Board voted to set aside a portion of their streetscape budget to sponsor five local artists to create large scale murals along Kinnickinnic Avenue.

“Bay View is a hub for artists and creativity in our city and we want to reflect that in the KK Avenue streetscape,” says Mary Ellen O’Donnell, a member of the Board of Directors. “Street art is a great way to stimulate interest in a neighborhood as well as transform a harsh urban landscape with powerful and beautiful images.” Along the way, the project committee had the idea to choose an all-female roster of artists. “We were making these difficult choices right around the time of the Women’s March, earlier this year,” recalls Toni Spott, KK BID Streetscape committee member. “So many of the artists under consideration were great, and at some point we realized that an overwhelming number of them were women. We decided to make that the unifying theme of our mural project.”

The KK BID hired Wallpapered City, a Milwaukee-based agency led by Stacey Williams-Ng, to lead the project. Williams-Ng was the program director of the Black Cat Alley, and is a muralist herself. The agency was formed to help connect business owners and community groups to the international community of artists, helping with all aspects along the way such as logistics, promotions, funding and copyright negotiations.

The final roster of artists for the Bay View Street Canvas project includes Jenny Anderson, Bay View-based painter; Nova Czarnecki, Milwaukee-based painter; Rozalia Hernandez-Singh, local artist whose recent mural along the Beerline Trail celebrates the new Milwaukee flag design; Jenny Jo Kristan, muralist whose work has been featured at both Sky High Gallery (exterior wall) and the Black Cat Alley; and Dena Nord, Bay View-based artist with work featured in the Little Free Public Library project.

About the Kinnickinnic Avenue BID:
The KK BID aims to support the local businesses and community groups within our district; facilitate closer cooperation between all those who have invested their hearts, time and money into the KK Ave corridor, and encourage productive developments and enhancements along KK that embody the unique qualities that make Bay View the neighborhood we love. For more info please visit http://kkbid44.com/

About Wallpapered City LLC:
Wallpapered City is a consulting agency specializing in sourcing artists for large-scale art projects. Headed by a team of experienced professional artists, the agency connects business owners and community groups to the international community of artists, helping with all aspects along the way such as logistics, promotions, funding and copyright negotiations. For more info please visit http://wallpapered.city/

To arrange an interview with any of the artists, or to request images, contact Mary Ellen O’Donnell at meod123@gmail.com, or Stacey Williams-Ng at staceyjng@gmail.com

Black Cat Alley Opens

In what was once a dark and desolate alley space on the East Side of Milwaukee, there is now a public arts destination and it’s taking the city by storm. The Black Cat Alley, whose name is an homage to the UWM Panthers. (The Kenilworth campus is located just across the street.)

The alley, located between Prospect and Farwell Avenues, now boasts 14 murals by 16 artists in just one city block of space. The owners of the buildings have even installed lights, and a garden is forthcoming in 2017.

“We want it to be like an art gallery, so when you walk through the alley you’re bombarded with different voices and ideas,” Program Director Stacey Williams-Ng said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In July 2016, international street artist MTO painted a 50-foot-wide frog on the south wall of the Oriental Theater. MTO, a French artist known for black and white portraits with splashes of color, was commissioned to come and inaugurate the space with a world-class piece, designed especially for our city.

Sponsored by the East Side Business Improvement District (BID), which raised over $40,000 in community funding, the Black Cat Alley successfully opened on September 17-18, 2016. According to the stats on the Doors Open Milwaukee website, the site attracted nearly 4,000 visitors and was among Milwaukee’s top 10 destinations visited that weekend.

Wallpapered City would like to congratulate all the volunteers, the artists, the donors, the sponsors and everyone else who believed in this project and helped to bring it to fruition.

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Lee Matz

The Chicago “Big Walls” Project

Recently attended the “Artists’ Confab” in Chicago for the Big Walls Project, a huge street art initiative headed up by Columbia College. These are some of the things I learned.

Mark Kelly, of Columbia College, is the program director and the visionary behind the project. In 2013 they decided to go big with an intention to “transform the whole district:” namely, the Wabash corridor on the South Side of Chicago. They started with a few modest installations, performances and of course murals, and by 2014 they had a Brantley, a Shepard Fairey, list goes on and on. They made great, compelling street art, and Columbia students and the overall community responded with great positivity. This enthusiasm led to momentum, and now the Big Walls Project is one of the more notable street art projects in the country.

In his opening address, Kelly remembers the pioneers of outdoor street art. He also recalls the state of the area. “Wabash has for a long time been a forlorn and forgotten street. Bare walls, drab, dreary, with weeds, etc. But there were amazing restaurants, cafes and bars.” He saw the potential, and knew that street art would be a catalyst for change.

Said Kelly, “Who said that walls had to be: Either bare, or full of crass marketing messages?”

From the Wabash Arts Corridor website:

The heart of WAC is Wabash Avenue from Van Buren to Roosevelt and is framed to the east by Michigan Avenue and to the west by State Street. The corridor is regarded as a “living urban canvas” due to its ever growing number of large-scale mural installations and collaborative projects.

While WAC anticipates the district to grow and develop further as a living laboratory, it is currently comprised of eights educational institutions, 19 galleries,

In just a few years, WAC has managed to connect students, artists, entrepreneurs, local businesses and commerce with educational and cultural programming for the visual, performing and media arts. The result has been the emergence of WAC as a key player in the city as an urban lab for creative expression, innovation and excellence in the arts.”

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​Photographer unknown; artwork by Marina Zumi for Chicago Big Walls, 2016

Chalk Art: the Ephemeral Cousin of Mural Art

I first became aware of the artistry of outdoor murals when I started participating as a street painter in chalk art festivals. The term street painter does not refer to muralists… it quite literally refers to those of us who paint the street itself, eg the asphalt. With chalk. In the hot sun.

It’s grueling work, and people often exclaim, “Oh my goodness! What if it rains?”

My response to this is, Oh but it will rain. It’s only a question of when.

The whole idea of chalk art is based on impermanence. It’s actually all about the rain, when you think about it. Once, I was at a festival in Florida and I was placed in front of a very well-curated art gallery on the main square. When the festival started, hundreds of people started to flood the streets to come witness the annual “chalk art festival.” Hundred turned to thousands in a matter of hours. All of the little businesses along the street offered specials, sidewalk sales, and live music to draw in the event customers.

On this particular day, a group of ladies came to my square to admire the work I was doing. They asked the rain question. They said, oh, but if only you could shellack it to the street forever! I laughed and said, “No. If I did that you wouldn’t like it anymore. You only like it because it’s temporary.” They demurred, and said, “How do you know that?” and I replied, “Because I’m sitting in front of the art gallery. And you have walked by three times without going in there.”

It’s a sad fact. I am not bragging, or implying that street art is somehow better than traditional gallery art. In fact I sell my art in galleries too. But the very real fact is, galleries and their whole business model are becoming increasingly irrelevant in our world for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the pervasive role of digital images in our daily lives.

Chalk art is wonderful and gorgeous and thrilling because it is temporary.

Murals are fantastic because they make buildings into works of art, uniting communities around a common destination.

Chalk art festivals are a fantastic way to bring in the crowds. It’s a very low art form (pun intended! ha) and it draws together everyone from 3-year-olds—who are practitioners of this art form—to the snootiest of cultured adult viewers, and everyone in between.

Who knew you could do that with chalk?!

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Shawn McCann

Basic copyright issues in outdoor mural projects

One of the most urgent questions our clients have for us at the beginning of a project is ownership. Next to cost, this is perhaps the most immediate concern. Other questions that seem unrelated—how long should I keep the mural up? Are people allowed to photograph it? Can I invite another artist to change it?—also come back to the basic question of ownership.

An original work of art, according to US copyright laws, by default belongs to the artist. That means that even though Joe is a building owner, and the bricks of the wall are indeed his property, the image that was painted on Joe’s wall, by Susan, is Susan’s and hers alone.

However, this raises some questions.

Q. What if Joe and Susan agree that by paying for the mural, it’s OK with Susan for Joe to own the mural image outright?
A: No problem, this simply means that Joe (the building owner) and Susan (the artist) will make sure that in the contract they sign, it is clearly stated that copyright will go to the building owner.

Q. What if the building owner wants to demolish the wall? It’s his wall.
A: Depends. If Joe owns the copyright to the mural, then it’s no problem. If the copyright stays with Susan the artist, then Joe simply has a license to enjoy the work on his wall. It remains unsettled in the law whether Joe can demolish the wall if the art is Susan’s. Parties should discuss their expectations… in other words, talk about it! Decide what you think is reasonable, and put it in your contract.

Q. Can Joe sell T-shirts with pictures of the mural on it to promote his business?
A. Well that depends on whether Joe and Susan agreed upon copyright transfer. If they did not talk about it, then copyright could still remain with Susan and she could sue Joe for profiting from an image that she created. Even if they did transfer copyright, both Joe and Susan should be wary of outside folks doing the same thing.

Q: Is it copyright infringement if people take pics of the mural and post it on social media?
A: No issue. Personal photos and journalistic photos are OK.

Q: Can a third party do a photo shoot that includes Susan’s mural, and then print a catalog of fashions that utilize the mural to help sell their product? After all, the mural was part of the streetscape, right?
A. Wrong. Just because something is in the public eye, does not mean it’s in the public domain. See this case in which the retail store American Eagle tried to pull this trick on the artist David Anasagasti, whose case of copyright infringement was legitimate. The parties reached a settlement out of court.

Q: Can I ask my muralist to paint a picture of Spiderman, or Barbie, or Spongebob?
A: No no no no no no no no no! In fact you need to take extra care to insist to your artist that he or she make work that they can guarantee is 100% original.

Remember guys: I’m not a lawyer… get your own legal advice! But don’t be surprised when many mainstream lawyers also don’t know the emerging issues here. Your best bet is to have a really honest chat with your artist about his or her expectations, and yours, and agree to terms that feel good to both of you.

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