10 November 2015

Anti-Smoking mural by multiple artists

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An anti–smoking mural in McKees Rocks that didn’t get blocked from view. (See the information on this mural.) Tobacco Free Allegheny County funds a program called Music and Art as Prevention (MAP) that attempts to use the arts to reach out to kids and prevent them from starting to smoke. This mural reinforces the message and was designed by those kids.

TribLIVE did an article about the mural and it’s author Genea Webb quotes lead artist Kyle Holbrook as saying: As an artist I want to make a difference through art. I wanted to show that if you stay smoke–free, you’ll be able to achieve your hopes and your dreams.

Controversial Anti-Smoking mural by multiple artists

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While this mural may technically still be there, we’re calling it a ghost mural because it’s been all but invisible since it was completed. What started out as an anti–smoking mural with the local community’s support ended up as a huge bone of contention with the business next door. The funeral home located next to the mural decided they didn't like it before it was even finished and they erected a wall and shrub screen to effectively block the mural from sight. You can read about it in this article by Brentin Mock, and in a Post Gazette article by Dan Gigler here.

We’d also like to direct you to this follow up Post Gazette article where you can see a photo of what the mural looked like before it was blocked from view.

One other piece of information that might be relevant: On the surface, the big complaint here seemed to be the bright orange color. You may have wondered why so much orange? The artist overseeing this project (Kyle Holbrook) had said in the past that he likes to use orange because red is too angry and yellow is too uncommitted. To him orange is a non-controversial color and you see it in all of his murals in the background design and swirls that he uses. His generous use of it here is not out of character.

I Myself Am That by Laurie Marshall

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Our story about I Myself Am That once again comes directly from the Sprout Fund through Curt Gettman:

Artist Laurie Marshall based this mural on the concept that The Kingdom of God is within you, interviewing more than 50 people of all ages and walks of life from McKees Rocks, and asking them what they thought of when they heard this phrase. The figures standing along the bottom edge of the mural correspond to the community members that Laurie interviewed, and the design is her rendition of how they described their vision. The windows they look through frame a view of an imagined McKees Rocks. The landscape is lush and wild, with the famous McKees Rocks Bridge as the only man–made structure in the panorama. Additionally, each window is designed to correspond to the different ethnic groups who call McKees Rocks home: from left to right they are Polish, Carpo–Russian, Ukranian, German, African, Irish, and Native American. The windows themselves are based on Italian Renaissance paintings, representing the Italian community. Shortly before the mural was commissioned, Focus on Renewal, the community applicant, bought the building on which the mural was painted and turned it into an art center. After the mural was completed, Focus on Renewal went on to adorn all the walls of the building with additional murals. The art center is now a thriving community gathering space and a source of identity and pride to the McKees Rocks community.

When we visited the mural it appeared as though some restoration work had been started. The top half of the mural is badly faded, but the bottom half looks much darker. We’ve discovered that the artists need to use a hydraulic lift to paint the higher parts of these murals. From the look of this mural’s condition, our guess is that whomever is trying to restore the mural may not have raised the funds to obtain the use of a lift for the top half yet.

We found this poem written by the artist and read at the unveiling of the mural. She also includes many pictures taken when the mural was newly painted.

Progressing Pittsburgh by August Vernon

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Another local cyclist alerted us to this mural, and led us on an early Sunday morning excursion out to the southern portion of McCandles Township to see it. In spite of it's deteriorating condition we were immediately impressed and intrigued by it. Just what were elephants doing at The Point? Elephants that appeared to be able to walk on the Ohio River, no less. We had to know more.

We were able to contact August Vernon, and he was kind enough to explain:

"The mother elephant represents Pgh no longer in full view to the viewer. The baby elephant is the new generation of Pgh. They both are standing on the confluence symbolic of the way Pgh was built upon the 3 rivers. The west end bridge is arching over the city as a rainbow and the water is turquoise representing the clean-up of the city since the first renaissance in the 40's... Pittsburgh as an Elephant- both have strong memories holding fast to the past- both trudge forward slowly (trudge as in moving forward with purpose) and both stick together strongly in packs! Progressing Pittsburgh refers to the growth of our city over the past 150+ years slowly, surely, purposefully. "

The detail work on the elephants was still obvious, but it was sad to see the mural peeling. Mr Vernon told us that he found out too late that the oil paints did not hold up to exterior conditions very well. Looking on line we found a photo of this mural in it's original condition.

Obviously this mural is not located where most could walk to it. McKnight Rd did not aquire the nickname McNightmare Rd by mistake. If you go I'm going to suggest driving or public transportation to this one. It's just the safer option. The bus stops on McKnight Rd at the corner with Perrymont Rd. The mural is on the gas station wall next to the building that's on that corner.

Artist page for Andrew (August) Vernon

Artist Website

UPDATE Nov 2015

The building is being renovated and the mural is now gone.

Zapatista Woman by Shepard Fairey

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In 2009 Shepard Fairey had an exhibit at the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side. Known originally for being a street artist, he posted artwork all around the city prior to the opening of the show. This was one of them. These wheat-paste pieces were never meant to last forever and many of them are in very poor condition now.

Mary Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes about the art show and the artist here, explaining some of these images and influences.

Update – May 2014
This mural is gone. Although it was still in good condition, we noticed that someone had climbed up and vandalized it recently. On our next ride by we found that the mural and graffiti had been painted over.

Jesus by Marc Runco

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Tucked away in a side alley, this incredible mural is almost hidden. If you don’t live in the neighborhood, you have to pretty much be looking for this mural to find it. I’ll confess right now – our photos do not do this one justice. Not even close.

The buildings here are close together and the business beside the mural has parked cars and equipment that block the view of the bottom portion. We’ve ridden out to see this mural at least four times and we’ve never yet had a clear view of the entire thing.

Angels battling demons for souls.

Like so many neighborhoods in the area, Lawrenceville has been working to have it’s own renaissance. At the time this mural was done, the area it’s in was being over run with drugs and prostitution. The owner of the building at that time had recently moved in and the conditions in the area shocked him somewhat. He and a friend of his (artist Marc Runco) discussed the idea of a mural. The two friends decided on a religious theme and Marc Runco looked to the Book of Revelation for inspiration. In a Post Gazette article by Patricia Lowry, James O’Toole (then owner of the building) described the mural as a vision of hell and hope.

Close up of the 7–headed serpent.

The imagery is amazing. Satan as a multi–headed dragon fighting the Archangels on winged horses; skeleton figures of demons coercing people to fight and kill; angels struggling to pull sinners from the brink of hell.

Archangel on winged, white horse.

In the same Post Gazette article mentioned above Mr O’Toole points out the prostitute with one leg in hell holding onto the chalice, which represents the Power of God.

Angels fighting to save souls from evil.

Three crosses on a hill beyond the darkness.

The mural is titled Jesus. The artist’s message is Jesus lives. If the images aren’t enough to show you that, the bottom corner is tagged with Jesus’s name using a can of spray paint. God telling everyone that He’s in the neighborhood, even if you don’t think you’ve seen him lately.

December 2014

The business next door has apparently changed. All of the cars and the large dumpster blocking the bottom of the mural are gone! For the first time we were able to see the details at the gates of Hell:

Thoughts on a Blue Sky by John Pena

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Artist John Pena posted his thoughts about this mural here. Other than commenting that it’s an unusual, thought provocing mural, we don’t have anything to add.

Wheeling Heliocentric Orrery by Kevinn Fung

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The name alone draws us in. Wheeling Heliocentric Orrery. What does that mean? From the New Oxford American Dictionary: an orrery (noun) is a mechanical model of the solar system, or of just the sun, earth, and moon, used to represent their relative positions and motions.
ORIGIN early 18th cent.: named after the fourth Earl of Orrery, for whom one was made

As we’ve mentioned before, we bike to these murals around Pittsburgh. Being cyclists our attention was drawn immediately to the very prominent figure of the red headed cyclist and we decided that the world is revolving around her. Because it’s all about us! We figured the artist wasn’t referring to Wheeling, West Virginia here, so he must be referring to the wheels on that bike. It all makes sense! Sort of. Turns out that we were partially right.

In 2004, Kevinn Fung created an image that depicts scenes from Lawrenceville as you travel through history. A human timeline from left to right. Using different phases of daylight to show the passage of time, it starts on the left side with images of the Native Americans that once called this place home.

To the right of that you'll see the progression to civil war soldiers, victorian era ladies, and turn of the century miners.

As the landscape continues to evolve, yet maintain it’s character of rolling hills, the image moves into present day recreation, art and multiculturalism. The reinvention of Lawrenceville as a place for artists, galleries and studios.

Kevinn Fung has used not only the changing levels of daylight and subtle transition of the geography to convey the march through time, but also a change in artistic style through the mural. From left to right he’s used simple and graphic images followed by natural/realistic portraits and finally more of a cartoon style for the modern scenes. What at first appears to be a fairly simple mural turns out to have many, many layers in it. This is not a drive by mural. This is one that you need to stop and really look at to fully appreciate everything that's going on in it.

When you do stop and really look you’ll also notice how well the mural works with it’s location. From the start there were a couple of significant obstacles with the location. Not only is it a long wall with a parking lot right in front of it, but there’s a tall lamp post in the way and a brick fence post that butts up against the wall at the right side. Instead of ignoring these problems, Kevinn chose to work with them. The lamp post ends up looking like it’s supposed to be there. It’s a part of the street scene that the cyclist is riding past. The brick post became a place for the girl on the far right to sit. At first you don't even notice that the brick isn’t a part of the mural, it’s integrated that well.

The far left of the wall initially wasn’t going to be used for the mural. When it was included Kevin realized that the street traffic would have a hard time seeing that end of it and chose to keep the design there limited to a simple graphic element representing a creation myth motif.

The first image – circular, yellow and ringed with orange – is for the sun. The second – protozoic life. The third image of a two–toned blue square is there to represent order out of chaos.

So, back to the name... It turns out that the cyclist here really is the center of the universe, but not for the reasons we were thinking. A fellow cyclist himself, Kevinn Fung just happens to have had an infatuation with red heads and liked to incorporate them into his works. When he first showed the design of the mural to friends they all kept asking him Who’s the redhead? The Who became WHO (Wheeling Heliocentric Orrery). Along with the self-portrait (the artist at an easel) the title is a personal connection to his creation that few would have known about if he hadn’t been willing to share that detail with us.

Kevinn provided a photo for us, taken while they were painting the mural.

Something else he’d like to share is his thanks to the artists who assisted him on this mural: Felicity Newell, Sara Stanek and Andrea Celani – for all their hard work and emotional support in the summer sun of July 2004.

Squirrel Convergence by Mary Tremonte

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According to the information the Sprout Fund gave us on this mural, Lawrenceville was the first community in the area with a zip code. (I've tried to find something on line specifically about that but couldn’t.) That explains the postage stamps integrated into this mural. As for the frenzy of squirrels – we’re told they’re a signature element for this artist. Some of her other works show foxes and rabbits with the same impression of fluid motion.

This is one of the fun murals that adds color to the neighborhood and certainly gets a conversation started without any deep, philosophical statement.


Update Nov 2013:
The good news is that Lawrenceville has been seeing a significant amount of new construction and growth. New businesses as well as established ones expanding into larger spaces are giving this community new life. We can see the changes each time we ride through here. The sad news is that one of the new changes included construction on the previously vacant lot next to this mural. You can still view the mural from the narrow walkway between the buildings, but it does detract a lot from how it once was. Your current view is limited to this:

Different Eyes by Richard Washek, Ben Grocholsky, Elise Gatti

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The designers of this mural work next door at the National Robotics Engineering Center of Carnegie Mellon University. Ben Grocholsky and Elise Gatti came up with the idea of a mural depicting Doughboy Square as it would be seen by a robot.

Doughboy Square marks the entrance to Lawrenceville as you drive northeast on Penn Ave (where Butler Street splits off). It gets it’s name from the WWI memorial statue located in the wedge between those roads. The fact that it’s more triangular in shape than square is apparently irrelevant.

We stopped by several times as this mural was going up to watch the progress. Artist Richard Washek showed us the design that he was working from.

Each time we returned we could see more of the design taking shape, but in the end we were disappointed to find out that they would not be removing the boat rack positioned directly in front of the mural. Although the rack has shown no signs of actually being used in years, it will remain where it is, effectively blocking the main part of the mural.

Update: 11 Aug 2013
First of all, the boat rack is actually in use again. A good sign that people in the area are using the rivers more and more for recreational boating. In this case, there are at least three canoes now being stored on this rack.

The bad news is that this is the first mural that we’ve seen significantly vandalized. Only one year old and there is graffiti marring the well thought out design. We wonder if this is because of the location – underneath a bridge, well back from the roads? There is artwork under another bridge, but it’s positioned much higher up, out of reach. Up to this point it had seemed that the street artists respected the professional artwork. Perhaps whomever vandalized this mural were not artists by anyone’s definition. We have opted to not show any photographs here that include the vandalism.

3 Feb 2014

We received the following information from Elise Gatti, providing some great background on how this mural was designed. This was their mural proposal:

DIFFERENT EYES was inspired by the activities taking place along the Allegheny Riverfront Trail in Lawrenceville. Specifically the new Bernard Dog Run and the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC).

The Bernard Dog Run is a community initiative to provide a safe recreational space for dogs and their owners in Lawrenceville. The dog park is named in honor of Jay Bernard, a Lawrenceville resident, business owner, artist and abandoned dog advocate. BigDog LS3 is a dynamic all-terrain robot designed to assist military personnel on the ground by carrying up to 400 lbs of gear. BigDog's visioning sensors were developed in Lawrenceville, by research scientists at NREC. A combination of camera, laser and radar sensors provides different information to perception algorithms that help the robot sense its location, decipher the terrain and identify objects in the immediate surroundings.

DIFFERENT EYES proposes a technological-artistic approach to creating art in public spaces. The multi-disciplinary process employs two distinct media actions to sequentially produce the mural. One uses a classical artistic medium; the other uses augmented reality.

The journey to creation involves "seeing through different eyes", beginning with the selection of a viewpoint along the Allegheny River in Lawrenceville that will provide the basis for the mural. NREC scientists will then scan the scene using sensors, and algorithms will be used to generate a virtual representation of the scene. The final viewpoint is the muralist's interpretation of the virtual image as applied to the mural site under the 40th Street Bridge.

About the designers:
Dr. Ben Grochoisky is a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics institute. He was part of the team that developed BigDog's visioning sensors. Elise Gatti is an urban planner and former researcher at Carnegie Mellon's School of Architecture. She was coordinator of the Bernard Dog Run initiative from 2008-2011.

We found information on the BigDog LS3 here.

Photo found on Google image search.

The Redd Up Mural by Kyle Holbrook

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Larimer, like many of the local communities, is in the midst of trying to re–invent their neighborhood. Part of the planned transformation is concentrating on environmental improvements, and this community has their own Green Team spearheading the efforts.

One of the Green Team’s first projects was taking a vacant, weedy, corner lot and installing a community garden with raised beds. At the same time they were evaluating where to put a new mural and the wall beside the garden ended up getting it. They had discussed what they wanted the mural to represent and how they wanted the neighborhood to be perceived. They concluded that the mural had to have a positive message and that it should be integrated with the greening program. The result is a mural full of large panels of gardening images separated by messages of peace and community cohesiveness. A banner weaves through the design with the names of the Larimer Community Action Teams: One Voice, Redd Up, Green Up, Celebrate, and Work & Wellness (shown as Health and Wellness on the mural).

Persephone by multiple artists

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Another Pittsburgh cyclist called our attention to this mural. As we peddled north on Larimer Ave we could see a house sitting back from the road with almost the entire left side and front porch painted. It was very nice, but it was when we walked around to the far side that my jaw dropped. This was a mural that told a story. A story from Greek mythology actually. The entire house is painted (all four sides) but it's when you look at the north wall that you find the goddess Persephone and the pomegranate that irrevocably bound her to Hades.

As the story goes, Persephone's mother Demeter was basically Mother Earth. Goddess of fruitfulness, fertility and growth, she controlled the bounty and harvest. One day her daughter was abducted by Hades, taken to the underworld, and forced to be his wife – and Persephone's father Zeus was a co-conspirator in the abduction. Demeter wandered the earth in search of her daughter for days. Sad and grieving, she ignored her divine duties and the crops ceased to flourish. In her subsequent anger she refused to restore fertility to the Earth until her daughter was returned. Eventually Zeus had to contact Hades and insist that Persephone be sent back to her mother. Hades relented, but gave Persephone the seeds from a pomegranate, and when she ate them she was forever bound to the underworld. It was decided that she could return to Demeter 2/3 of the year, but she would be forced to spend 1/3 of the year with her husband. Each year when she's sent to Hades, growth stops until her return in the spring.

This mural was designed as a Green Mural. One of the artists, Lucas Stock, explained to us that after painting it, it would

"then have various types of sustainable vine plants and flowers planted around and on top of it, which would eventually grow and cover parts of the mural and the building when in bloom. The landscape design, installation and planting were done by various members of The Pittsburgh Green Team and The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy."

Mr Stock also pointed out some other things in the artwork that we hadn't recognized like large, leafy mandalas, mint leaves, and a tree of life, and said that it’s all meant to represent the cyclic nature of life.

This mural is a continuation of the Persephone mural on the building next door.

Peace Over Pittsburgh by multiple artists

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We know that Peace Over Pittsburgh is the name of one section of this mural (photo above), but we don’t have the names of the other portions of it yet. There are a wide variety of images in this mural that covers both sides of an underpass. Everything from local sports to historic figures to the spiritual side of the neighborhood are represented by different artists in differing styles.
Trolley car, musician, Mary Lou Williams
Portrait of Mary Lou Williams, a famous Jazz musician.

This is another of the Moving the Lives of Kids (MLK) community mural projects done along the east busway. The professional artists train and mentor several local teenagers. It’s not just art. These murals benefit the communities and the kids in so many other ways. Teens learn skills; get a temporary job; have goals; create something beautiful; experience something positive; learn to work with others; learn to respect others; learn to do something they can be proud of. The community gets an otherwise dull and sometimes dingy wall or tunnel turned into a small gallery of images; a deterrent to graffiti; and kids with a sense of accomplishment.

Mansion, man, zipper, subway tunnel.
Several of the professional artists that helped with this mural happened to be associated with Carlow University and the school did an article about the project. You can read it here (pages 24-30).
A brown eye.    Baseball player, Lefty.
Bulldog mascot and coach.
Egyptian man, woman and child.  Africa with a bow.
Eyes, a family, barber, group of men.
Industrialists Westinghouse, Carnegie, ?    Pittsburgh Motor Company
A local street vendor with watermelons, angel, paintbrushes.