It's been said that "art imitates life," so it's not surprising that a new mural would appear reflecting one of the most creative generations: millennials. But there is more than meets the eye. This ongoing yet temporary artwork centers around the prominent plant urn that sits outside the studio. The artistic process itself reflects a life-imitating cycle that includes change, progress and reevaluation. However, in an unplanned turn of events life has begun to imitate art: visitors coordinate their outfits to pose in front of the studio, using social media to document the experience and shows us something deeper about public art in the "Instagram Age."
One of these buildings is not like the others! Our current studio mural is not only aesthetically appealing to the millennial soul but seems to be a creative experience begging to be documented. We sat down with Co-Principal Artist Lizzie Kripke, who's the mastermind behind the ombre-phenomenon, to talk about ephemeral art, knowing your audience and creating music video backdrops.
How long has the studio been painting the studio front?
It’s never been a formal project. It’s pretty much when an artist who works for the studio feels an urge to paint the outside of the building and is able to clear a weekend, someone just goes for it. Our studio space is an extension of our creative impulses and our building is included in that.
When did you begin working on it?
Some weekend that was the peak of springtime in May, 2017.
What was the "artistic urge" behind this one?
Partly it was springtime and we decided that it was time for a change. Also, Meg’s son had painted a prom-proposal on the front of our building and it was lovely but we thought that it was no longer relevant (she said yes). When it came to deciding the content of what to paint: I was inspired by the urn. I think that that’s the most specific thing about the studio front. The idea of what urns are as symbolic objects and what they represent resonated strongly with me since I’ve been thinking about this theme of immortality in connection with an upcoming project we have in Baltimore. That was the launching point for this painting which, to me, is very unfinished. I like to call this one Work in Forever Process.
What would you like to add to it?
I’d like to continue onto the ground, I’d like to shift the color a bit to reflect the season, I’d like to work on some things up higher to bring in that full surrounding space if I can. Things will definitely center around the urn to make that more apparent- that’s central to the conception to this. I’d also like to incorporate a sundial.
Of course right now it’s very abstract, so for now it’s very much about a color decision. In that one weekend it was sort of: “What is the one decision I can make right now through color and through shape while I mull over these other ideas.” I don’t think the theme is apparent in its current state to most people, which is fine.
Do you see it ever being finished?
No, I don’t believe it’s a painting. It’s more like a drawing that will continue to change.
The other reason it’s unfinished has to do with not being able to get the lift out. It’s a very practical and boring, non-artistic reason why it’s stopped where it has. It’s because of the limitations of the equipment. Which is fine, I mean it’s just a reality of our own studio space. We would never do that for a project, for another client, but for ourselves if it’s personal expression then I think it’s okay.
What are some specific aspects of the mural that you were able to incorporate during that first weekend?
The steampipe illusion, extending off of the garage, is the first of many elements to be included to highlight the urn. It also works to establish a language that addresses the architecture of the building. I’m interested in a single color unifying architectural elements and jumping between what’s real and what’s facsimile.
I love the “No Parking” sign outside, too. That little detail is one of my favorite things. I’ve overheard children comment, “It’s the purple pole! I love the purple pole!” So that detail means something to me too.
People often don’t know that it’s your artwork- what’s that like?
It tells me that I should just make a stencil and put our name on it. But it’s our studio and I view this wall as forever in progress. This wall in particular- since it’s ours- is very different than our larger permanent projects. I view this very much as a temporary, changing installation, which relates back to me being interested in cycles of life, death and immortality. I’m interested in a forever-changing mural to address those themes. I think over time that theme will become more apparent as well.
On one hand you have work that’s ephemeral and on the other you create timeless, permanent murals that become landmarks in a city for decades- is there one you’re more drawn to?
I’m interested in both in the public realm because that’s the dynamic nature of our built environment. Everything here in the present has been functioning on a different timescale and will continue to do so. It’s a very interesting syncopation in our cities. So I love permanent works and I love temporary works. It’s a great realm in which to create.
Can you speak more about making work for a public audience?
I think all artists should consider their audience. Even in the public realm, where one can say “our audience is the public,” which means everyone. I think it’s important to delve a little deeper and ask who is passing by. Are these people going to and from work who are going to see this everyday? Or are these tourists where this is going to be a one-time interaction? How are they passing by? Is it fast in a car on the highway? Is it on a bicycle? Is on foot because we’re in an alleyway? Are these families? These are important questions.
People are always outside taking pictures in front of your mural, how do you feel about people interacting with it?
One of the most fulfilling things for me is having people interact with our murals. I have a fond memory from Chattanooga, TN. We were in the last week wrapping up- It was a really intense project and you can kind of lose sight of this big thing you’ve just created and I remember it was a cold day and we were walking back to our little paint hut when I saw this truck pull up, screech to a halt, and these girls hop on top and all of a sudden they were filming this music video in front of our mural. It’s freezing out but their midriffs are showing- like they were that committed to it. They were all girls and they were in front of this wall that had a lot of feminine-empowerment themes and that still sticks with me as a fulfilling moment. It’s a reason why we do what we do.
So to see something like [the studio mural]- what I get a kick out of is that this color decision has really caused people to stop and interact with public space in a creative way, and I think that’s special. They would not have done that otherwise. There are a million buildings along the sidewalk, why did they stop here? That moves me.
We’ve never had so many people stop by and do photoshoots and people are taking some amazing portraits outside. That’s really good for me to see, or for us as a studio, to see how the world of murals and wall art is shifting in the Instagram age. I’ve learned that people like to take photos of themselves in cool places to document an experience and whether or not one has a judgement about that kind of behavior it’s clearly a very common action. It’s something we should consider with our audiences and what drives them.
If you're ever in the neighborhood- take your own portrait and tag the studio to be featured!