At the municipal parking lot wall on Blake Street, off Whalley Avenue in Westville, artist Don Wunderlee unveiled a new mural Sunday.
“I did not consciously copy anything from a garden. It is about capturing energy and vitality through the repetition of form and color that coexist harmoniously,” he said.
The 108” x 82” latex painting on wood, titled Garden Wall, supports the mission of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that promotes community economic revitalization, beautification and marketing the area as an arts destination. In addition to such public arts projects, the Alliance organizes the Westville Artwalk and the neighborhood’s participation in Artspace’s annual City-Wide Open Studios.
A group of 18 friends, family members, and Westville neighbors gathered to view Wunderlee’s art display.
Bob Barnett, a health care journalist visiting from New York City, noted that the painting conveyed openness and movement. “The colors make me think of a garden. It works great in the open space. It’s actually wonderful across the street, in addition to standing right in front of it. It reads really well when you are further away,” he said. “It sort of undulates, with non-conforming vertical lines.”
“It brings people to a halt,” said curator and arts writer Stephen Kobasa. “You see his gestures and that’s not always something you can find in the technically sophisticated art of our day. You see the working of the hand and that’s a good thing, I think.”
In March, the Alliance circulated through arts organizations a request for proposals due on April 11. The application for the Westville Public Art projects stated the work must have the following goals: generate interest in and awareness of public art in Westville Village; improve the overall aesthetic of the locations and the Village; and build on the growing trend of public art displays in the Village. The winners were notified on April 22.
Noé Jimenez, the communications and arts coordinator at the Alliance, said the judges selected Garden Wall because it presented a unique way to think of space. “We had literally thought about doing a garden wall, growing plants on the wall, so the idea of paintings of plants and being a wall appealed to us,” he said. “We liked that he’s a local artist. It’s always nice to support the people who are here.” In addition to Jimenez, other members of the Alliance and leaders in the arts community — Susan McCaslin, Mistina Hanscom, Luke Hanscom, and Eric Epstein — served as judges.
For two years, the Mayor’s Neighborhood Cultural Vitality Grant Program in New Haven has provided $5,000 to the public art project; matching funding from the Alliance doubles the annual budget. This year, Wunderlee received $2,000 for his work. Mosaic artist Beth Klingher received funding to continue working on her project “Pieces of the West River,” installed at the bridge that crosses the West River at Blake Street. Bu Lei Tu will install a mural with a Jurassic-period dinosaur theme on Tour Avenue, facing the Westville Community Nursery.
Wunderlee’s piece hangs around the corner from one of last year’s winning artworks, As in the Light of Marielle, that covers an expansive parking lot wall. Faring Purth, a muralist who lives in St. Louis, stayed at Jimenez’s home while she completed the piece.
Following the unveiling, the group gathered at Wunderlee’s home to celebrate with a backyard lunch, champagne, prosecco and conversation. With his wife, Janet Brodie, Wunderlee showed the smaller acrylic painting (18” x 18”) that he had submitted to the Alliance as one of his ideas for the project. It was later transformed into the large-scale mural.
“I like the fact that this municipal wall space provides passersby a brief moment of visual interest and would hope it inspires warmth and community,” Wunderlee said. He wants the mural to help people see Westville as a thriving, creative neighborhood.