Vision, Cash, Volunteerism Power Westville’s New Public Art

DAVID SEPULVEDA PHOTO A group of children skip along the image of an elongated, reclining figure, as if swept up by a magical energy field. The process of discovery leads them past swirling lines trailing from mandala-like starbursts, part of the internal galaxy that animates “Marielle” — as in, the light of Marielle, a new mural and the latest installation in a series of recent public art works commissioned by Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA).

An unveiling party was held Friday at the mural’s site on Valley and Blake Streets to welcome the 12 by 150-foot-long mural, and to say goodbye to itinerate, international muralist and fine artist Faring Purth, who worked for nearly two weeks under cover of darkness to produce the monumental piece. 

Absent the natural distractions that come with daylight and a busy traffic intersection, and with a parking lot vacated during the overnight hours, the artist was able to spread out, donning her protective respiratory gear — standard equipment among aerosol artists — before launching into an intense work session requiring stamina and sustained focus.

At Purth’s side during the production of Marielle was Raven Fox (a.k.a. Mark Jankowski), immersive light, sound, and projection artist and principal at Radiant Studio Works, a new-media and entertainment studio based in St. Louis, Missouri. Fox is a former associate of the late New York artist and social activist Keith Haring. 

As night descended during the mural unveiling party, and with music turned up, Fox moved about his portable digital studio, layering projections of light, shadow, and movement over Purth’s dense line patterns and positive and negative shapes.

“I use one 5k lumen DLP video projector and MacBook Pro with specialized visualization software to map and contour the light exactly on the artwork,” explained Fox.  “Once complete, I mix light color, still images, motion graphics, and effects to translate some visual expression onto her artwork in real time.”

The glowing imagery enhanced the painted surface in unexpected and delightful ways, lending credence to his website description of being a “musician of light.”

The performative collaboration and marriage of mediums created new dimensions of space and texture while activating mural color in an absorbing dance of elements. “Raven and I have talked a great deal about collaborating in this way and have plans for future projects but, as of yet, the ‘unveiling’ of Marielle was our first collaboration in this manner,” said Purth.

To be sure, Purth’s mural also resonates in natural light. The long, horizontal format devoted to a singular, outstretched female figure imbued with a curious spiritual essence is catalyzed by Purth’s signature line work — hatched and cross-hatched line patterns that one may associate with the hand of a facile pen-and-ink artist, but which is not usually part of the visual vocabulary of most aerosol muralists. The quality of her ultra-thin parallel lines is not solely the result of the choice of spray nozzles, but is arrived at through other techniques of manipulation Purth said she learned from some of the best street muralists in the world.

Susan McCaslin of Design Monsters, one of the prime movers in securing project funding, noted that “Westville is now part of this internationally known artist’s expanding canvas.” 

Three of the five recently completed pubic arts offerings in Westville are by New Haven area artists and include …

John Keefer’s painterly skull portraits “ROYGBV”  (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet) on Blake Street …

Beth Klingher’s Blake Street Bridge River Mosaics, an homage to the West River watershed

and Brandon Fuller’s “Absquatulate,” a large copper and acrylic eye-shaped installation on the side of Bella’s Cafe, arresting for its curvilinear metallic elements amid an intersection of vertical and horizontal rectangles.

Just before this year’s Artwalk in May, Lisa Hanscom of Houston, Texas (and assistants) yarn-bombed a new grouping of trees on Whalley Avenue along with an assortment of artifacts.

What began as personal initiatives by a few people like Eric Epstein and his “East Wall Westville Gallery” to enliven Westville’s public, high visibility spaces in recent years has evolved into a concerted community effort, organized by WVRA as part of their first commissioned Westville Public Art (WPA) series made possible by City of New Haven Mayor’s Community Arts Grant and the State of CT Department of Community & Economic Development, as well as generous donations by local businesses and engaged supporters in Westville.  An open call for WPA proposals went out mid-April.

Before Faring Purth painted her first stroke on the north parking lot wall on Valley Street, Westville volunteers power-washed the wall with equipment loaned by Hillhouse High School vice principal Nick Perrone. Volunteers Matt Wilcox, photographer Johnathon Henninger, and Lotta Studio’s Luke Hanscom prepped the parking lot wall with gallons of exterior latex paint and other supplies donated by the local Sherwin-Williams paint store, while Dr. Peter Blume of Westville’s Affiliated Foot and Ankle Surgeons joined Lena’s and Bella Restaurant in offering financial support to the project.

Lizzy Donius, WVRA’s volunteer and events coordinator, noted that the success of the WPA project “speaks to the community’s genuine and deep support and to Chris Heitmann’s (WVRA’s outgoing executive director) generosity of spirit and vision in working with others to make things happen.”

WVRA staff member and visual artist Noé Jimenez, a recent contributor to Westville’s public art offerings, said there is “no shortage of walls or potential sites — the hard part is the funding.” He urged those interested in participating in future public art opportunities to contact the WVRA office.

A map of Westville’s Public Art sites designed by Susan McCaslin can be seen here.

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posted by: brownetowne on July 7, 2016  1:00pm

Very nice article.  I love Purth’s mural and the mosaics.

But I don’t like the yarn covered trees at all; they are an eyesore.

Perhaps Hanscom was inspired by Christo and Jeanne-Claude who in 1998 used fabric sheeting to elegantly envelope trees in Switzerland http://christojeanneclaude.net/projects/wrapped-trees?images=completed

It’s worth noting that out of respect for the trees themselves and for the residents of Riehen, Switzerland, Christo and his team returned the trees to their unaltered condition after a duration of two months.  While it is possible to tastefully incorporate living trees into works of art, the Hanscoms may wish to emulate superior artists who assign a reasonable, i.e. short, duration to the work. 

Why must we live with yarnbombed public trees for over two months?  Get the yarn off the trees.

posted by: susanmccaslin on July 7, 2016  2:55pm

Thank you David for this in depth article. As someone who was part of the process I know that you have been taking photos for a few weeks and interviewing many to gather this wide perspective. It is a great overview of the process and the results.

Regarding the yarn-bombed trees, comparing them to Christo and Jean-Claude’s installation in Switzerland is comparing apples to oranges. Christo and Jean-Claude are definitely superior artists who raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support their projects and who take years to prepare for their installations.  And the message they are going for is highly conceptual whereas Lisa Hanscom’s yarn-bombed trees are more a community project (volunteers did all of the knitting) and it was unveiled just before Artwalk, an event that takes place along the streets of Westville.

Whether or not the yarn-bombing has run its course, they had a strong impact for Artwalk and have served the purpose for which they were made.

posted by: Westville Parent on July 7, 2016  9:23pm

I love the yarn covered trees, the dangling spiders, all the public art that enlivens my walks and drives through the Village. Thank you to WVRA, the donors and the artists. Keep making the Village better, quirkier, weirder, until it’s irresistible!

posted by: billy fischer on July 10, 2016  4:39pm

such an uplifting work of art and story!
thanks david for documenting this particular piece and so many others in this vibrant and exciting neighborhood
it is such an honor to know some of the people involved in this remarkable resurgence
blessings on your and their hard work!