Public Art Sweeps The Village

DAVID SEPULVEDA PHOTOEven when the sun is not shining, there are shadows: Wheels, spokes, and unmistakable shapes of bike frames that seem to be cast by colorful light, stretch across the sidewalk just outside Westville’s Manjares Restaurant. They’ve inspired many a double-take at the base of a yarn-bombed, U-style bike rack — especially when no bikes are parked.

The sidewalk painting is the creation of Artist Violet Harlow. And it is among a growing number of public art installations that have enlivened Westville’s pubic spaces in just the last few years, with many more now in the planning stages.

Harlow, a creative ceramicist and instructor at Creative Arts Workshop and Wesleyan Pottery, said she has always enjoyed making shadow drawings in chalk. Like their chalky predecessors, the bike shadows are not permanent, though they have lingered for several months. Created with with tempera paint, the shadows have mellowed and faded and are actually at their peak in suggesting real shadows. Harlow said she painted directly over night-time shadows created by the strong LED streetlights that have the “Close Encounters intensity of a descending spaceship.”

With a new name and logo, East Wall Westville, the billboard-sized outdoor exhibition space at 12 Fountain St., has been dutifully managed and curated by building co-owner Eric Epstein. It will soon have a dedicated website for the gallery wall. Epstein, an architect, musician, and visual artist himself, said he is largely motivated by the fun of bringing new projects to the site. He also likes “the surprising results of working outdoors, and large, but without the burden of ensuring longevity.”

The exhibit space, which faces the Aquila Motors parking lot, was first used for mural painting during one of Westville’s annual Artwalk festivals and has functioned as an installation space for every Artwalk since. In between, Epstein has evolved the display apparatus and honed the mission of the outdoor gallery, which has featured the work of a number area fine artists, some of whom are exploring the potential of working at large scale for the first time.

East Wall Westville just featured “Cladding,” a highly tactile piece by artist Susan McCaslin. The artist and her husband George Corsillo are partners in Design Monsters, a graphic arts business. McCaslin recently exhibited an even larger newspaper-based cladding piece at the curving Moira Fitzsimmons Arons Art Gallery at Hamden Hall Country Day School.

McCaslin’s mixed media “shingles” are made with painted tar paper and chalk. The accompanying artist’s statement notes that she draws inspiration from “shelter houses — tree bark, rocks, and what that means to all living things. From something as small as a microorganism to something as complex as a human, we all need shelter.”

Like a living organism, McCaslin’s exterior installation has shifted shape in response to the elements, each shingle curling into a pointed paper sheathe as part of an overall metamorphosis, intensified by shadow play of the sun’s shifting positions.

Recently installed at East Wall Westville is the work of Erector Square artist John T. Fallon. “Tuli’s Song,” a series of alternating vertical and horizontal squares, is comprised of polychrome bands. Fallon describes his primary focus as, “abstract work of a constructivist nature exploring color, symmetries and spatial illusion.” Working with traditional oil paint, Fallon notes that “Tuli’s Song” is “an exploration in scaling my existing gestural stripe paintings to a format 20 times larger than I typically work.” Working at such a large scale has forced the artist to simply his techniques, focusing on processes that may, in turn, affect the work he is doing at a smaller scale.

The bold color, texture, and patterning can be therapeutic in this season of subdued outdoor tonalities.

At a refurbished public parking lot at the village’s west end, Design Monsters have added their graphic touch to the exterior walls that encompass the lot. Inspired by the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA) logo, the green walls display bold graphic signage that reads “Westville Village,” along with linear patterns suggestive of a street map. With the design in hand, artist Tony Kosloski, who created the inaugural East Wall design, did the actual paint job.

On the parking lot wall facing Blake Street, New Haven artist Noé Jimenez has created the first installation at that site, a playful mixed-media design he calls “Accomplishments of a Dog.” Jimenez said that the image is in keeping with the work he does at a smaller scale, “a combination of color abstraction and personal narratives.” Mounted on a wood panel, floating geometric bits of colored foam float randomly outside a rectangular blue foam frame. Inside the frame, we glimpse the “Jumble of thoughts from the perspective of a dog, specifically, thoughts of success, small victories, and simple pleasures.” Additional Jimenez paintings can be seen here

The newer pieces join the giant yarn-bomb installation made last summer outside Neville Wisdom’s showroom, created by crafter Lisa Hanscom. Lisa is the mother of artist Luke Hanscom, who together with wife and photographer Mistina Hanscom recently opened the adjacent Lotta Studio, a new co-sharing space and studio. The yarn-wrapped locust tree, knitted yellow serpent and hanging, spherical “fruit,” may be a foretaste of more monumental yarn-bombing to appear during the next Artwalk Festival, according to Hanscom.

The Alley or driveway between Kehler Liddell Gallery and Keys On Kites Tattoo & Gallery is home to “Katherine G.” The work is by international artist Swoon, who installed the woodblock paste-up under the auspices of Site Projects, a New Haven-based nonprofit organization with a mission to bring site-specific art to the city’s public spaces. In 2014, Site Projects commissioned murals at the Coogan Pavilion and skate park in Edgewood Park by local aerosol artists and New York graffiti legends for its weekend-long Art in the Park event.

The alley and parking area are also home to an ever-changing display of high-quality aerosol graffiti art managed by gallery curator and Keys on Kites owner Eric Mikita. The outdoor space signals, in spirit, much of the work one will find at the versatile indoor gallery.

WVRA will soon be requesting proposals and submissions from artists for the design and implementation of up to six new public art sites, according to Westville Public Art (WPA) project manager Noé Jimenez.

“These projects are part of the ongoing revitalization of New Haven’s historic Westville Village, the most culturally diverse and eclectic business district and neighborhood in the city,” reads a soon-to-be-released call to artists prepared by Susan McCaslin, who is also a WPA committee member. Some of the WPA goal’s will be to “improve the overall aesthetic look of the locations, provide an attractive view for passersby, and to generate continued interest and awareness of public art in Westville Village.”

Westville’s efforts are part of a growing place-making movement that often incorporates public art. The movement — according to Project For Public Spaces, an international nonprofit design, planning, and educational organization that has been working on the place-making concept for over 40 years — is born of the realization that “a community’s connection to place is at the very heart of resilience.”

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posted by: HewNaven on January 5, 2016  3:57pm

Looking good, Westville!

One point I’d like to make:
Ostensibly, artists like Mikita began their trajectory as underground (i.e. anonymous) taggers and vandals. Surely, there must be a place for such youthful transgressions in our community given that they have such potential to blossom into a culturally acceptable form. How do we coral the creative energy of our young citizens? Professional guidance? Mentorship? Idk the answer, I’m just asking. And, I’m thinking about the young ATV riders just as much as the young artistic vandals.

posted by: susanmccaslin on January 5, 2016  7:06pm

Thanks David, great coverage of Public Art in Westville and thanks for showcasing my installation— very much appreciated. You know, it is only through the overriding belief in the power of art to transform that I even had this opportunity. New Haven and Westville are such supporters of the arts and we all reap the benefits. Keep watching for the changes coming to our neighborhood with more public art and more art events. And watch for the call for artists that will be going out soon.

posted by: TheophilusEaten on January 6, 2016  12:51pm

As long as we’re celebrating creative uses of public space in and around Westville, I’d like to give a shout-out to the community bookshelf in front of Alisa’s House of Salsa.  There’s always an interesting selection of free reading material, and it provides a fun way of finding a new home for old books.  If you haven’t stopped by, go check it out!

posted by: ADAK on January 6, 2016  8:43pm

Westville is where it’s at. Every great city needs a creative district beyond the city center, and I think it’s very cool to see what’s developing there. I’m excited to see more art out in the open!

I’m not sure if all this creative energy built off of the Artwalk that happens every Spring, but with multiple art galleries, new art studios and creative work spaces, plus the addition of growing outdoor art it’s becoming a great neighborhood to walk around in and visit.

Now if only someone could buy that empty Delaney’s lot..

posted by: Renewhavener on January 7, 2016  1:44pm

Agree that Westville has got it right and is on a definitively original and much needed path apart from other places in the City.  As downtown becomes more galvanized and some specific neighborhoods are picked as winners diverting and absorbing most of the City’s development resources, other neighborhoods must develop in a fashion that is more home-grown.  Assume no one is going to help you.  Just go out and do it yourself.  Applause to WVRA, the artists, residents and visitors for making it happen.  It’s always been a great place and am glad to see it realizing the potential it always had.

Perhaps the Hill might consider uncrossing their arms to embrace their artists in residence more tightly:
http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/krikko_plans_to_expand/