Taking inspiration from the current Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art exhibition, the teens enrolled in this fall’s ¡Muralistas! Large-Scale Painting from Around the World workshop have been exploring the power and the excitement of creating enormous public art. For their fifth week of class, the teens traveled uptown for an artist-guided tour of Harlem’s amazing murals. Below, their teaching artist Lauren Adelman shares the details of their inspiring visit.
—Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator of Teen and Community Programs
It has been a whirlwind six weeks for MoMA’s muralistas. The teens in our course have explored MoMA’s collection, focusing on de Kooning’s large-scale Backdrop for Labryinth painting and Orozco’s Dive Bomber and Tank. The muralistas even rearranged color copies of Orozco’s fresco as he had originally intended. After four weeks of creating frescoes, learning grid-making and stenciling techniques, and exploring examples of murals throughout history, the muralistas hit the streets of Harlem to study some of New York City’s greatest community-based murals. Sergio Perez, a NYC-based muralist who has painted many murals throughout Harlem, gave us a tour of some of his favorite public artworks, as well as one that he personally worked on with a group of high school students.
We met Sergio on a beautiful crisp fall afternoon at the corner of 104th and Lexington to look at Hank Prussing’s large-scale work, The Spirit of East Harlem. This mural, which celebrates the community of East Harlem, resonated with many of our teens. One muralista said the woman in the mural could be her grandmother. Another said that she walked by this mural all the time but never knew about the history behind it.
Having previously looked at Picasso’s Guernica and talked about the history, politics, and controversy surrounding this iconic painting, the muralistas became familiar with Picasso’s “great artists steal” quote and were able to see this concept in action when we went to 124th and Lexington to see De La Vega’s Ode to Picasso mural. One muralista pulled a piece of chalk out of her jacket pocket that De La Vega had given her when she helped him work on a chalk mural near her school. Other muralistas immediately began making connections to Picasso’s Guernica while noticing the changes De La Vega had made to create a commentary about his community and the society he lives in.
We then had a lovely walk up 125th to stop and see Michael Sherman’s wall-size drawing, yes drawing, on 125th and Fifth. The muralistas were amazed that this was a drawing, and were inspired by the simplicity of the imagery, as well as the unconventional technique. We continued on to look at a mural that was meant to raise awareness regarding breast cancer, and then finally on to Sergio’s mural. This mural was not only painted by teens, but also included larger-than-life-size images of the teens who worked on it, making it doubly relevant to our course’s mission of teen empowerment. Many questions were asked, and, as the sky was getting dark and we were all getting cold, we finally had to tear ourselves away and walk back to the subway.
On the walk back down 125th Street the muralistas’s conversations were focused on which murals they found inspiring, what they wanted to do for our own mural, and how some students had never even been to 125th Street or seen the Apollo Theater before. It was a fun and inspiring day. The following week we met back in our studio to begin to gesso and design our enormous mural. The murlistas were able to experience what Sergio had spoken about, the physical work that goes into the creation of such a large-scale painting. The energy in the room was palpable, and we are looking forward to a fun month of painting! This week the muralistas will visit Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art and finalize their own personal mural design in preparation of the final teen art show in December. We can’t wait to see how it turns out!
The final mural will be unveiled at the In the Making Teen Art Show’s opening party on Friday, December 16, from 5:30–7:30 p.m. It will remain on view to the public for the entirety of the exhibition, from December 16 through January 16, 2012.