Not all great art is on display in a museum or a gallery. Some of the most fun art to discover is street art painted on walls, fences and garage doors. In New York city, the best examples can be found in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, which has become a fertile ground for artists that prefer to use a spray can on a wall in place of a paint brush on a canvas. Wander the blocks around the intersection of Troutman St. and St. Nicholas Ave. and explore the mural art that makes up the Bushwick Collective. You’ll find that these days, more than just a tree is growing in Brooklyn.
You could say that wall art has a 40,000 year history. Before the invention of paper and canvas, man painted the walls of his home with hunting scenes and animal figures. These earliest cave paintings have been found in Spain and Indonesia, and aren’t just sources of archaeological study, but are also the earliest forms of graffiti art. As civilization matured, so did the wall art. The Egyptians would not consider crossing over to the other side without elaborate murals decorating their tombs. 2000 years ago the Romans painted elaborate frescoes on the walls of their villas in Pompeii, and 1500 years later, Michelangelo lay on his back for years painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel during the Renaissance. So there is no reason why such a long tradition of wall art should not continue on the walls of our city streets.
The area of New York city that has grown into one of the largest and best displays of wall art is in Bushwick. The history of Bushwick is a window into typical New York immigration settlement over the centuries. First colonized by the Dutch, then settled by Germans, and then eventually Hispanics. By the end of the twentieth century the neighborhood had degraded into a rough and depressed section of Brooklyn. Almost twenty years later, initiatives to improve the area have resulted into an up and coming hipster neighborhood for young professionals due to its still affordable housing prices. But Bushwick has also been an artist’s community for decades, with many studios and art galleries making their home in the neighborhood. The most visible evidence of this art culture are the many murals that decorate the streets.
This outdoor gallery was founded by Joseph Ficalora, and is another great example of how one person can make a difference. In 2012, heartsick after his mother’s death, he was tired of seeing the neighborhood he grew up in looking so derelict. He took matters into his own hands, and contacted a few street artists. The transformation started with the walls of his family’s business, and then expanded to include other businesses nearby. Since then, the initiative has continued to grow, bringing in internationally renowned street artists, which now also brings in the tourists.
As with any good art display, the murals in the Bushwick Collective are curated. Artists present examples of previous works before they are allowed to color a wall that is to become part of the Bushwick Collective. And like the display in an art gallery, the works of the Bushwick Collective are always changing. Apparently, the lifespan of a mural is about twelve months and then it is replaced by a new piece.
The subjects of the murals cover all ground. Some are making a statement. Some are just plain fun. But all are colorful and a pleasure to search out and look at. Here is a look at what I fond on the walls of Bushwick as I explored the area this winter.
There are moving portraits.
If the wall is big enough, then why not paint the face sideways.
There are colorful nature scenes.
Or Just plain colorful scenes.
Some are confusingly psychedelic.
And some are just plain confusing.
And then there is the comic relief.
Even the No Parking signs is artistic, though still ignored.
And there are some murals that are the expected graffiti writing type.
These are just the murals that caught my eye. I am sure there are many that I missed, and by now, there may also be some new ones. I look forward to the next time I am in New York so I can visit Bushwick again ad see what new art is on display in this revolving gallery of outdoor art.
For my explorations, I used the self guided Bushwick Collective tour and map found on the Brooklyn Unplugged Tours site.
To get to the Bushwick Collective, take the L subway line out of Manhattan to the Jefferson Street stop. You’ll know you are in the right spot if you see murals on the walls around you as get to street level.
Enjoy exploring Bushwick. I did.
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