Over the last few years, dozens of artists have created hundreds of murals throughout the city of Richmond. Growing support for street art has come from residents, city leaders and businesses and follows changing perceptions about the use of public spaces. For Virginia Currents, Catherine Komp has more.
Learn more: See the work of Heide Trepanier, Mickael Broth, Ed Trask and Meggs and watch for details on the next Street Art Festival. You can also print out this map and take a tour of dozens of murals in the city.
One of the newest murals to brighten Richmond’s neighborhoods is in Scott’s Addition on the back of the newly opened vintage store Leftover Luxuries.
Mickael Broth: This is all spray paint…
Local artist Mickael Broth used vibrant blues, greens, pinks and purples to create a giant pile of chairs: wooden and upholstered, wingback and occasional.
The texture of the 30 by 16 foot brick canvas blends with Broth’s use of changing patterns.
Broth: The patterns in my work generally come from the patterns you find inside security envelopes that you get from bank or medical statements.
As we chat, the mural becomes a conversation piece as several people stop to say hi and compliment Broth’s work.
Broth: Thank you so much, how you guys doing?
Broth has completed more than 30 murals in Richmond, about half of which are exterior pieces. With gallery work and other commissions, he’s now a full-time artist. Ten years ago, it was hard to imagine the city’s growing support for public murals. At the time, he was serving a ten-month jail sentence for graffiti.
Broth: It wasn’t anything like it is now. There wasn’t an appreciation for public art really, because people hadn’t seen it. I think that’s a lot of what’s happened here, people didn’t know how much they would appreciate it until they had it.
Broth assisted with the 2012 and 2013 Street Art Festivals, an initiative co-founded by Ed Trask whose own first murals, more than two decades ago, were also unsanctioned.
Broth: I was super excited, it made it feel like wow, things are changing here, this is possible and not only is it possible, this can be pulled off extremely well.
These multi-day events brought together artists, public and private partners, and countless members of the community who watched and interacted with the artists. Once forgotten areas of the city were transformed as muralists created dozens of public art pieces, that anyone could see at anytime, in myriad sizes, shapes and styles.
Jon Baliles: I think street art is certainly becoming more acceptable.
At a Richmond cafe, City Council member Jon Baliles says a decade ago, these public art projects likely wouldn’t have been possible.
Jon Baliles: I think attitudes have changed and the nature of the art and the artists has led people to embrace it rather than fear it.
Baliles isn’t an artist, but was captivated when watching internationally-known street artist Shepard Fairey create large-scale pieces in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square. He approached Ed Trask about doing something similar in Richmond, which led to the first Street Art Festival at the James River Power Plant Building and Floodwall.
Baliles: Richmond has come out its shell so to speak, it's broadened its horizons, it's more open to others points of view and ideas for the most part, and I think that’s valuable. You don’t want to call it growing up, but certainly I think maturing to the fact that there are a lot of varying points of view and a lot of times you learn from that.
Heide Trepanier: We’ve got almost 30 pieces up here and each one is completely different, completely different colors, materials...
At the former GRTC bus depot, site of the second Street Art Festival, artist Heide Trepanier describes some of the pieces on the outer wall.
Trepanier: And this piece, lots of flowers, lots of depth to it but not depth through perspective, depth through layering.
Trepanier: And this one’s squirrels finding the motherload of nuts and he had a little saying: Never give up, never say you can’t, because there’s always a way.
It was a unique experience where the community became the classroom. As the students created their pieces, Trepanier says cyclists would yell “thank you” as they rode by and pedestrians would stop and share their appreciation.
Trepanier: A lot of these students aren’t art students at all so they haven’t had any experience so to have an experience being creative publicly and having someone thank you is probably really rewarding for them.
This year also saw the return of the Richmond Mural Project, an initiative of Art Whino in Washington, DC which has been bringing international artists to the city with a goal to create 100 murals. During this summer’s event, Australian native Meggs produced two massive pieces, including a giant minotaur on the side of Bacchus restaurant.
Meggs: I’ve used a lot of mythological creature references in my work in the last couple years, those are the themes I like painting.
Meggs has painted all over the world and says he’s observed growing public acknowledgement of street art culture - but Richmond stood out.
Meggs: One of the awesome things that I found about Richmond that is really refreshing is everyone here seems super enthusiastic about public art and about mural culture, there are constantly passers-by are yelling out just being supportive and stoked that it’s happening. That is actually I feel like rare in most places that I’ve painted, you get people who support it and I think generally the community likes it, but here there’s an exceptional number.
Plans are in the works for another Street Art Festival and Mickael Broth is also working on a new mural initiative he’s dubbed Welcoming Walls. He wants to “beautify the gateways into to the city,” the stretch of I-95 and I-64 that runs through downtown Richmond.
Broth: It’s a mural program focusing primarily on using local artists to define a visual landscape for our city, create beauty in areas that are pretty ugly if we’re being perfectly honest. If you drive the stretch from Boulevard to Belvedere through Richmond, it’s not exactly an inviting thing for a a family heading on to vacation down in Florida to be like, “Maybe we should stop in Richmond.” What I’m aiming to do is change that, get people to come into the city, see what is already here - we already have a wealth of public art in the city. So let’s give it a facelift essentially is where I’m coming from.
There’s still fundraising to be done, but Broth’s goal is to commission artists and complete the first few murals in the coming months. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.
Photos of Quirk Gallery mural courtesy of Mickael Broth.