With 1,500 square feet of commissioned public art, West Allis’s City government shamelessly gave Milwaukee’s stodgy and rear retentive lineage of public officials a zinger. This working-class armpit to a first-class City mustered the political will (with Mayor Dan Devine out-front, gasp!) to support local fine art professionals by actually paying artists to complete a piece of legitimate visual art for public consumption: a MURAL. Ohhh. A scarily damn-near graffiti mural.
Artist Lindsay Marx teamed up with long-time collaborator Mark David Gray and Fred Kaems to weave imaginative symbolism and Stallion heritage into a stylish and inspiring master-level work. Marx decribes this piece as having “…a nostalgia for homemade pies on window sills, children reading and references honey bees, who are major pollinators for the crops we see at our tables. These ideas, tied together with bold colors and unique shapes, enliven this segment of National Ave.”
Local Trolley exchanged a few extra words with Marx on her instant classic artwork.
Local Trolley: How did the design come together?
Lindsay Marx: I started with an evolution around a few themes and then tabled it with the city to see if they were drawn towards any certain design. After more evolution on an agreed upon direction, we came to an agreement on the proposed final design.
LT: Spoken like a true artist. What kind of media was used?
LM: We used spray paint and exterior latex paint.
LT: What do you make of some people/public officials’ opposition to viewing murals as fine art? Murals are like fancy paint jobs for buildings. Not to get caught up on the term ‘fine art’, let’s say what do you make of the opposition to the view that generally murals aren’t suitable for public view especially in Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, it’s basically like we tolerate the ones that have been around since our parents were teenagers, but the public officials in this town aren’t dying to commission murals.
LM: It’s art. I wonder if they would consider it applied art? I don’t think we should feel the need to define murals as fine art but they certainly can be. Murals can be both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating.
LT: As an artist, how do you reconcile the poser or cross-over factor of a studio artist making a foray into a medium that has most of its contemporary roots in guerrilla and anti-establishment art movements….?
LM: We’re professional artists and you have to respect that everyone is coming from a different story and do things for different reasons. No doubt, I’m a yearling when it comes to public art applications and that’s why I surrounded myself with a team I can learn from and what better way to learn than through mentors and experience? Together we cranked out a mural I think we’re all proud of.
In terms of this being a city sanctioned project, I think it’s imperative that we find ways to team up when we can. The roots of street art do not define where it can go. I think it’s better to build bridges which will ideally create more opportunities and, in turn, will beg for higher caliber work.
LT: How underrated is aerosol?
LM: Depends on who you ask…I’d say it’s one of, if not the go-to media for creating murals and graffiti; it’s even coverage of most any texture, crisp, clean lines, and quick application. On the other hand, coming from an art school background I would say it’s an overlooked and underrated media. I knew so little about it’s magical powers prior to the mural and now it’s my new favorite medium for big projects.
LT: What you and your collaborators have done is extraordinarily imaginative and colorful. Your artistic vision and aesthetic translates quite well from canvas to mural. This piece has a chance to be iconic.
Murals have such a major role in the civic space in other countries in every corner of the globe it’s disappointing that mural art is not more accepted in Milwaukee. Some places even accept murals when they are controversial. The documentary Art of Conflict demonstrated this pretty well. The doc looks at the muralists in Northern Ireland during the height of IRA conflict in the 1980’s.
Even though the murals during that time depicted intimidating and violent images, when things deescalated the locals thought enough of the artists, and the art form, to just revise them with toned-down images. Maybe someday we will get to the point of recognizing public art in a more widespread way, whatever the pretense or lack of pretense may be.
Later this summer in September, Black Cat Alley festival comes to Milwaukee, a superb opportunity to show how important incorporating visual art in the civic space is to a city’s vibrancy. Props to Alderman Nik Kovak for being a part of an innocuous push to take art to the streets.
Lindsay Marx‘s mural is on S. 83rd and W. National Street in West Allis.