Back in 1992-93, I painted my first murals in Lawrence at Quinton's bar and deli on Massachusetts St. I was in grad school at the time, but my commitment to it was fading. I was having a hard time finding purpose solely in studio work - I wanted to make art for an audience outside of academia and art galleries. Then one day another painting grad student, Connie Erlich, mentioned to me that this new bar in town was looking for someone to paint a mural outside in their beer garden. I went to visit the bar. After some haggling, we agreed. I would get to use my own design. The owners would pay for paint and for lunch while I worked.
|"Sunflower Cycle" 1992|
|"The Garlic Express" painted in 1990 at Rose Valley Farm in Rose, NY|
|Mural helpers Angus and Irene|
At the time, there were few murals in town. Sunflower Cycle, which could be seen all the way from 6th Street, really stood out and people were excited. So much so that the owners of Quinton's wanted more. This time they wanted a mural for the inside of the bar and this time they were going to pay -$800. I was beside myself. I'd never been paid close to that much for an artwork. When I asked what they were thinking of as a subject, they said "We love what you did out back, so do whatever you want." Really.
Where Sunflower Cycle was a design I'd been carrying with me since my time on the farm, the mural inside was going to be a new idea taken from my thoughts about grad school, Lawrence, and my new interests in the great Mexican muralists Orozco, Rivera, and Siquerios. Ignorance, Pride and Fear was a pretty straight forward idea - 'We're all trapped in psychological boxes of our own making that feed off of ignorance, pride and fear' - but it gave me the chance to paint big figures in a style akin to Orozco, I hoped.
Irene and Angus helped again, this time posing for two of the three figures by curling up underneath the kitchen counter in my apartment. To help paint, I asked my friend Mike Han, who was an undergrad in the painting program at KU. We transferred the design to the wall using an overhead projector and then painted in the mornings before the lunch rush. The figures were symbolic types - a student, a businessman, and a farmer each trying to break out of their boxes. I was concerned that the owners might balk at such a dark theme, but to their credit they stuck with it. That was twenty years ago.
|"Ignorance, Pride and Fear" 1993|
Today, a much newer, and in my mind more significant, mural is in danger. The Pollinators mural on New Hampshire Street, which serves as a backdrop the Lawrence Farmer's Market, is threatened by a proposed new upscale development.
This mural is particularly important to Lawrence and the region. In addition to it being a unique celebration of and monument to great African-American artists from Kansas, Pollinators has risen to become an identifying feature of our local food movement and a beloved symbol of the city. It is also an important outreach of the Spencer Museum of Art, which commissioned and owns the mural. I believe that losing Pollinators would be a tragedy for the community and those working to celebrate and remember our shared cultural heritage.
|"Sunflower Cycle" wall 2012|
|"ignorance, Pride and Fear" wall 2012|