The nature of my research for my thesis project is firstly, environmentalism and sustainability in art. Artists such as Agnes Danes and Jean Shin are inspirations of mine and helped further my understanding of how environmentalism can manifest itself in different forms in art. However, more so, the nature of my research is also public art, and its positive impact on communities. Public art to me is a great umbrella under which I find many topics may stand. Through my research I find public art can improve a community in many ways, such as improve its economy, give a sense of community pride, fuel tourism, and of course add aesthetic appeal. Public art is also a great opportunity for collaboration of local artists as well as spreading a message, contributing to awareness, or even telling the history of its location. Danes’ most well-known “Land Art” piece, titled Wheat Field, worked as the bridge in my research between environmentalism and public art.
For my thesis, I completed a public mural in Newtown, near the Ringling College of Art & Design campus, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Way and Central Avenue. The building, owned by a Newtown local, sits almost perfectly nestled between Newtown and the campus. The core concept for the mural is one which I often explore in my portfolio, which is that of universally shared human behaviors and experiences. More specifically, it communicates the message that all humans are not only capable of creation, but are all creative in nature, even if they express it in different forms. This location spoke to me because it relates to my concept, as many community members that I talked to expressed the slight tension between Newtown and Ringling College, mostly due to the economic and therefore power imbalance between the two areas. Therefore, I decided to design the piece in a way that correlates to the ways in which the community of Newtown specifically creates. The focal piece of the design, a pair of hands, also correlates to my portfolio, as I often use hands as a visual metaphor in my work. The positions of the hands in this piece are a direct reference to The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, simply rotated in opposing directions, as an allegory for my concept. The mural works as a final piece of the series of murals I have created over the course of my Ringling education, but unlike those, is not being curated for a client’s own personal desires; instead it is fully part of my personal studio practice.
My thesis is directly related to my research through the avenue that is public art. The mural is completely visible to the public, and the wall was selected specifically for the impact I believe the design and message will have on the location and community. As mentioned, I chose to give tribute to Newtown specifically in the design. I represented the art of performance, a more traditionally accepted creative avenue, as an homage to the local Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Newtown. I also represented the local Newtown Farmers Market, a less traditional “creative” avenue but still an undeniable form of creating; which is held weekly directly across the street from the mural. I am choosing to celebrate the ways in which a community with members that feel disconnected to the art & design college they live adjacent to, express themselves and create. It is the perfect way to express my concept that anyone, no matter their background or privilege, is capable of creation; it is also the perfect location to try to use this message to help bridge that gap of tension directly between the school and the neighborhood. It also brings color and life to a building that has been abandoned for years and has only gotten more dilapidated over time, without requiring any funding. In regards to environmentalism and sustainability, though the mural is not themed around these topics, I ensured that the application of the mural has not and will not negatively affect the environment of the location in any form.