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Photo: Los Angeles Coliseum
Until a teenager decided to solve the mystery, the story of the coliseum mural was lost in the mists of time.

I’m pretty sure young people are going to save the planet, and after hearing speakers from one youth organization yesterday, This Is Zero Hour, I know I need to follow where they lead. Never underestimate the power of a teen who gets motivated to solve a problem.

On a lesser scale than saving the planet — but illustrating the point nevertheless — a Los Angeles teenage sleuth managed to solve the mystery of a beautiful, neglected mural and ended up providing critical information to the restoration team. Colleen Shalby has the story at the Los Angles Times.

“For decades, the curving mural depicting a golden sun has greeted visitors to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Faded by the elements, its once-vibrant blue lost some luster over the years. The gold-leaf paint had chipped away. Still, the image drew eyes upward.

“No one seemed to know who had painted the scene adorning the Coliseum’s main archway — or when. Guides referred to it as a ‘mystery mural,’ the story of its origins as shrouded by time as the artwork itself.

“But after taking a tour of the historic stadium a few years ago, one local teenager became engrossed with its history.

“Dean Gordon estimates he’s been to the Coliseum more than 100 times. But before that day, he’d never given much thought to the mural high above the peristyle entrance. Two golden Olympic torches flanking a flaming sun, its center a depiction of the planet Earth and the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Solving its mystery soon became his mission.

“Two summers ago, at age 17, Gordon began his quest — poring through library books and searching archives, hoping to find a clue that would lead him to the artist.

“ ‘I basically contacted every single person who might have an idea,’ he said, ‘every archivist, historian or professor who might have some connection to the mural,’ rumored to have been painted before the Coliseum hosted the 1932 Olympics.

“After a series of dead ends, Gordon found a clue in the form of a Los Angeles Central Library notecard that read ‘H. Rosien Coliseum.’ Further online digging produced nothing — until he came across a single tweet: ‘Please don’t touch the mural inside the arch that my FIL Heinz Rosien painted prior to the Olympics!!’

“The plea, posted in 2016, was from Mary Lou Rosien in response to the Coliseum’s announcement that parts of the stadium were being overhauled. The mural would be part of renovations, which eventually totaled $315 million, by USC. The university operates and manages the Coliseum. …

“Rosien’s husband, Igor, [and] his father, Heinz Rosien, had worked on the mural together. The Los Angeles Coliseum Commission tasked the elder Rosien with the job in 1969, in hopes of helping the city win a bid for the 1976 Olympics. …

“The archway of the Coliseum proved to be a precarious canvas. The underside of the curved portico stood more than 70 feet off the ground. To reach it, father and son scaled scaffolding without the aid of safety belts, which now are commonplace. They painted upside down. …

“The origins of the mural were all but lost — until Gordon started his detective work. The teen tracked Rosien shortly after spotting his wife’s tweet, shocked to learn that someone directly connected with the artwork was still alive.

‘The entire time I was trying to figure out who painted it, I thought it was from 1932,’ said Gordon, now 19 and a student at Amherst College in Massachusetts. ‘All my research was in that time period.’ …

“The end of Gordon’s search two years ago led to a series of hours-long discussions about the mural — and the start of a friendship between the younger Rosien and the student detective.

“ ‘Thankfully, Dean didn’t take “mystery mural” as an answer,’ Igor Rosien said. …

“Before the mural’s restoration got underway, Gordon and Rosien met outside the Coliseum. There, the artist presented the young detective with one of his dad’s paintings.”

More.

 

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What is so rare as a day in June? I wish I could capture it all. With photos, one can express delight in terms of light and shadow, but how to convey the way the air feels and the breeze? Or the effect of wraparound birdsong, the smell of white pine and hemlock, warm pavement, and the spicy fragrance of verbena and lilac. So different from even a month ago.

A really fun thing that happens around here in June is the Arlington Porchfest, in which a changing array of local bands perform on residents’ front steps. Above you see the versatile Will McMillan wearing one of his many musical hats. This particular hat is as leader of a pickup ukulele band that meets every week at the library. Wonderful old-time songs. People of all ages singing along under the shade of the trees.

You can see I’m also loving the peonies of June, the poppies, the rhododendrons, and the last of the azaleas. By the way, what is that fuzzy blue star in our yard? We have it such a short time, and it always makes me smile.

The Pink Lady Slippers, one step away from endangered, collect in small groupings in the conservation woodlands. I’m always thrilled to see them as I know they require very special growing conditions and are becoming increasingly rare.

The wonderful mural of wings is in an area sometimes called Upper South Providence, near Classical High School. The colorful art really cheers things up in that neighborhood.

And speaking of art, Concord Art has an excellent retrospective on the oeuvre of Susan Maxfield, who died last month. She worked in an impressive array of media. I especially loved her peonies and teasels, but the only photo I took was of the chair with the amusing title, “Benjamin Moore Sample Paint Colors Peony Chair, 2017.”

And I shot the museum’s stairwell with its the peony arrangement at the bottom.

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Photo: Daryl Mersom
A piece of a sgraffito by the Kazakhstan graphic artist Eugeny Sidorkin (1930-1982) was discovered behind a wall at a cinema in the former Kazakhstan capital. 

Modern art was considered degenerate in the former Soviet Union. It was dangerous to make it, dangerous to own it. Much was destroyed.

But as I wrote in this 2011 post about the wily collector of the “Desert of Forbidden Art” documentary, it could be hidden away in Central Asia without Moscow noticing.

More recently, approved Soviet art, no longer popular, was revealed behind a cinema wall in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. Nothing is ever completely lost.

Daryl Mersom wrote at the Guardian, “When Jama Nurkalieva and a small group of colleagues conducted a site survey of a disused Soviet-era panoramic cinema in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, they had no idea what lay behind the internal plasterboard wall that faces out towards the street – until someone spotted a narrow gap.

“As the caretaker shined a light into the darkness behind, the group caught a glimpse of a man’s head. Out came the toolbox and the rest of the artwork was slowly revealed: a Soviet-era sgraffito by the graphic artist Eugeny Sidorkin that had been lost and forgotten for decades.

“From the Italian graffiare, to scratch, sgraffito is a technique that involves placing one layer of plaster or cement over another, and then scratching through the superficial layer to reveal contours or patterns beneath.

“Built to a standardised design in 1964, the cinema was one of the largest in the USSR. It was fronted entirely by large panels of glass that offered an unobstructed view of the sgraffito to passersby. …

“While there is little incentive now to cover or remove Soviet-era artworks depicting folklore and natural landscapes, they were sometimes controversial in their day due to supposed hidden meanings.

“Ekaterina Golovatyuk, curator of an exhibition on Soviet modernist architecture at the Tselinny, recounts an anecdote in which an architect and an artist worked together to create a mosaic for a cafe. It was a straightforward depiction of a lake with a tiger on one side and goats on the other. ‘The [local communist] party was asking them, “What’s the meaning of this?” They were saying, “Nothing, it’s just a natural landscape” – but they couldn’t convince them that there was no hidden political message.’

“Golovatyuk believes Almaty has as many surviving mosaics as it does because Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, changed the country’s capital from Almaty to Astana in 1997.

“With much of the country’s subsequent investment and development directed at this new ‘city of the steppes,’ Almaty escaped relatively unchanged.”

More at the Guardian, here. It’s interesting that although “degenerate” art is now accepted, actual Soviet art is forbidden in former Soviet republics relieved to be free of the yoke of communism. If you want to see the Lenin mosaic in Almaty, hidden behind a curtain, you have to make an appointment.

As the 16th century poet says, “Times Go By Turns.”

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Photo: David Swanson/Philadelphia Inquirer
Asiaish Lawrence speaks about his involvement in Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny, an augmented-reality mural that involved students from the Haverford School and Philadelphia’s Mastery Shoemaker Charter School.

At my last job, my very artistic colleague Melita tried to explain augmented reality (AR) to me. It sounded like science fiction. As I recall, she had ideas about using it in one of the exhibits she curated, but I don’t remember what the upshot was. Our workplace appreciated new technology, but not necessarily arts technology.

Schools tend to be more open than that. Recently, I read an article that both explains the AR concept and shows how it was used by students from somewhere I once lived. (Years ago, I lived in a third-floor walk-up directly across from the Haverford School.)

Grace Dickinson wrote the augmented-reality story at the Philadelphia Inquirer in October, but the project she describes is available for at least a year.

“Mural Arts Philadelphia is bringing art to life with the city’s first augmented-reality mural, Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny. The project invites viewers to experience a large-scale painting completed on a warehouse at 53rd and Media Streets through the lens of a smartphone app that casts holograms and generates a changing soundtrack as you move from left to right. Picture a metaphysical version of Pokémon Go in which the power of a screen momentarily alters reality around you.

‘To see the augmented-reality mural, you’ll need to download the free app, created by the local production firm Blue Design. It’s available in the Apple App store under the name ‘MuralArtsAR.’ ”

The idea was that people who showed up at 53rd and Media would just need to point their phone screens with the app at the mural.

When you do that, Dickinson says, “Immediately, elements such as light beams, colorful orbs, floating crystals, and sculpturelike figures will begin to pop out from the painting, covering a wall the length of a city block. …

” ‘I like making art that the viewer can look at for 15 or 20 minutes and really get lost in,’ says muralist Joshua Mays, who conceptualized the project with Philadelphia DJ and producer King Britt, the mastermind behind the audio component. ‘Both King and I are futurists, so we enjoyed the idea of going deep in order to create further realms to discover.’

“With the yearlong Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny project, Mays and Britt set out to visualize possible futures for West Philadelphia, involving students from Mastery Shoemaker Charter School, across the street from the mural, as well as from the Haverford School. The collaboration marks the first Mural Arts Philadelphia partnership to connect public and private high school students. …

“Says Mays, who worked with about 30 students, ‘I want them to always remember to aspire for something greater but to also continuously stretch their imaginations — and their imaginations really ran wild with this.’

“Thinking about the destiny of West Philadelphia, the students dreamed up imagery ranging from an undersea world full of squids and water spirits to a landscape where robots intermingle with humans in everyday life.

” ‘I picture clean energy, no smog, with holograms suspending all around us, and a soundtrack of Kanye West’s Graduation album playing on repeat,’ Haverford School senior Garrett Johnson says. …

“Including the students’ ideas in his design, Mays developed a progressive series of abstract images that start with a representation of the African diaspora and end with a portrait of a woman holding a shining seed between her fingers, the focal point of the mural.

” ‘The seed is meant to unveil a world of future possibilities, radiating out to a past that reconnects the main character with her ancestral heritage.’ …

“The audio component, which you can hear through the app, follows the temporal transition of the painting. Drums, chants, and other tribal percussion notes mark the beginning, shifting to trumpet and electric piano tunes inspired by ’70s jazz, and ending with rhythmic, hip-hop-inspired beats mixed with futuristic sounds. …

” ‘I recorded them doing things like riding the elevator up and down, banging on the water cooler, and closing classroom doors,’ says Britt. ‘Then I manipulated the recordings into musical notes — so, for instance, the water cooler became the kick drum, and the elevator was worked into the sound of a keyboard.’ …

” ‘I had the kids come up with a list of questions to ask [neighborhood elders], such as, “How do you think the mural will affect this neighborhood?” and, “What did the neighborhood look like 20 years ago?” and, “What kind of music do you like?” ‘ ” says Britt, who then included snippets of the interviews in the soundtrack.

More here.

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Photo: Hannah Ellis-Petersen for the Guardian
This mural of a worker removing one star from the European Union logo appeared overnight in Dover, Kent. It’s Banksy’s reaction to the Brexit vote.

When I was at the magazine and collecting articles for the next issue, I was sometimes surprised to discover I had a whole issue — or almost a whole issue — on one topic. Suddenly several articles on prisoner issues came together, or maybe immigrant issues, or agriculture issues. It was not planned that way, it just happened.

Today I notice that another United Kingdom topic has popped up after yesterday’s entry on UK election artists. This post is about the street artist Banksy and his stealth reaction to the vote that authorized the UK to leave the European Union and expel many immigrants. Hannah Ellis-Petersen at the Guardian reported the story in May.

“A Brexit-inspired mural by Banksy showing a metalworker chipping away at a star on the EU flag has appeared in Dover. …

“The mural, which was confirmed by Banksy’s representatives to be a genuine work by the elusive artist, is his first comment on the Brexit vote last year.

“The stars of the flag ‘stand for the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe,’ according to the EU website. …

“The Dover artwork is across the Channel from Calais, where a Banksy mural appeared at the main refugee camp in 2015, showing the Apple founder, Steve Jobs, whose biological father was a Syrian immigrant,” reminding people that immigrants should be valued. More at the Guardian.

I have posted a few times about this street artist, and once I took a photo of what people said was his work. Check these links to a few of my Banksy posts: herehere, and here.

Banksy appears in Boston. Maybe.

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How did we get halfway through May already? It’s time to mention I’ll be taking my first break in six years between May 26 and June 6. We’ll be in Sweden. I’ll try to blog, but you never know.

It sure will feel strange not to post. I have put something up on this site every day since May 2011!

But before I leave, I have other things to share, including today’s photos. The first two are from the giant mural in Dewey Square, Boston — the latest in the Greenway’s ongoing series. The featured artist this time is Mehdi Ghadyanloo from Iran, where he is known for upbeat murals.

The next photo shows a WPA mural in the Arlington, Mass., post office. John pointed me to it after he saw my recent post “Hunting Down WPA Art.”

Then comes another of my shadow photos. Can’t resist shadows. That one is followed by tree-stump mushrooms and dogwood. Can’t resist mushrooms either.

The four Providence photos that follow attest to the fact that the city finally experienced a sunny Tuesday morning (the first since February). Blackstone Park is the location of the Indian shelter and the fallen birch tree with the mysterious yellow plastic strips (art?). Nearby was a wondrous carpet of pink petals and an early rower on the Seekonk River.

Finally, I wanted to show you my lilac progression. With muse.

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The street art in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a selling point for tourism. It started with unwanted tagging on buildings and evolved into murals authorized by building owners and respected by taggers.

Tampa Bay Times art critic Lennie Bennett has the backstory.

“In recent decades, murals have become a way to spruce up bare walls of buildings and to discourage graffiti. St. Petersburg has street murals in many areas but there is a concentration of them along the downtown Central Avenue corridor. To see them at their best, you need to walk through the area. Even if you travel the route regularly by car, you’ll miss many of them because they adorn the once-drab back walls facing alleys.

“An incentive for owners of the buildings, says [Florida CraftArt executive director Diane Shelly], is that they were regularly ‘tagged,’ meaning a graffiti artist would use an exterior wall as a canvas or to scrawl messages with spray paint. ‘It’s illegal and the city has a graffiti removal program,’ so city workers come out and use whatever paint is available to cover up the tags, which led to a different kind of unsightliness, she said. ‘But taggers respect art, and most won’t tag an existing mural.’ …

“Shelly commissioned Derek Donnelly to create a mural that would replace those painted-over areas and discourage future tagging. ‘A Moment to Reflect ‘was created by Donnelly and Sebastian Coolidge, another well-known street painter whose most beloved work is probably the image of a young man with elongated limbs stretching for an orange on the exterior of the clothing store Freshly Squeezed at First Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

” ‘Reflect’ is the largest of the Central Avenue murals, stretching up four floors. It depicts a businessman wearing a green tie, the color associated with CraftArt’s neighbor and sponsor of the mural, Regions Bank, discovering his creative side. ‘I think it’s the largest free-hand mural in St. Petersburg,’ Shelly says, meaning it wasn’t done using a grid method or projector. …

“Because of the murals’ growing popularity, some business owners rehire the artists to freshen up the works rather than painting over them.

“But in [the experience of Leon Bedore, or Tes One] ‘You end up learning that all murals are temporary art and not intended to stay up forever. (When painting illegally) I felt lucky to have one up for a night. A week was amazing. When an owner didn’t have one removed I thought, ‘” might be on to something if they’re keeping it up.” ‘ ”

The Tampa Bay Times article by Lennie Bennett is here. A comprehensive tour of the murals is here.

Photo: Creative Loafing

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